News & Events
As with any engagement project, War and the Moral Outdoors relies upon (and can be judged upon) successfully engaging with members of the public outside academia. I’m lucky to have a small but dedicated group of non-academic volunteers working with me on my project as we analyse the wartime diaries of Gateshead munitions worker (and in later life, theatre owner and politician) Ruth Dodds. Although these diaries are obviously personal to Ruth and her situation, they are still rich with insight about life on the home front during the war years. Her diary may well be one of the most significant windows onto the home front experience available in the UK today, despite being little known outside Tyne and Wear.
A key project milestone was completed some months ago when digital copies of the wartime diaries were completed, printed, and posted to each of the project participants as “diary packs”. We’ve now reached another milestone – the diary packs are being returned to me, brimming with written contributions from the participants. These written contributions are the most important ingredient in this project – they will eventually form the annotations on the route maps that we produce, and those maps will follow (as far as possible) Ruth’s journeying around the region explaining how she sought escape from the brutality of war and her contribution to that brutality as a “munitionette”.
The following image shows a “fresh” diary pack – a cover sheet reminds participants what the project aims are, followed by some sixty reproduced pages from Ruth’s diary (in this instance, from 1915). From the very first page, this particular diary pack dwells on Ruth’s inclination to place moral hopes in the natural world over the human world. In the extract below Aidos refers to the Greek goddess of humility that restrains people from harming one another, and Nemesis refers to the Greek goddess who exacts retribution against the arrogant (from the Greek nemein which translates as “to give what is due”). Ruth was 25 when she wrote this.
May 20th 1915 to Oct 1915
To Aidos and Nemesis this altar
amidst the green boughs of the
orchard is set up, and to them
are daily offered fresh flowers.
not here, O heavenly ones, not
within these sheltering walls
may you linger. But as
you pass to and fro amidst
the hatred and strife of men,
shed on their hearts
the peace of the garden
and the gentleness of the flowers.
(Diary of Ruth Dodds c.1915, Tyne and Wear Archives DF.DOD/1/7)
As a researcher, the current stage of the project is hugely exciting because almost all of the diary packs are now back with me, and the participants have written some wonderful, engaging narratives about Ruth in general and her particular moral yearning for a life in nature’s image – something which the above quote dwells on explicitly. But my participants have also been brilliant at picking out far more subtle moments which will grace the walking route we create.
The creation of that walking route – possibly a series of short routes rather that one long route – is the next stage in our project as we work out the how best to connect the different locations and landscapes where Ruth experiences these important moments.