Robert St.John Smith

The Short

My long-term intention is to use my website to write about both history and art, but not 'art history'. I recently completed an MA in the History of Britain and the First World War at Wolverhampton University where, for my dissertation, I examined 820 cartoons, drawn by soldiers, to try and understand not only how they saw and processed the world around them, but what these drawings revealed about popular culture and the collective image of Tommy Atkins.

My research will be filtering down onto this site, but my other interests, which I will also be writing about here, are focused on people, technology, experience, and language. Having examined cartoons, I have become fascinated by the question: what can other forms of ephemera provide in the way of historical evidence? To this effect, I am sharing my own personal collection here.

In terms of art, I challenged myself back in 2019 to copy 100 paintings. Due to Covid-19 considerations and having to give up my studio space, I was temporarily stalled, un-stalled in 2022, but now find myself stalled again. I do hope to resume this challenge in the not-too-distance future and I have been keeping informal notes and thoughts throughout, such as about the artists I am copying, their use of colour and techniques etc., along with a few thoughts about art in general which I want to add to this site. I tend to keep my Instagram account devoted to this challenge, along with some of my own artwork, which you can find here.

Contact Me

All 820 cartoons that featured in my Dissertation survey

The Long

I originally intended to take a year out when studying A-levels as I was unsure at the time what I wanted to do. This year turned into 25 years as I found success early within the banking industry which led to quite a dry corporate career as a consultant. Not wishing to send anyone to sleep, what I did can be best described as working with and around data and processes. In parallel to this, whenever the opportunity presented itself, I worked in more creative fields such as the film industry, wearing a number of different caps behind the scenes, in other ventures. One of my claims to fame is I had a top 500 chart hit in Finland with the song I Shot a Frenchman at Agincourt — cruelly denied the coveted 480 spot by Kate Bush's Deeper Understanding.

Over the years, the balance between 'dry corporate' and creative led more into the latter's favour, and up until 2019 I was running a jewellery company specialising in cufflinks made from unusual materials — such as the hull of the Cutty Sark or engine blades from the Avro-Vulcan Bomber, as well as undertaking private label work. At its height, we had customers in over 30 countries and we were a finalist in a national business competition run by Fed-Ex.

For reasons I will cover when I start adding the art side to this site, my plan for 2020 was to take a year out from running the business, spend the year being sensibly poor and learn how to paint... and then Covid struck. Fortunately, having planned to take that year off, I dodged a bullet, and as the crisis unfolded, I came to the realisation that I don't, for the foreseeable future, want to go back to running a business, nor do I want to don a corporate cape again.

I have always yearned to undertake a form of academic study, with the caveat that I wanted to do it for the pleasure and pursuit of knowledge alone, without having to worry about any constraints or external pressures. So, with circumstances as they were, and being in the fortunate position to do so, I decided this was the ideal time to do something about it and enrolled on my Masters course in 2020.

Having now completed my Masters, I am, at the time of writing, very much still processing both the experience and my next steps, but it is one I am glad I choose to do.

I have been interested in history from a young age and my interest in the First World War began when I was little, when I picked up a copy of A.J.P. Taylor's The First World War: An Illustrated History. I wasn't able to understand the text at the time, but I became fascinated with the pictures of the machinery, the uniforms, and the scale. As I entered my teens, that interest expanded towards battles and then trying to understand the logistics, movement, and the reasoning behind them. As I got older, I became more interested in the events leading up to the war as well as its aftermath. Currently, my interest is more focused on people, technology, experience, and language &mdash the latter both in the abstract and the literal, especially around memory and interpretation. As well as the FWW, I am interested in the Roman Empire, and European cultural history from the Belle Epoque to Weimar Germany and a lot of the paintings I am copying for my challenge are from this period.