Britain’s Second World War: Mass Observation, Myth and Memory

The details
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
19 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This final year module examines and compares the experience of the British people during the Second World War, the myth-making that was a part of this experience, and the shifting cultural memory of the war in Britain from 1945 to the present day. It makes extensive use of the Mass Observation Online Archive (available online via the Albert Sloman library) to examine the British experience of war and to consider how people represented the war themselves.

It is a full year Module that, in the first term, focuses on the war years, introducing students to the history of the war, to Mass Observation, and to the processes by which wartime culture created the enduring myths of Dunkirk, the Blitz, the Battle of Britain and the People's War. The module uses Mass Observation alongside other primary sources to consider which stories became a part of these myths, and which were excluded or marginalised.

In the second term the focus turns to the cultural memory of the war in Britain since 1945. Students are introduced to concepts and theories of cultural memory that they will go on to apply to representations of the war that are studied. The memory of the war is traced from 1945 to the current day, with themes examined including the popularity of the war film, the mobilisation of the Second World War in Britain's subsequent wars, the growth of the wartime anniversary, museums and memorials, and the 'memory wars' that have been a central aspect of the Brexit debate since 2016.

As a final year, 30 credit module, the emphasis is on the analysis of primary sources and a detailed engagement each week with key secondary sources. Students are expected to familiarise themselves with the historical period or event under examination each week in order to enable to focused analysis, debate and discussion.

Module aims

The module aims to:

1. Introduce students to models of, and debates regarding, the formation and circulation of cultural memory.

2. Introduce students to a range of primary sources in order to study the experience and the cultural memory of the Second World War in Britain.

3. Enable students to explore both the experience and the cultural memory of the Second World War in Britain, considering which experiences were represented, and which were marginalised, both during the war and subsequently.

4. Enable students to develop a level of expertise appropriate to the final year of their degree in the social and cultural history, and the cultural memory of, Britain in the Second World War.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

1. Analyse and debate the quality and significance of the historiography of the experience and cultural memory of Britain in the Second World War.

2. Analyse and debate a range of primary sources regarding the experience and cultural memory of Britain in the Second World War.

3. Demonstrate familiarity with the major events of Second World war Britain, and with the ways these have been represented in popular culture during the war and since.

Module information

For introductory reading, see:

Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (1991).

Angus Calder, The People's War (1969).

James Hinton, Seven Lives from Mass Observation (2016).

Geoff Hurd (ed), National Fictions: World War Two in British Film and Television (1984).

Lucy Noakes & Juliette Pattinson (eds.) British Cultural Memory and the Second World War (2013).

Dan Todman, Britain's War Volume 1: Into Battle (2016).

Dan Todman, Britain's War Volume 2: A New World (2020).

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures and seminars.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Primary source document analysis 1 (2000 words)  18/12/2020  20% 
Coursework   Essay 1 (3000 words)  04/02/2021  30% 
Coursework   Primary source document analysis 2 (2000 words)  01/04/2021  20% 
Coursework   Essay 2 (3000 words)  29/04/2021  30% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Lucy Noakes, email:
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.