By Jenny Flood, CHASE funded student at the University of Sussex
I wanted my work placement to reflect my passion for understanding how the First World War was experienced on the home front, and how research is communicated to a wider audience. I therefore negotiated a bespoke placement with CHASE, designed to expand on an earlier project.
Between 2014 and 2016, I worked with Newhaven Town Council on a Heritage Lottery funded project called Newhaven’s First World War. As part of the project, I researched and wrote the content for eight site-specific information panels, collectively known as the ‘Poppy Trail’, which are now dotted around the town and tell the story of Newhaven during the First World War. During my research, I uncovered many interesting stories which, because of the limited space on the panels, were largely left untold. My work placement was, therefore, to bring these stories together in a book and submit a proposal to Pen & Sword for it to be published as part of their ‘Your Towns and Cities in the Great War’ series. My sponsor for the placement was Newhaven Town Council and it was also supported by Newhaven Museum, whose photographs would illustrate the book. It was a six month placement originally spread over a year. This enabled me to take into account the natural breaks in the placement, whilst allowing me not to lose sight of my thesis.
Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan. The timing of my proposal, coming at the end of the First World War centenary (2018), and the local nature of the book, meant that publishers (I approached three others) were no longer commissioning community books on the First World War. On a positive note, I made a useful contact in a commissioning editor, who offered me work on another book series. However, as far as my placement was concerned, I now had a first draft of a book but no publisher.
Determined not to be beaten, I looked at self-publishing, but found it to be too expensive. E-books were an option, but not appropriate due to copyright issues and because my target audience preferred the materiality of a physical book. I toyed with the idea of creating short films of my research and this led to me working with fellow CHASE student Karen Boswall, on a summer school called ‘Making films of your research’, through CHASE’s student-led training initiative. Whilst this was too late for my work placement, it is certainly something I will progress with my doctoral research on identity and morale in First World War training camps. In the end, I got agreement from CHASE to convert three of my book chapters into stand-alone booklets, to be printed locally.
This change in direction created new opportunities for learning. Much of the work, which would otherwise have been done by a publisher, I now had to do myself. This included cover design, layout, indexing, obtaining ISBNs and working with printers. I also secured local outlets for the booklets. I have to admit, it is very exciting to open a box filled with your own books and seeing them displayed, for sale, in local museums.
The whole process made me reflect on the different ways we communicate our research to the wider public and which options are most appropriate for our target audience. Splitting my original book into separate booklets made it more affordable for my audience, who could then chose the topics they were particular interested in, although some have bought all three titles. It has also given me further options for the future, as I can add more books to the series, based on the other chapters in my original book.
My advice to anyone thinking about a placement is not to worry if things don’t go to plan. It may just lead to something better.