Q&A with Dr Samuel Fanous – Head of Publishing, Bodleian Library Publishing

You were responsible for re-publishing the Instructions pamphlet in 2005. How did you come across the original Instructions and why did you want to bring it to a modern audience? 

A curator in the Bodleian Library showed me the original document. I immediately realized what a brilliant little publication this is. In just under 5,000 words it sums up the history and culture of Britain, touching on many relevant points that defined what it was to be British seventy years ago. Effectively, it holds up a mirror to British culture in 1942. The fact that it is written by an American also gives it added interest, since it is a genuine portrait, not a self-portrait. Reading this book, we get a glimpse into how our own culture has changed over time, which attributes of our society remain true today and which are now history. 

Can you tell us anything about the original author or the circumstances in which the Instructions were written? 

Unfortunately, we know nothing about the original author except that he or she was American and had obviously lived in Britain before the war. The book was produced by the War Department of the United States with the intention of serving as a crash course for young American soldiers. Many of these young men had never been outside their own state, let alone their own country. This little book was intended to prepare them for what was likely to be the greatest journey they had ever undertaken. 

Do you think that Instructions are an accurate description of 1942 Britain?

Everything we know about Britain in 1942 suggests that the Instructions are a brilliant snapshot of the country at this time. It’s remarkable how well the book evokes Britain in wartime. 

Was the pamphlet successful in bringing the allies together?

I think the pamphlet’s greatest success was perhaps in serving as an introduction to Britain for American soldiers. 

Why do you think the republication of the Instructions has been so popular today, with modern audiences? 

The success of the Instructions is extraordinary! There is considerable discussion in the media about our own cultural identity, into which this book feeds directly. We’re not always sure who we are as a nation today, but this book tells us that there was a time, not so long ago, when our cultural identity was quite strong and well defined. I think we find this generally appealing. In addition, as the war recedes further into history, new generations ‘discover’ it. This little book is an excellent introduction to the Second World War and Britain’s role in it. 

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