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The Archaeology of Air Raid Shelters

Air raid shelter, Hendon (Image by kind permission of Nick Catford)

Towards an International Heritage Perspective of Modern Warfare

Inquisitive school-children examining a recently excavated air raid shelter in London

This project grows out of an ongoing programme of excavation and survey of Second World War air raid shelters in London. It aims to draw together historical, archaeological and heritage-focused studies of air raid shelters from all periods in all parts of the world to examine the common themes in the civilian experience of modern warfare.

Air raid shelters are unique physical and social spaces. Their architecture, construction, and means of use are unlike any other structure: they are uncanny, marginal spaces associated with fear, danger and emergency. In wartime air raid shelters have also become the focus for concerns about public health, morale, morality, sexuality, gender and class.

In the art and literature of Second World War Britain the air raid shelter and its inhabitants – frightened, dazed, defiant – feature prominently. Bill Brandt’s photographs of Londoners crowded on the platforms of underground stations are echoed in Henry Moore’s sketches and the novels of Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and others. This image of civilian shelters and shelterers is a thread connecting non-combatants across time and space from First World War London to civil war Barcelona and Second World War Tokyo and Hamburg, and on to Hanoi, Beirut and Baghdad.

The heritage of warfare is often highly politically divisive and problematic. This project will use the resilient material heritage of civilians living under the threat of aerial bombardment to highlight its universality and inhumanity that transcends nationalist historical narratives of conflict. The project aims to build on existing collaborations and connections with colleagues in Spain and Germany to create a broader research network leading to a formal research proposal.


Related outputs

  • G. Moshenska. Forthcoming. Unbuilt heritage: conceptualising absence in the historical environment. In S. May, H. Orange and S. Penrose (eds.) The Good, the Bad and the Unbuilt: Handling the Heritage of the 21st Century. Oxford: Archaeopress.
  • G. Moshenska. 2010. Air Raid Shelters: a short history of British air-raid shelters WW1 and WW2. Military Times.
  • G. Moshenska. 2010. Spanish Civil War air-raid shelters in Barcelona. Subterranea 25: 54-6.
  • G. Moshenska. 2009. Resonant materiality and violent remembering: archaeology, memory and bombing. International Journal of Heritage Studies 15(1): 44-56
  • G. Moshenska. 2007. Unearthing an air-raid shelter at Edgware Junior School. London Archaeologist 11(9): 237-40.

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