November 11, 2008
First, biggest and best: go and explore The First World War Digital Poetry Archive and The Great War Archive, both based at the University of Oxford. Go even if you don’t care about the First World War, just to revel in the high quality of the thought that has gone into creating such a wonderful resource. Go to have a look at the more than 6500 artefacts submitted by members of the public which are all now freely accessible and searchable. This is the thing that has made me happiest this week.
Evidence that a sub’s choice of headline can make an article significantly worse (if this were a student essay, you’d be writing ‘do not introduce new ideas into the conclusion when you haven’t examined them in the main body of the thesis’). But good to see Adrian Gregory’s new book getting mentioned.
Evidence that Mary Warnock is a philosopher, rather than a historian. And that the sort of people who comment on newspaper columns online don’t really understand that the purpose of history is discussion, not abuse and wild assertion (on every side). But from an academic standpoint, what a great case study of the way that ideas about the Great War are used passionately to support different worldviews.
Interesting to note the symbolism that surrounded the last veterans of the First World War laying their wreaths at the Cenotaph, aided as they were by younger, heroic veterans in uniform. And perhaps sad that in trying to honour their comrades, they should be co-opted quite so heavily into an official discourse.
And lastly, I get excited about First World War memorials: but not this excited.
November 6, 2008
Hew Strachan reviews the essays in A Part of History (Continuum, 2008), a book to which I contributed a chapter on remembrance, for the TLS. Hew’s criticisms of the book, and his demands for less insularity, are justified (quite glad I don’t get a mention, although I’d like to think that one of the principal points of what I wrote was that the British have remembered the war in insular terms, which is his case as well).
What I think he underestimates is the role of publishers and the media in feeding this insularity – the public demand is not perceived to be for texts that place the war in global or historical context.
Another distinguishing feature of A Part of History was a fierce attack on me by Julian Putkowski, based on selective and out of context quotation from this blog (which he identifies as my ‘personal website’). I found this quite distressing at the time – and it has certainly made me more reticent in posting, which may be no bad thing – but ultimately I was glad that the book could find space for such a range of opinion. It also highlighted for me the degree to which a gap exists in understanding about what blogging is within the historical community, and the ease with which one’s words, once posted up, can be cut and pasted into other people’s work, which probably leaves you more likely to be quoted, however angrily.
April 29, 2008
Is the ‘history boom’, like a toxic algal bloom, poisoning itself? Some possible evidence for the prosecution – the problems caused for a new biography of the Sun King’s mistress by its author’s belated discovery that Louis XIV’s ‘secret diaries’ were nothing of the kind, and Peter and Dan Snow’s Battle Theatre at ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live?’
Maybe these aren’t signs of the historio-pocalypse however. My colleague Jerry Brotton is right, in his comments on the ‘diary’ cock-up above, that there’s a lot of duff ‘history’ about at the moment, but I fear it has frequently been thus. There was an awful lot of dreadful popular history published about the First World War around the time of the 50th anniversaries in the 1960s. (Yes, shade of Alan Clark, I am pointing the finger at you). I think what angers and frustrates those of us who’d like to think we do ‘proper’ history is the way that some publishers’ choices seem both to underestimate the reader and to block the way to the really good work we know is being done
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