York Museums Trust - Public History MA Placement

Posted on 14 May 2014

Castle Museum: researching the First World War Battle of Gommecourt Wood

Knowing that I wanted to work with a heritage institution and contibute to an exhibition made my placement choice very straightforward.  However, in the early days of my placement with York’s Castle Museum, I did find it rather intimidating.  It was my responsibility to research the Battle of Gommecourt Wood for the Museum’s upcoming exhibition to mark the centennary of the start of the First World War. 

The research brief called for a timeline of Gommecourt from 1914-1918, the investigation of any local connections to Yorkshire, and work with the Museum’s cartographical and photographic material in order to try to place some of the Museum’s artifacts geographically.  Very quickly, I determined that focuing on the action fought at Gommecourt, which lasted a total of 24 hours and began on the 1st of July 1916, would be a significant challenge.

Apart from attempting to place the disastrous attack on Gommecourt in context in relation to the larger narrative of the First World War, my main goal was to present the stories of the soldiers who participated in the attack itself. Beit through photographs, letters, or, diaries, one of the best ways to engage a museum visitors is through the human stories which unfolded on this small front just north of the infamous Somme battlefields.

While I remain unsure as to the manner, or extent to which my research will be used to inform sections of the exhibition, I believe that the research I have compiled over the course of this placement has greatly increased my experience of heritage organisations, as well as producing a research document that informs a small segment of a larger exhibition.

Robert H. Porter

Public History MA Placement