Curating the Crimea: The Cultural Afterlife of a Conflict
thesisposted on 22.10.2015, 15:52 by Rachel Elizabeth Bates
This interdisciplinary thesis explores how the Crimean War (1854-56) has registered in British consciousness since the conflict’s outbreak. It draws extensively on the National Army Museum’s (NAM) rich collection of archives, paintings, prints, medals and objects. The thesis situates NAM’s collection in a wider material context, by drawing upon collections held elsewhere. It therefore provides an important overview of the conflict’s material legacy in Britain. This material heritage is used to document and assess the War’s mixed reception over time, its powerful associations of pride and shame surrounding certain events, concepts and personalities. Chapter 1 frames the War’s key debates surrounding military mismanagement by contrasting two of its early and influential chroniclers: the historian Alexander Kinglake and journalist William Russell. Their distinct ideological dispositions demonstrate the War’s contested nature and different Victorian ideals of war and soldiering. Chapter 2 accounts for the exceptional status of the eponymously named Charge of the Light Brigade, tracing its afterlife to the turn of the twentieth century. It looks at various strategies for negotiating its futile outcome, from traditional forms of individual hero-worship through to the impact of Tennyson’s tribute to a ‘noble six hundred’ in wartime and in the late-Victorian period. Chapter 3 explores further the public status of the Army through the media influence of the monarchy in the aftermath of the Crimean War, an aspect of the War which has been neglected. Mediated royal acts of sympathy towards sick and wounded soldiers and the institution of the Victoria Cross are contextualised against royal anxiety about its loss of influence over the Army. This chapter discusses in detail a striking set of royal photographs showing wounded soldiers, which are an important source for discussing apprehension of suffering. Chapter 4 traces the public faces of Florence Nightingale, outlining the nature and consequences of Victorian investment in Nightingale as a benevolent Army presence before turning to posthumous responses to Nightingale’s personality and work. It assesses for the first time objects and public memorials associated with Nightingale and their role during the First and Second World Wars. The Crimean War was the only Victorian war on a European scale and involved increasingly direct forms of communication between civilians and war workers. This project assesses how public knowledge of the operations, failures and losses of the War led to affirming and subversive responses in the Victorian imagination and beyond. These responses reveal the social, political and emotional conflicts engendered by war, which are of continued relevance to the public conscience.