MCH Seminar Series: ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’: Investigating the Power of the Poppy and the Significance of the Centenary



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Photo credit: Joanne Sayner


We are delighted to announce details of the next event in the MCH seminar series:

‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’: Investigating the Power of the Poppy and the Significance of the Centenary

Speakers: Dr Jenny Kidd (Cardiff University) and Dr Joanne Sayner (Newcastle University)
Chair: Prof Rhiannon Mason (Newcastle University)
Date and time: 17th May, 3 – 5pm
Location: Armstrong Building, Newcastle University, Room 2.90
Format: Co-presented paper followed by discussion

Free, all welcome


On 4 August 2014 the now iconic poppy exhibition ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ opened at the Tower of London. Memorably dismissed as ‘Fake, trite and inward-looking – a UKIP-style memorial’ by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian (28 October 2014), it was nevertheless estimated that five million people visited it in the four months it was onsite. Accompanying this installation was an education programme developed by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) called ‘Why Remember?’. This programme in turn originated in an Arts and Humanities Research Council network called ‘The Significance of the Centenary’, which was co-organised by the authors of this paper and the Education and Learning Manager of HRP. It was based on three questions ‘Why should we remember?’, ‘Why are 100 years significant?’ and ‘How would you remember?’. The programme ran online (, was part of HRP’s on- and off-site learning programmes, was the basis for visitor research done during the opening week of the installation, and is now being used to address audiences as two set pieces from the poppy installation travel around the UK. More than 2000 responses have been gathered to date. It is the 1488 visitor responses collated at the Tower and online as part of Historic Royal Palaces learning programmes between August 2014 and April 2015 that are the subject of this paper.

Discourse and content analysis of the data provides us with some answers to the questions: who participated (in terms of age, gender and nationality); why they thought they were there; what forms of remembering they considered to be important; what links they made to other events past and present; and to what extent their answers evoked and/or reflected an emotional response. We investigate the extent to which remembrance was performed differently by males and females, online and offline, and we draw conclusions about the effect of age and nationality. We focus particularly on the ways in which people talked about the poppy as a symbol of remembrance and the relationship this symbol had to the centenary as marker and event. We explore how the visitors used the participation in the survey as a form of commemoration and suggest that, based on these responses, it is too simplistic to dismiss the installation as a nationalistic and ‘toothless’ war memorial (Jones 2014).

Jenny Kidd is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. She researches across the fields of digital, heritage and museum studies, with a particular interest in questions of representation and power. Jenny recently published Representation (Routledge 2015) and Museums in the New Mediascape (Ashgate 2014). Dr Jenny Kidd,,‎, @jenkidd

Joanne Sayner is Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University. She publishes on the politics of remembering in the UK and contemporary Germany, with a particular focus on gender, media and life writing. Her most recent book was Reframing Antifascism: Memory, Genre and the Life Writings of Greta Kuckhoff (Palgrave 2013). Dr Joanne Sayner,

Both Jenny and Joanne are Co-Investigators for the AHRC WWI Voices of War and Peace Engagement Centre ( with responsibility for the thematic area ‘Commemoration’.