Peer support network reaches out for defence research collaboration

The Defence Research Network is launching its events programme for the year ahead. The network held its inaugural informal seminar and networking event in May at the University of Bristol and is planning similar events in Leeds this November and in London in March 2018. The inaugural event brought together over 25 participants representing 10 different institutions giving them the opportunity to share an informal brief overview of their research whilst also contributing to the shaping of this new network.


The Defence Research Network connects PhD and Early Career Researchers studying defence, security or the Armed Forces in relation to policy, strategy, culture, and society. 2018 will see the network launch its first conference in September 2018 to connect with external organisations and encourage collaboration with industry, the Armed Forces, charities and other institutions.

Between face to face events, the Defence Research Network takes the form of an online forum which enables researchers to identify common research interests, share best practice as well as sharing information on upcoming events and publications. The network will also provide a space for sharing unpublished work, exploring particular ethical challenges, testing ideas, and informal peer review. Participant research interests are extremely diverse, including cybersecurity, counterinsurgency, the history of air power and the education of Armed Forces families.


To find out more about the network and to follow our blog please check out our website ( If you are interested in joining the network (or becoming a committee member) please contact us on or via LinkedIn, Facebook or on Twitter (@DefenceResNet).


Out of the shadows: understanding, researching and teaching covert action

Did Russia influence the US 2016 elections? Were Russia’s intelligence agencies involved? Since the US election, spies, espionage and covert action are back on the front pages. As a case in point, a day after his inauguration, US President Donald Trump gave a speech at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA. In the speech, he suggested that the CIA had not received enough ‘backing’ in its fight against terrorism. Since 9/11, however, the CIA, as well as its British counter-part, MI6 have played a leading role in the fight against terrorism. Their powers and capabilities have expanded and this has included an increased reliance on covert action.

Covert action has a long history in both Britain and the US. The term often refers to intelligence activities that go beyond the simple collection of information. These activities are aimed at influencing political, economic, or military conditions abroad and include propaganda, economic action, paramilitary operations (including regime change), and lethal actions (such as assassinations and/or targeted killing).


In academia, the interdisciplinary nature of covert action has often meant that researchers working on the topic have found it difficult to share research and experiences. Furthermore, the ‘sensitive’ nature of the topic has often meant that covert action is not discussed in schools and is not considered part of the curriculum. Pupils learn about issues surrounding the evolution of warfare, powers of Presidents and Prime Ministers, Cold War and decolonisation; and yet, intelligence, espionage and covert action are not discussed. There clear is an ‘intelligence gap’ in the schools curricula.

This project is funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award. The project has three main aims. First, the project aims at establishing a network of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) working on covert action in US and UK history. This network will provide an opportunity to share research and discuss developments in the discipline. Second, the project aims at engaging teachers and students from secondary schools in the study of the topic. Finally, the project aims at establishing a longer-term collaboration with schools. This will include seminars and presentations conducted by ECRs in interested schools and essay writing competitions.

The project so far

In May, we had our first Out of the Shadows Project workshop. The workshop was designed as an opportunity for the network of early career researchers and senior academics to meet, and discuss how their areas of expertise can be delivered to secondary school students and supplement subjects on the existing GCE and A-level curricula. In advance of the workshop, participants were provided with copies of the GCE and A-level curricula for England and Wales and asked to consider how their research could support the existing courses. The resulting papers outlined participants’ ongoing research projects, and explored the ways in which this research could be brought to secondary schools. Research presentations included Dr Rory Cormac on the British Way of Covert action, Chris Hoekstra on Special Operation forces, Francesca Akhtar on the history of the DIA, William Carruthers on cyber covert action and others. The final round-table included contributions from Dr Simon Willmetts, Dr Claire Hubbard-Hall, Dr Vladimir Rauta and Josh Niderost from the Political Studies Association (PSA). Overall, the expertise of the gathered participants can directly supplement a number of areas on the existing school curriculum, including:

1) The development of warfare – the evolution of tactics, strategy, technology, and the role of women in war,

2) History of the Cold War and specialist knowledge in overlooked, niche subject areas

3) The conventional and unconventional history of the Vietnam War

4) Global political affairs

5) US and UK domestic and international politics

6) US and UK history including colonisation and decolonisation.

The project going forward

We have two events lined up in June. Dr Luca Trenta and Lloyd Hopkins (PhD candidate at Swansea University) will deliver two workshops on covert action and electoral interference at Bishop Vaughan School. We are working on a training and CPD event for teachers in September. The event will include research presentations from academics and PhD students, and working groups to develop lesson plans.

In October, we will deliver a Workshop at the National Assembly for Wales on the origins of British and US intelligence. The workshop will be run in collaboration with the think tank Gorwel. The project will also be part of the Being Human: Festival of the Humanities

In the meantime, if you want to know more, you can visit our website (, follow us on Twitter @OotsProject, listen to our first podcast episode (available on SoundCloud, on our website and on iTunes) and you can share the project with your friends and colleagues.





Canadians and Australians on Welsh war memorials

This is a recording of a talk given by Dr Gethin Matthews of Swansea University at a day-conference held in Cardiff in April 2017 on the theme ‘Myth, Memory and Military encounters – National Rememberings of First World War Battles’.

The event, kindly co-sponsored by the Canadian Studies in Wales Group and the Living Legacies 1914-18 WW1 Engagement Centre, was held at the time of the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which is widely commemorated as a Canadian victory.

In the talk Dr Matthews begins with an exploration of how towns sought to count and publicise the number of volunteers they had provided in the early months of the war, and how Welshmen serving with Canadian units were included in the figures. There are examples of Canadian and Australian soldiers from Wales being celebrated by their home communities, and then an examination of how town memorials, and other memorials put up by Welsh communities, include significant numbers of Dominion troops. A number of interesting memorials in Welsh chapels are considered and the talk finishes with a family memorial in a Welsh graveyard to a Canadian soldier whose remains lie somewhere on Vimy Ridge.



Picturing Peace with Dr Tom Allbeson

A research workshop was held in Edinburgh from 14-16 June examining the relationship between peace and photography.  It was part of an ongoing collaboration between CRAM member Dr Tom Allbeson (Swansea University) and Professor Jolyon Mitchell (University of Edinburgh).

‘Visualizing Peace: Photography, Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding’ brought together over a dozen academics and photographers from across Europe and the US to analyse the role of photography in the work of conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Discussions covered a range of disciplinary perspectives, historical periods and geographic locations to examine what contribution photography has made and can make to the challenge of curtailing conflict, sustaining civil society and building peace.

Speakers at the event each circulated draft chapters ahead of the meeting. A short presentation was made by each contributor, followed by comments from a respondent to stimulate discussion. This debate on preliminary research was very constructive and the chapters will be developed into an edited volume of essays over the next year.

Gu Ying

In collaboration with Edinburgh College of Art and the Global Justice Academy, a masterclass was held with photographers and educators Martina Bacigalupo, Colin Cavers and Paul Lowe.  The Global Justice Academy also facilitated a photography competition.  The photo above by Gu Ying (Nanjing University) won a commendation.

The project is supported by an ‘Experts Meeting’ grant of €30,000 from the Social Trends Institute.


Swansea students work on research project

Swansea University offers students a chance to gain experience working with staff through the Week of Work scheme.  In March this year, two undergraduate students began working with Dr Chris Millington on a research project concerning a member of the Free French, Hilaire Marteau, who settled in Liverpool after the war.  The project aims to reconstruct the wartime experience of Marteau from the diaries and notes that he left following his death as well as from interviews with his surviving family.  Students Charlotte Hills and Joe Robins transcribed these interviews during their Week of Work placement.  They describe below why they wanted to take part in the project.

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Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French

Charlotte Hills

My name is Charlotte Hills and I am a second year undergraduate history and politics student.  I have had an interest in Second World War history since I was young, and to a large extent this is what encouraged me to undertake a history degree. Having received an email about a unique opportunity with a lot of experience with a primary source, in the form of listening to and transcribing interviews, I decided to apply. As the position was open to undergraduates as well as postgraduates I was pleased but also surprised when I was asked to attend an interview. I drew upon my previous recent experience working in my local museum, describing and cataloguing Anglo-Saxon tools, when writing my application, and this demonstration of my attention to detail, along with my enthusiasm for the project helped me succeed in securing the placement.

Listening to the transcriptions is first and foremost the best part of the placement. It is very rare to have such a unique opportunity to listen to a first-person account of someone’s life. However, the transcriptions bring their own challenges: covering five minutes of an interview will take me roughly an hour which to keep a steady progress requires about six hours work each week. This can be tough to schedule with my other responsibilities, however, I am enjoying challenging my time management abilities. It can also be confusing when natural patterns of speech occur; such as, people interrupting each other, long pauses and changing topic halfway through a sentence. This is what is time consuming as I need to be sure each word I’m transcribing is accurate and this is especially hard when places and street names are used out of context. Nonetheless, it is easy to lose track of time listening to an interesting account of such a fascinating story. Based on my experience so far with the CRAM project, I would not hesitate to apply for something similar in the future as well as encouraging anyone else to do so.


De Gaulle’s appeal to the French to continue the war

Joe Robins

I am a second year and studying History. I wanted to try something different in an area which I had an interest. The Second World War is one of my favourite areas of history, and this project enabled me to delve into aspects of which I have never come across until now. It also provided something different to degree work which is a nice change.

As I study History this opportunity situated itself in that field but I have no other transcribing experience. This was in fact one of the reasons I wanted to apply to take part in this research project as it enabled me to gain experience rather than apply previous experiences. Other than this, due to the nature of my course and previous employment, sticking to deadlines and having an eye for detail are all applicable for this project.

Transcribing is a long process but I have felt what I am listening to to be quite interesting. It is very time consuming but nonetheless quite rewarding all the same. Difficulties arise in making sure my prose is readable and presentable, and also in listening to the individuals as to make it as accurate as possible. Certain phrases are hard to hear but you have to do your best to get around this and continue. We overcome this by highlighting hard-to-hear speech and handing over to another set of ears to gather their interpretation of it.

Peer support network helping defence researchers


The Defence Research Network held its inaugural informal seminar and networking event on Thursday 11 May at the University of Bristol. The Defence Research Network connects PhD and Early Career Researchers studying defence, security or the Armed Forces in relation to policy, strategy, culture, and society. Over 25 participants, representing 10 different institutions, had the opportunity to share an informal brief overview of their research whilst also contributing to the shaping of this new network. Group discussions explored the opportunities for a regional programme of networking events and a future conference in addition to exploring opportunities for sharing ideas and experiences online and peer support.


Reflecting on the event, Rachel Morgan from Swansea University said, “The DRN inauguration event was a fantastic opportunity for me to network with academics studying across a broad range of disciplines. I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my research project and listening to talks given by the other scholars”. Richard Fisher from Cranfield University also enjoyed the event saying that “it was really good value to meet like-minded people” and, “The breadth of defence research being conducted is outstanding and there’s so many opportunities for people to share and test ideas, co-operate and help forge relationships for the rest of their academic careers”.

Between face to face events, the Defence Research Network takes the form of an online forum which enables researchers to identify common research interests, share best practice as well as sharing information on upcoming events and publications. The network will also provide a space for sharing unpublished work, exploring particular ethical challenges, testing ideas, and informal peer review. Participant research interests include cybersecurity, counterinsurgency, the history of air power and the education of Armed Forces families. If you are interested in joining the network please contact us on or on Twitter (@DefenceResNet).

The Nuclear Threat in Britain, at Cardiff Public Uni

CRAM member Dr Christoph Laucht will be presenting at the Cardiff Public Uni event on Friday 29th March.  Dr Laucht’s paper is entitled, ‘The Nuclear Threat in Britain and the Politics of the Unknown during the Cold War’.


The venue is the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.  More information can be found here:

Defence Research Network founded

A post from CRAM’s Allyson Edwards….

Recently, I have collaborated with PhD candidates from across the UK regarding the establishment of a research network dedicated to PhD and early career researchers studying defence, security or the Armed Forces in relation to policy, strategy, culture and society. As a group, we have identified that no such network currently exists and have met numerous times to discuss the opportunities this gap presents. During the meetings we have been able to establish a network, a set of aims and discover potential funding opportunities that will allow us to create a fully comprehensive networking platform for those completing their doctoral studies or within the formative years of their academic career. Whilst this organisation is for PhD candidates and early career researchers, we are hoping for the support of both established organisations and academics to ensure the success of our network.


The network is still in its early stages, however we invite you to follow us on twitter and keep up-to-date on future events that are already in the pipeline!

Twitter link:

Cultural Property and Armed Conflicts

A blog post from CRAM’s Dr Nigel Pollard…

On Thursday 23rd February 2017, the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill 2016-2017 received the Royal Assent and so became an Act of Parliament. This was a big moment for me, as I’ve been part of lobbying efforts to achieve this for the last five years as a board member of the UK National Committee of Blue Shield. The key provision of the Act is that the UK will finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the protection of cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its two Protocols, of 1954 and 1999. ‘Cultural Property’ in this sense includes monuments, sites and buildings, museums, galleries , libraries, archives and their contents  ‘of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people’.

Blue Shield Vienna

The Blue Shield emblem, displayed on the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Military History Museum) in Vienna. (photo by Corine Wegener).

Damage to cultural property has been long-standing feature of wars and internal conflicts throughout history, and has been subject to considerable scrutiny in recent decades, through conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Libya, Egypt and the former Yugoslavia. This is the result of deliberate, ideologically motivated attacks on cultural property associated with other cultures and religions, accidental damage caused by insufficient care and respect for cultural property when conducting military operations, failure of occupying armed forces to safeguard cultural sites and property for which they are responsible, and looting of unprotected sites and collections in conflict zones for the illicit antiquities trade.


The Temple of Bel at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra in Syria, deliberately destroyed by Da’esh (the ‘Islamic State’) in 2015.

The UK, like the USA, didn’t ratify the original 1954 Hague Convention for political and military reasons associated with its Cold War context, and while the UK claimed to work within the spirit of the Convention (for example, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq), it is the last country with extensive military involvements abroad to ratify it. Passing of the Act and ratification of the Convention will be important symbolic steps in demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the protection of cultural property as well as having practical implications. For example, violations of the Convention and its protocols will be recognised as offences in UK law, and legal sanctions relating to dealing in ‘unlawfully exported cultural property’ will be strengthened.  The UK is preparing an inventory of its own cultural property for the purposes of protection, and potentially some buildings may be marked with the Blue Shield emblem for protection, already in use in some countries such as Austria. Another requirement of the Convention is that the UK is establishing a special unit within the armed forces for the protection of cultural property, inevitably popularly dubbed the ‘New Monuments Men’ after the Anglo-American Allied Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-Commission of the Second World War, popularised by the 2014 George Clooney film. In addition, the UK set up a £30 million Cultural Protection Fund to fund projects and initiatives in this field in 2016, after consultation with heritage specialists including myself.


A late Roman house at Sergilla, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘Ancient Villages of Northern Syria’, damaged in the course of fighting in the Syrian civil war.

I became interested in this issue through my research relating to damage to archaeological sites such as Pompeii in the Second World War, and the history of the ‘Monuments Men’ organisation. For that reason I played a role in the re-establishment of the UK National Committee of Blue Shield in 2012. However, as an archaeologist, much of my past research and fieldwork related to Roman Syria, so the intensification of the civil war there involved me more and more in contemporary efforts to preserve heritage sites in conflict zones.  I’ve digitised many of my images of archaeological sites in Syria that have been damaged in the conflict as a contribution to their preservation for research and teaching.


News of two forthcoming papers…

Prof. John Foot of Bristol University will be speaking at the CRAM semimar on Thursday 30th March.  The paper is entitled, ‘Overturning the Asylum: Radical Psychiatry in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s.’  The venue will be Swansea University, Callaghan Building, Room B02/03 and the paper will begin at 5pm.


CRAM member Dr Christoph Laucht will be speaking at the School of Modern Languages, Cardiff University, on 15th March.  The paper begins at 1pm and is entitled, ‘Hollywood in Early Cold War Germany’.  The venue is MLANG room 0.42.