Skip to main content

Writing in Times of Conflict


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.

Writing in times of conflict poster, A Senate House Library (SHL) event

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

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.

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