Arts alumnus working on World War I writings

Apr 4th, 2014

Elizabeth Furey

Arts alumnus working on World War I writings

Nancy Martin’s interest in the First World War began in high school. An interest piqued by Kevin Major’s No Man’s Land has stayed with Ms. Martin, who is now a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford. The Mount Pearl native is currently working on a number of projects associated with the First World War, including her doctoral thesis.

That interest was solidified while studying at Memorial’s Harlow campus in 2005, where she completed the Landscape and Literature program under the teaching of Drs. Michael and Annette Staveley. While there, Ms. Martin and her classmates had the opportunity to travel to Beaumont Hamel with Kevin Major, who was Memorial’s writer-in-residence at the time.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Ms. Martin. “To see the places Mr. Major had described in his novel and to visit the battlefield where so many of Newfoundland’s young men fought and lost their lives was very moving. Looking back, my term at Harlow was among the most significant and rewarding of my undergraduate degree. It was here that I chose to pursue a career in academics.”

Thus far, that academic career has included a bachelor of arts and a masters degree in women’s studies (MWS) at Memorial and an MA in English Literature at Carleton University. While finishing her MWS at Memorial, she was accepted to the University of Oxford, where she holds a Rothermere Fellowship and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council doctoral award. Her doctoral work is focused on First World War writings, and examines British literature and life-writing, including fiction and poetry, as well as trench diaries, letters and memoirs. Her thesis examines how writers represent masculine and feminine identity in the context of dramatic social change, wherein government (through propaganda) is frantically working to re-code the wartime behaviour of both men and women.

“War representation is an incredibly rich area for literary study. As an extreme experience, war poses an extraordinary challenge to a writer’s powers of evocation; it pushes both author and the text to the limits of their ability."

Ms. Martin is also in the process of compiling materials for an edited collection of Newfoundland’s First World War writing. The selection of wartime poetry, songs, letters and diary excerpts will include the voices of soldiers and nurses, as well as volunteers, mothers, fathers and sisters. She believes the recovery and inclusion of these often-neglected wartime experiences to be incredibly important.

“At present, there exists no single text that speaks to the colony’s diverse responses to the war on both home and battlefront and the text will therefore aim to provide the broad spectrum of Newfoundland war experience. As the war’s centenary approaches, it is vital that we preserve and understand this part of our history.”

After completing her doctoral program this spring, Ms. Martin also plans to begin research on a project that will focus on First World War literature and life-writing in Newfoundland. This research, which is a study of the discourses of nationalism, imperialism and identity, will examine how the dominion’s men and women experienced, understood and represented the war as Newfoundlanders.