Hell in a handcart

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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Going, going, going…

April 15, 2008

Yakup Satar, the last Turkish veteran of the First World War, has died aged 110.


Say cheese.

April 9, 2008

Over the weekend I was cycling in Belgium, doing the sportive version of the ludicrously hard Tour of Flanders. On the way back, still eating like a horse to make up for all those hours in the saddle, I popped into a Brussels’ train station supermarket, and found this. Now, I knew that Passendale was well known in Belgium for its cheese, but I’d somehow contrived not to see a packet before. So, not able to ignore the First World War for a moment, I had to buy some (evidence, incidentally, of how hard it is to calculate when an academic is, and is not, working). Does it make a point about the specificity of British remembrance of the war? After all, part of Passchendale’s place in ‘memory’ is its associative power – the rural imagery of dale mixed with the biblical imagery of the Passion. Perhaps, but perhaps not – after all, the French didn’t feel the need to rename Champagne, for all the fighting that went on there.

It tasted pretty good, by the way, particularly with a bit of bread.