Institute of English Studies Awarded AHRC Grant for Ministry of Information Project

Tuesday 3 September 2013

The Institute of English Studies is delighted to announce that it has been awarded a research grant of £782,410, over four years, from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The research grant will support a four-year project based at the Institute, in collaboration with the Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) at King’s College London (which provides the co-investigator, Paul Vetch) and The National Archives at Kew, on the publication and communication history of the Ministry of Information during the Second World War.

The ground-breaking project, entitled ‘Make do and mend’ (which uses one of the Ministry’s famous slogans to suggest the ways in which it had to adapt and improvise as it struggled to do its various jobs), aims to address a glaring gap in the history of 20th century Britain. Despite its immortalisation as 'The Ministry of Truth' by George Orwell in his novel 1984 and its important role as the public information authority and publicity agent of the British government during the Second World War, relatively little scholarly research has been done on the Ministry of Information.

Principal investigator, Professor Simon Eliot of the Institute of English Studies said ‘The Ministry introduced something new to British society: the idea of an arm of government with the power to control information. The Ministry’s negative side (as a machine of propaganda and censorship) was offset by its perceived ability to generate a sense of national purpose at a time of acute crisis. Its achievements and its threats have echoed down the decades, and they continue to reverberate to this day.’

Beginning in January 2014, the project will analyse an extensive array of primary resources including materials available at the National Archives, the Imperial War Museum, the Mass Observation Archives at the University of Sussex, Senate House, and the BBC Archives at Caversham. The project plans to interview as many as possible of those whose lives and opinions were in some way affected by the Ministry’s output in the form of journalism, pamphlets, posters (such as 'Keep Calm and Carry On'), broadcasts, photographs, films, and travelling exhibitions. The project will involve local museums and enthusiast groups throughout the UK in collecting interviews and holding research days. Much of the material collected during the investigation will be made available through the web-based 'MoI Digital', a combination of on-line museum and archive. This will be developed and implemented at DDH under the leadership of Paul Vetch, and will offer the user a multimedia experience of the Home Front during the Second World War.

It is particularly apt that the project is led by the Institute of English Studies, based in the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, which was home to the Ministry of Information during the Second World War.

Apart from Orwell, the Ministry engaged with a host of writers, artists, and directors including Cecil Beaton, Nicholas Bentley, John Betjeman, Sir Kenneth Clark, Duff Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Elizabeth David, Arthur Koestler, Cecil Day-Lewis, Paul Nash, Laurence Olivier, Mervyn Peake, Nikolaus Pevsner, Lord Reith, Nevil Shute, Dylan Thomas, Ben Travers, and Lord Ted Willis. For most of the War the Ministry was directed by Winston Churchill's friend and colleague, Brendan Bracken, whose initials, BB, are the same as those of Orwell's 'Big Brother'.