While I mentioned the other day that I am giving my first lecture here in Australia in April, I have been remiss in mentioning that in I have also had a conference paper accepted as well. In July I will be presenting at the conference of the International Society for First World War Studies in Melbourne. I will be presenting on the subject of ‘Creating the Narrative: The Royal Air Force, The War in the Air, and the Origins of a Discipline.’ The paper forms part of my ongoing reflections on the development of the discipline of air power studies. The paper will form part of a panel on ‘Recording, representing and reinterpreting the Great War in the air.’ I will be presenting alongside Dr Michael Molkentin and Dr Brett Holman. Michael will be discussing ‘‘Our worthy and gallant foe’: aerial adversaries, air combat and chivalry in the Australian Flying Corps’ while Brett’s paper is ‘The ‘Blitz spirit’ before the Blitz: constructing and erasing narratives of civilian resistance to air raids, 1914-1939.’ I am looking forward to this conference and my abstract is below.

In 1922, the first volume The War in the Air, the official history of Britain’s role in the air war of the First World War, was published. Authored by Sir Walter Raleigh, a Professor of English Literature, this volume, and those written by H.A. Jones after the former’s death, have become an important source for those researching and writing on aspects of air warfare in the First World War. Indeed, one recent author has described these volumes, published between 1922 and 1937, as both authoritative and balanced in their appraisal of the air war.[1] As such, Raleigh and Jones created the narrative around which much of the historiography has evolved. However, unlike the official histories of Britain’s land campaigns, little attention, beyond remarks in introductions and literature reviews, has been given to how these volumes were produced and their influence.

As such, this paper proposes to examine a number of interrelated aspects concerning the production of The War in the Air. First, this paper will consider the origins of the volumes and the selection of author’s, which became a key issue after Raleigh’s death. Second, it will examine the content of the volumes through a series of case studies and consider how objective Raleigh and Jones were as historians. Third, the paper will contemplate the influence the Royal Air Force (RAF) had in the construction of the narrative found in the books. Fourth, it will consider the importance of the book to the RAF as an organisation. Finally, this paper will reappraise Raleigh and Jones’ place within the discipline of air power studies and what influence The War in the Air has had on the writing of the history of air warfare.

[1] Peter Dye, The Bridge to Airpower: Logistics Support for Royal Flying Corps Operations in the Western Front, 1914-18 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015), pp. 10-1.


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