The Origins of Keep Calm and Carry On


Susan Grayzel

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By now, it feels like there can’t be anyone who hasn’t seen the sign with its white letters on the sharp red background: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Even more likely, we’ve seen what feel like infinite variations: “keep calm and smile on;” “keep calm and study hard;” “keep calm and rock on;” or even “sod calm and get angry.” But behind the popular resurgence of this 1939 British wartime slogan is an important story about how the age of air power shifted the relationship of individuals and their states in ways with which we are still grappling. What role would non-combatants have in the wars after 1918? What could states ask of their entire populations—from children to the elderly and including men and women of all walks of life? What does it mean that they asked them to “keep calm and carry on?” And why does this development still matter? Sue Grayzel, a University of Mississippi professor of history, received her A.B. Magna cum laude with Highest Honors in History and Literature from Harvard University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Late Modern European History from the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of Women's Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War, which won the British Council Book Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies in 2000; Women and the First World War, At Home and Under Fire: Air Raids and Culture in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz, and The First World War: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford St. Martins, 2012) for the Bedford Series in History and Culture. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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