Changing Faces of Heroism since the First World War


A new online course about how the First World War changed traditional views of heroism is launched today by the University of Leeds, in partnership with the BBC.

Starting in October, World War One: Changing Faces of Heroism, is a free online course that looks at the emergence of new kinds of heroes and heroines, such as ordinary ‘Tommies’ and front-line nurses, as well as alternative hero figures including anti-war campaigners.

The three week course explores art, literature, film and television, where people will learn about the portrayals of heroism before, during and since the war.

They will also be guided through an analysis of World War One heroic propaganda images and recruitment posters, and encouraged to curate their own exhibition of heroism in paintings using

The course draws on the expertise of academics behind the University’s Legacies of War centenary project, as well as interviews, film and images from the BBC’s archives and the University’s Liddle Collection. Learners will also look at the war from a range of perspectives, with University of Leeds experts leading them through the changing British, French and German views of heroism.

Alison Fell, Professor of French Cultural History, leads the Legacies of War project. She said: “The war made people question not only what makes a war hero or heroine, but whether it was desirable – or even possible – to be heroic in mass industrialised warfare.

“Working with the fascinating voices and images from the past stored in the BBC archive has been vital in helping us understand how and why the First World War changed our ideas about heroism.”

Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, added: “This partnership has enabled us to showcase the Legacies of War centenary project, as well as draw on the BBC’s own rich archives, to produce an online course that will fascinate people interested in understanding more about the First World War.

“The course will encourage people to share their stories and ideas about the impact of the war and will provide an opportunity for us all to reflect on this important centenary together.”

World War One: Changing Faces of Heroism will run from 27 October. For more details, and to watch the course trailer, see:

Also taking place in the autumn as part of the BBC’s World War One season are courses from the universities of Birmingham, Glasgow and The Open University.

All four courses will run on FutureLearn, the social learning platform, and are open to anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone. Sometimes referred to as MOOCs (Massive, Open Online Courses), they feature videos, interactive exercises and forums allowing participants to ask questions and interact with their peers and course leaders. There is also an opportunity for learners to buy a Statement of Participation on completion of the course. For details, see

The courses were launched today at the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, by Sinead Rocks, Acting Controller, BBC Learning and Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn. 

Further information

  • FutureLearn courses are free for all, with potential students of all ages from across the globe able to choose a course that interests them and learn from the University of Leeds’ top academics – benefiting from virtual access to world-leading researchers in their field and studying at a pace that suits them.
  • In addition to Professor Fell, World War One: Changing Faces of Heroism, harnesses the expertise of fellow Leeds academics Professor Paul Cooke, Centenary Chair in World Cinemas; Dr Ingrid Sharp, Senior Lecturer in German; Dr Claudia Sternberg, Senior Lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, and Dr Jessica Meyer, Research Fellow in the School of History.
  • Interviews with, and images of, course tutors can be arranged through the University of Leeds press office: 0113 343 3996 or Images of propaganda posters used in the course are also available.
  • The Liddle Collection at the University of Leeds includes the personal papers of more than 4,000 people who lived through the First World War. For details, see or contact or 0113 343 5518.