Oxford: Berg, 2003
288pp, 70 b/w figures.
ISBN 1859736084 (paperback)

Reviewed by A. B. Graves

With this work Saunders has achieved one of the grails of research: identifying and developing a subject which has received little if any serious attention from academics but which was crying out for examination and analysis.

He proposes and develops a system of classification, which if generally adopted, will be extremely useful for curators and for future researchers in this and related fields. In doing so he casts a wide net and extends the boundaries of what constitutes 'trench art' to include (for example) modern fine art made from WW1 battlefield salvage, and I suspect this, and perhaps some of the other categories, will prove a bone of contention. Cultural differences could bear further examination: Saunders notes the differences between allied and German trench art from the Great War but appears to ignore this line of inquiry in discussing some of his other examples.

The anthropological/sociological approach of this study is appropriate to the subject and even quite lyrical at times, but this reviewer felt that some important and obvious points were little touched upon: it was page 109 before I found a fleeting reference to the need of men at war to 'hold on to their humanity and civilization': surely in many cases a major motivation for creative activity. Likewise some passing comments do stretch credibility: communal singing for example (also p.109) which 'filled men's ears with the sounds of peacetime' does not sit easily with the resigned brutality of many soldier's songs of this period - or indeed others - along the lines of 'Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire'.

Despite some reservations, which are to be expected when a new field has been opened up for research, this is an excellent piece of work and should set the standard for further work in this area from a variety of perspectives.

A. B. Graves

The author is a graduate of the Landscape Achaeology MA at the University of Sheffield, He has a particular interest in archaeological interpretation and in using non (archaeologically) standard means to explore the implications of theoretical speculation - such as creative fiction.

© Graves 2004
© assemblage 2004

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