Explaining settler committment to a war that was not theirs: Steve Marti, Embattled Communities: Voluntary Action and Identity in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, 1914-1918, PhD Deissertation, University of Western Ontario, 2015


Abstract: This dissertation examines voluntary mobilization during the First World War to understand why communities on the social and geographical periphery of the British Empire mobilized themselves so enthusiastically to support a distant war, fought for a distant empire. Lacking a strong state apparatus or a military-industrial complex, the governments of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand relied on voluntary contributions to sustain their war efforts. Community-based voluntary societies knitted socks, raised funds to purchase military equipment, and formed contingents of soldiers. By examining the selective mobilization of voluntary participation, this study will understand how different communities negotiated social and spatial boundaries as they attempted to project their communal identity through wartime patriotism.

The process of voluntary mobilization allowed communities to organize their efforts in a manner that reflected and projected their collective identity. By deciding the scale and scope of voluntary efforts, controlling who was included or excluded in these efforts, advertising the community’s achievements, regulating who would benefit from these contributions, the organizers of voluntary patriotic work determined how these efforts would fit into the national and imperial war effort. The records and
correspondence detailing the coordination of voluntary contributions reveal the terms by which communities defined themselves through their patriotic efforts.

Yet the extent to which communities could project their identity through their voluntary contributions was mediated by dominion governments, which authorized and accepted voluntary efforts. State authorities determined which communities could mobilize independently, which should be mobilized into an existing effort, and which communities should be prevented from contributing to the war altogether. A comparative study of mobilization in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand will reveal how categories of space, ethnicity, and race factored both in the constructions and negotiations of communal identities, as well as the effacement of marginalized communities.

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