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New book explores treatment of conscientious objectors during WWI

'Telling Tales About Men' cover image: ‘Taking Cover’

'Telling Tales About Men' cover image: ‘Taking Cover’ signed F.H. - ‘AFTER Lawson Wood’

Lois Bibbings, Senior Lecturer, School of Law

Lois Bibbings, Senior Lecturer, School of Law signed F.H. - ‘AFTER Lawson Wood’

Press release issued: 6 November 2009

Some of the ways in which conscientious objectors to compulsory military service were viewed and treated in England during WWI are the focus of a forthcoming book, Telling Tales About Men, by Lois Bibbings, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol.

Some of the ways in which conscientious objectors to compulsory military service were viewed and treated in England during WWI are the focus of a new book, Telling Tales About Men, by Lois Bibbings, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol.

The book provides an intriguing account of how these men — who opposed the war because of religious, moral and political belief — were perceived during this conflict.

Historically, conscientious objectors could be imprisoned or otherwise penalised when their beliefs led into conflict with the government. Unsurprisingly, they were often deemed to be cowards, traitors, despicable criminals and degenerates. However, at the same time these men were also sometimes considered to be heroes and patriots — upstanding and intensely moral folk.

Exploring the relationship between men, war, culture, patriotism and individual conscience, Bibbings draws on a range of materials and disciplines to produce this socio-cultural study. Sources include diaries, government papers, legal records, newspapers, magazines and novels, whilst the book is informed by writings from literary and gender studies, criminology, sociology, law and history.

Bibbings said: “We all know stories about the Great War but these tend to focus upon soldiers and warfare. What I wanted to do in this book was to explore the ways in which tales could be told about the men who refused to fight.”

Comments about Telling Tales About Men include:

“A refreshing and radically new approach to assessing attitudes to Britain’s First World War conscientious objectors. The book is essential reading for all those concerned with what the First World War really meant to British society.” Cyril Pearce, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Leeds.
“This is an original, culturally nuanced and engaging book which marries the personal with the political. The narratives about ‘conchies’ presented within these pages challenge established understanding about these men and make a valuable contribution to existing literature about those who say no to war.” Julian Putkowski, military historian, researcher and broadcaster.
"In telling the intriguing stories of these men, Bibbings brilliantly exposes the contradictions of manliness in wartime." Professor Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck College.
"There are literally tens of thousands of books about the men who fought the First World War, but only a handful about those who - often at the cost of prison - refused to fight. This careful look at what their fellow citizens thought of these resisters is a welcome addition to the literature and deepens our understanding of this period." Adam Hochschild, writer, journalist and Visiting Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Bibbings's book makes a theoretically informed, incisive and original intervention into the burgeoning work on the relationships between men, culture, patriotism, war and individual conscience." Keith Jenkins, Emeritus Professor of Historical Theory, University of Chichester.

Lois Bibbings is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol.

Lois also helps run The Meriton Law Enrichment Project, a pioneering programme that involves both bringing young mothers to the University and working with them in their school environment. The project involves students from The Meriton, a pupil referral unit that provides education and support for young mothers, attending a series of teaching sessions at the University.

The book, published by Manchester University PressISBN-10: 071906922X, ISBN-13: 978-0719069222, is available to order from Blackwells or Amazon.

Further information

Please contact Caroline Clancy for further information.