Literature and the First World War

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
24 March 2022


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Literature has been a site of conflict in the cultural history of the First World War. In The Social Mission of English Criticism: 1848-1932 (1983), Chris Baldick demonstrated that when the relatively new university subject of literature (under the generic term "English") was developing during the First World War, academics proclaimed that it was poetry which would save the nation. In 1919 the newly formed British Drama League aimed to bring about a lasting peace by promoting amateur dramatics nationwide.

The idea of poetry as a repository of the authentic experiences of the "trench" poets as lost warriors has contributed to an anglocentric perspective on the war and a reinforcement of poetry as the ultimate aesthetic form. Such a perspective, distilled in Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), was challenged by Claire Tylee, The Great War and Women's Consciousness (1990) as well as Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (1995).

This module draws on a wide and rich field of literature and literary criticism. It locates the literary engagements with the First World War in the global context of wartime responses and the wider reflection on the impact of war which reverberated through genres and literary and cultural movements.

This module includes material on such topics as war, trauma, and bereavement.

Module aims

This module aims to explore:

1. a diverse range of literary writings of combatants and non-combatants during the First World War and subsequent literary representations of the conflict.
2. the dominance of poetry as a genre associated with the First World War.
3. the difficulties of representing the war on stage.
4. the scope of the short story and the longer form of the novel in tackling the complex aspects of wartime experiences of trauma.
5. the tendency of autobiographical forms (including letters and diaries) to manage ideas of authenticity and intimacy by means of confession and testimony.

Module learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the effects of literary form in the representations of the diverse experiences of war;
2. Analyse the significance of literary engagements with the First World War by producing effective close readings of literary texts
3. Examine the global cultural contexts of writing, reading and performing representations of the First World War
4. Apply relevant theoretical approaches to the analysis of literary engagements with experiences of trauma, memory.

Module information

Literary Canons of the First World War: the problems with the “war poets”
Writing the war zone: letters, diaries and auto/biographical writings
Writing the home front: letters, diaries and auto/biographical writings
Memory, silence and trauma: the war novel
Theatres of war: drama and performance
Sex, spies, drugs and dancing women: censorship and Defence of the Realm
War crimes
Propaganda and the Press
Landscapes of War

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery: Weekly one hour lecture and one hour seminar.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (4,000 words)    80% 
Coursework   Reflective Log (1,500 words)    15% 
Coursework   Participation    5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Katharine Cockin, email:
Professor Katharine Cockin
LiFTS General Office - or 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Will Norman
University of Kent
Reader in American Literature and Culture
Dr Lorna Burns
University of St Andrews
Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literatures
Available via Moodle
Of 1005 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
1005 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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

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