Here is a selection of Michèle’s work on the First World War.
Some contemporary music to play while you read.
Verso, March 2008
Casualty Figures is not about the millions who died in the First World War; it is about the countless thousands of men who lived as long-term casualties – not of shrapnel and gas, but of the bleak trauma of the slaughter they escaped. In this powerful new book, Michèle Barrett uncovers the lives of five ordinary men who endured the “war to end all wars” and how they dealt with its horrors, both at the front and after the war’s end. Through their stories, Barrett sheds new light on the nature of the psychological damage of war, which for the first time became both widely and profoundly controversial through the term “shell shock”. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished material, Casualty Figures is a moving and original account of the psychological havoc caused by war.
“Through interviews with the soldiers’ descendants and a careful reading of archival material buried in the Imperial War Museum, Barrett evokes the bloody crucible these five men passed through. She may be criticized for not offering more in-depth documentation of the archival resources used, but no one will question the authenticity of her compelling characterizations of these five veterans of the Great War. Sadly, this is a timely work. A worthy addition to the extensive literature on the mental health of combat veterans; recommended for all libraries”
Reviewer: Jim Doyle, Library Journal, Jan 2008 p113
Titled ‘Stephen Lamport is moved by the vivid, shocking stories of five servicement’ this review appeared in the Telegraph 1st March 2008.
“even today, nearly 90 years after the Armistice, the First World War remains the supreme icon of the horror and inhumanity of armed conflict…. Michèle Barrett’s Casualty Figures is an account of five servicemen who who survived the hell, scarred and damaged for the rest of the lives, but the sub-text of this short, vivid book is a wider account of the psychological damage inflicted, and of what was then the new and much disputed issue of shell-shock…. It is little wonder that men should be damaged by then ever-present sense of death in a place where the macabre became a fact life. Lieutenant John Willis Brown, one of the five, described in his diary one trench he occupied in Gallipoli: “Still a lot of stiffs in it. There’s one chap the Manchesters use as sort of sideboard to keep their jam tins on”…. This is not a book for the squeamish or the faint-hearted. The stories of these five men are real, unimaginable and highly personal. Michèle Barrett can only guess at the effect on their later lives, but her snapshots of their dreadful ordeals, however incomplete, are worth examining.”
Michèle’s Guardian article on Shell Shock from 2003.
‘White Graves’ and Natives
The Imperial War Graves Commission in East and West Africa, 1918-1939
Article by Michèle Barrett in Bodies In Conflict, Routledge, 2014
The Imperial War Graves Commission’s (IWGC) early decisions not to allow the repatriation of bodies to the United Kingdom, not to differentiate soldiers by military rank or social class, and not to allow cruciform headstones on graves, all generated enormous debate and highly emotional discussion… Nevertheless, it can now be seen that the Commission’s founding egalitarian resolve has resulted in cemeteries, on the Western Front and elsewhere, that are widely regarded by their many visitors as appropriate, eloquent and dignified. They have permanence, they have consistency and they have equal treatment in terms of rank and class. The Commission has, by contrast, made many distinctions on the basis of ‘race or creed’.
Subalterns at War
Barrett, Michèle (2007) ‘SUBALTERNS AT WAR’, Interventions, 9:3, 451 – 474
This paper considers the politics of naming in memorials of the First World War. That such memorials are highly political is shown in the case of the ‘Indian’ memorial at Neuve Chapelle: at the request of Pakistan, who wanted it to be retitled the Indo-Pakistan memorial, the War Graves Commission attempted to erase the word ‘India’ from the memorial’s register, documentation and signage. Comparing this memorial on the Western Front with its counterpart in Mesopotamia reveals that the listing of dead and missing servicemen’s names was a policy specific to Europe. Colonial rank-and-file soldiers, and labourers and porters, were normally not named on memorials elsewhere. In Africa, evidence from the archives of the War Graves Commission demonstrates a sharp differentiation between the treatment of ‘white graves’ and those of ‘natives’. These practices, some formally encoded in a policy ruling, rested on contemporary assumptions about stages of civilization and lives worth commemorating.
Printing, Writing and a Family Archive: Recording the First World War
by Michèle Barrett and Peter Stallybrass
History Workshop Journal 75: 1-32
Read the full Article
online at History Workshop Journal
additional photos related to the article.
video by Faculti Media of Michèle discussing this article
Inaugural Lecture Queen Mary 2001
Read the text of Michele’s inaugural lecture as Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory:
INAUGURAL Image and Affect