An associate professor in international history at the London School of Economics (LSE), Jones is to consider how British prisoners endured captivity, both in camps in Germany and as forced labourers working for the German army under fire on the western front. She will examine the extent to which PoWs were mistreated, and ask why their history has been largely forgotten.
Here, Jones charts her lifelong love of history, and gives a taster of her Malmesbury lecture, ‘Beaten Men? British Prisoners of War in German Captivity in the First World War’.
Q: When did you first realise you had a passion for history?
A: I discovered my love of history when I was a very young child – I had a vivid imagination, and I loved visiting castles and ruins.
I also became very interested in politics. Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, politics and history were everywhere due to the violence in Northern Ireland. You couldn’t avoid it.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a historian?
A: History is really about being interested in people. So what I love most about being a historian is that it gives me the chance to learn about the lives of people, and to tell their stories.
Q: What is it about the First World War that interests you?
A: I think it’s the tragedy of it. It came very close to being avoided, and it set up many of the modern dynamics we understand today. A lot of the contemporary world comes from the First World War.
And the huge calamity at the heart of the war fascinates me.
Q: Are you reading any interesting history books at the moment?
A: I’m reading Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain. It’s a brilliant book about a horrific conflict.
I am also reading a number of history novels including War and Peace [by Leo Tolstoy]. I never had the time to get to it before, so it’s great to be able to finally try and conquer it now!
Q: What can we expect from your talk?
A: It’s about the forgotten history of British prisoners of war (PoWs), and the hidden history of forced labour. These individuals were captured and forced to work behind enemy lines.
There were major, well-known abuses against British PoWs during the Second World War. I want to revise our perception of the First World War, and reveal how those PoWs suffered also; precedents for later German abuses of prisoners were partly set during 1914-1918.
To find out more about the History Weekend, and to buy tickets, visit www.historyweekend.com
To buy tickets to Heather Jones’s talk, click here.