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Senate House Library

New exhibition explores power of writing for peace from end of the Great War in 1919 to Greta Thunberg in 2019


Written by
Rebecca Simpson

From the end of the Great War in 1919 to Greta Thunberg in 2019, a new exhibition Writing in Times of Conflict explores the power of words in striving for peace and reconciliation during conflict over the last 100 years through 100 books, photos & archives. It’s free and open to the public until 14 December 2019 at Senate House Library, University of London.

The exhibition starts in 1919 just after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles marked the formal end of the First World War, which led to the establishment of many contemporary peace movements. It explores some of the most significant military, environmental and economic conflicts that ensued right up until 2019, touching on current political issues such as Brexit, economic inequality, and climate change.

There are many bold stories by well-known writers on display in the exhibition. These include one of the first editions of John Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace, a rare signed copy of in our time by Ernest Hemingway and a letter from Virginia Woolf describing WWII bombers flying overhead.


These are complemented by unique photographs and documents to give context, such as one of the few surviving photostatic copies of the 'Nazi Black Book' originally compiled in 1940. The Ministry of Information, which was based at Senate House during the Second World War, gave it to the Library when it left the premises in 1945. It lists notable peace activists and politicians targeted by the Gestapo, many of whom feature in the exhibition, and amounts to nearly 3,000 people.

Highlights include photos of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common showing activists holding hands around the compound and a 10,000-strong crowd in protest following an appeal by the International Peace Campaign in 1938. We also have The Left Unity posters relating to Brexit and Trump which are highly visual and powerful objects. They are a key example of the intense polarisation of society today, and the response from emerging contemporary political movements.


James W. Gould, PhD, World War II Veteran turned peace activist & Founder of Women in Peace web resource & database said: "The Writing in Times of Conflict exhibition at Senate House Library provides people with space to explore the power of words used at protests, while in exile and during wartime at different points in the last 100 years. Showing books, photos and letters within the context in which they were written shows you how courageous and influential writing has been. Going right up to 2019, the exhibition provides that all important perspective in a time when we continue to face conflict and allows you to consider some of the world’s biggest questions…Is the pen mightier than the sword? Can we ever have world peace? - This exhibition is a must-see.”


Told through Senate House Library’s global collections, Writing in Times of Conflict combines a selection of narratives by writers, journalists, politicians and local communities from Africa, Latin America and Europe, divided into four main themes:

Writing for Peace

Writing in Wartime

Writing from Exile

Writing in Protest

We want people to be able to relate to a very diverse range of material showing different voices, and for the books, photos and letters to form a snapshot for reflection which will  resonate today and inspire a new love for writing. Whether it’s a new student just starting school or university comparing the brave words of ordinary women at Greenham Common next to contemporary campaigner Greta Thunberg, or someone older who may well have experienced some of the conflicts, this exhibition provides time and space for reflection on how these stories can help navigate a path for peace today and in future.


We are building our accompanying events programme around the four themes in the exhibition with film screenings and events with authors and journalists who have campaigned for peace during conflicts. We can’t reveal our programme just yet but watch this space and follow #WritingforPeace on social media for news of exciting events when term starts again.

About the author

Rebecca Simpson
Exhibition Design, Senate House Library