2014 has been a year of remembrance, as the UK commemorated the centenary of the First World War. Thousands of events have taken place with displays, such as the magnificent spectacle of poppies at the Tower of London, capturing the public imagination.
This out-pouring of emotion in public acts of remembrance has become much more pronounced in recent years, according to Professor Maggie Andrews, a cultural historian at the University of Worcester; one that has been driven largely by media attention. Public mourning in response to Princess Diana’s death, the Hillsborough disaster and public response to the passing of soldiers’ coffins through Royal Wootton Bassett are all examples of how the public engages with remembrance.
Understanding and interrogating contemporary culture has been key to helping sites, like the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire, to better engage with the public and enhance their experience and involvement in remembrance.
For sites of remembrance to engage with the wider public, and in particular the young, they need, Professor Andrews’ research demonstrates, to utilise personalisation. Through individual stories they will be able to elicit empathy and support from the general public.
Professor Andrews’ collaboration with the NMA, along with archival and heritage organisations in Staffordshire and Worcestershire, supported development of approaches to this year’s national WW1 centenary commemorations, and led to her becoming the regional advisor to the BBC for the AHRC-funded World War One at Home project.