Points noted

Some links to follow, as I try to distract myself briefly from funding applications, the aftermath of clearing, and the temptations of eating even more biscuits.

A new blog from the National Inventory of War Memorials. Looks good.

Robert Fisk’s article from the Independent about the Armenian Genocide (sadly without the images from the paper edition). Nothing too new for those who already know something about it, but some interesting comments about remembrance.

For the next week you can listen again to Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, Virginia Nicholson’s Singled Out,about the ‘generation’ of women who never married because all the young men had been killed in the First World War. Although quite why you’d want to, unless you just want a good ahistoric cry, I’m not sure. The odd interesting story, but presented totally without critical analysis of the sources, statistical evidence, or counter-examples. Shockingly, Vera Brittain gets used (quel surprise) as an example of those who lost. Oh, except she did marry. Bah, now my radio has a great big dent in it from where I threw it across the room. A great case of how a romantic version of history can get on the radio when more accurate appraisals can’t.

Osprey publishing starts up its own blog and gets its staff to identify their favourite tank. Not quite sure whether I think that’s nicely tongue in cheek or embracing the stereotype a bit too eagerly. Oh all, right. Probably this one, because I’d always back the underdog.

Kevin Levin posts on the use of titles to attract readers. My own personal favourite, via the footnotes to Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction – W. Pieper, ed, Nazis on Speed: Drogen im 3. Reich (Loherbach, nd.). Alan Coren once supposedly delivered a manuscript to a publisher only to be told that it wouldn’t sell – the only books that sold were those that featured golf, cats or Nazis. His next book looked like this.

It’s been said before – what we need to get people to change their ideas about the First World War is a series of books featuring a dashing romantic hero, who shows the reader just how well British infantry tactics developed over the course of the conflict and who knows that he’s actually fighting a just war. The ‘Anti-Blackadder’ if you will. The sort of man who isn’t afraid to wear a dolman jacket and tight trousers. The sort of man who women want and men want to be. The sort of man who has a fanbase that demands the institution of a national day in honour of a fictional character. Time to start writing that novel, Dr Todman.

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3 Responses to Points noted

  1. Victoria Carolan says:

    Kind of response to Book at Bedtime: I’ve just been looking at the TV adaptation of Hornblower and the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander and thinking about the relationship between history/ fiction / film. One of the things that struck me was that in Tom McGregor’s book about the making of Hornblower he comments that there were certain things that they could not do, as while they were ‘historically accurate’ , they would look like ‘dramatic licence’. In the 100 Days documentary about the making of Master and Commander there is a sequence about getting the ‘right’ sound for the cannons- with the larger sized shot a strange bell like sound is heard after firing (which O’Brian mentions in the novels) – the director rejects the sound as being ‘too odd’. At the same time both production teams were prepared to go to great lengths to stress their commitment to ‘authenticity’(to both history and the novelists), but it seems that ‘authenticity’ or ‘accuracy’ here is not what we would discuss as historians, but one that already fits with a publics preset ideas of the past, and all the myths that go with it. The words accuracy and authenticity in historical fiction I think are often misapplied, what is meant is that the novel/ film is ‘convincing’, and not surprisingly so if it reinforces the idea that you already had. Although of course Singled Out is not presented as a work of fiction it nevertheless gains currency from the reinforcement of widely held opinion.

  2. Jessica says:

    Many thanks for link to and review of Singled Out. I am debating whether or not to listen to it, having been too busy to do so originally and then having spent a surreal fifteen minute discussion of it with the band leader – at my own wedding! Wish you could have been there. You would have appreciated it.

  3. Dan says:

    I think that you’re absolutely right, Victoria, about the reinforcement of existing ideas being confused with ‘authenticity’. Like the bell/cannon story a lot. ‘Singled Out’ got, well, singled out on ‘Pick of the Week’ as well – with the presenter almost sobbing as he thought about the ‘millions’ of British women who couldn’t marry because their men had died in the First World War. Obviously, had each of the dead men come back, they would have been very busy with their multiple wives. To me, one of the points of teaching and writing history is not to contradict what people want to think about the past, but at least to encourage them to question _why_ they hold those beliefs.

    Jessica: discussing First World War bereavement at your own wedding is surely a mark of dedication too far. I think you should listen to/read Singled Out: just pack the radio in something shock-absorbing first. It really did seem to me to be a wasted opportunity – I’m not denying the reality of the experience of the individuals who were presented, but I couldn’t see that their stories made much sense unless you were told that most men came back. What we need now is a really good new book on the effect of war service on definitions of gender in Britain. Any ideas on that? 🙂

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