Strachan on ‘A Part of History’

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.

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2 Responses to Strachan on ‘A Part of History’

  1. […] The star turn, though is the monarch of WW1 historians, Hew Strachan, being very snooty about A Part of History a new collection of essays about the war. He takes it as typical of the current state of British thinking about the war – confused and contradictory. Oddly, his negative review makes me want to buy the book – that amount of disagreement between the authors must make for lively reading. One of the contributors to the book, Dan Todman, has things to say about it on his blog. […]

  2. […] Dan Todman has called attention to the fact that when Julian Putkowski attacks his work, this is in large part based on comments from Trench Fever, Dan’s blog. Dan objects to “selective and out of context quotation” as well he might, but of course academics have been quoting each other’s books selectively and unfairly for years. The trouble is that blogs make this easier. Just cut’n’paste. And it raises the question of the status of a blog post. Are they considered formal discourse or chatty conversation? Is it fair to quote them against the author in print when you probably wouldn’t quote an unguarded comment that someone made in a pub? On the continuum between public statement and private chat, I guess they’re about half-way. […]

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