Education and ingenuity: The Second World War Past and Present at Lighthouse

By Duncan Andrews | 22 March 2012
An image of a computer game showing a city at night
© Corporation Pop
Exhibition: Past and Present, Lighthouse, Brighton, until April 1 2012

For the past 12 months, students from both Longhill High School and Brighton Aldridge Community Academy have been working in collaboration with older residents from Brighton and Hove to create an educational computer game and a city-based reality app about life on the home front during the Second World War.

This exhibition showcases both sets of students’ work on these two intergenerational projects, as well as the curatorial and creative processes which led to the exhibition.

With Heritage Lottery Fund backing, these young people have collected a variety of historical sources from this tremulous period, such as photographs, archival footage, oral testimonies and documents.

Visitors to the exhibition can play a Lives of War computer game, explore the Past and Present photography collection on the Historypin website, watch re-edited archival footage complete with newly recorded oral testimonies or browse a selection of digitalised documents from the Mass Observation Archive.

The Lives at War is a free online virtual reality learning resource by developers Corporation Pop, aimed at Key Stage 3 and 4 students who are learning about life on the home front. Players are encouraged to explore a fictitious Brighton street from the 1940’s and complete a series of linear objectives.

Each time they complete a task they learn about the lives and experiences of those who lives through the Second World War.

Complete with a distinct 1940s soundtrack, the game explores the different points of view of those living in the street through characters created by the students, who utilised the documents and re-edited archival footage researched and collected by the students at Longhill.

Working with film maker Annis Joslin, historians, archivists and teachers, these students have re-edited archival footage from Screen Archive East with diaries from the Mass Observation Archive while creating new spoken testimonials from residents who lived during the Second World War.

These newly recorded oral testimonies provide an engaging and immersive way of re-contextualising memories and documents, in effect creating new and insightful narratives about the war effort.

We are introduced to the older residents through a series of portraits on display at the exhibition, enabling visitors to sympathise with the voices and narratives on the film and humanise their struggles.

The students from Brighton Aldridge Community Academy worked with artist Hannah Brady to curate a project in which they have selected photographs from local libraries and Queens Park archives depicting Brighton and Hove during the war.

These photos, along with creative writing from the students, have been uploaded to Historypin – an award-winning Smartphone app which allows the user to locate historical photographs based on their geographical location.

These selected photos are displayed at the exhibition in an interesting way.  Each set of photos contains a series of three images: a photo of an iconic Brighton and Hove landmark during the War, a modern day photo of the same landmark taken by the students and a document such as newspaper article or diary during the War.

Both of these projects have been created through intergenerational research, as students and older residents work together through new digital technologies to introduce these objects, documents and images to new audiences.

The overall effect of the exhibition and both the projects highlight that quintessentially British trait of togetherness and nostalgic sense of a community soldiering on under great duress. 

Visitors to the exhibition can expect narratives about schoolchildren being separated from family members or wives having to work in machine factories.  As Frank, one of the older residents of Brighton and Hove whose testimonies was used in the Lives of War game, recalls: “War was about carrying on.”
As the title of the exhibition implies, it blends past narratives and memories with the digital tools of the present to create two interactive educational tools for learning about history.

Perhaps most importantly, these two projects rekindle the sense of a shared community, bringing both old and young residents from Brighton and Hove together to celebrate an important period of local and national history.

More pictures:
A photo of schoolchildren talking to older visitors as part of a history project
Students and local residents have been united by the exhibition in Brighton and Hove© Annis Joslin
A photo of a woman looking at black and white photos of people during the 1940s
The sense of a shared commmunity is a reminder of wartime attitudes
© Annis Joslin
A photo of a black and white scene from a computer game recreating the 1940s
Visitors can play a computer game, Lives of War, with a home front feel to it© Corporation Pop
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