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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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.
February 4, 2008
The petition of 10 Downing St to make the study of history compulsory to 16 has been rejected. But there is going to be plentiful study of ‘citizenship’. What’s the difference between citizenship training and the study of history? One teaches you what the government thinks is good about the country, the other teaches you how to make up your own mind.
‘Kings of War‘ – the blog from the War Studies department, King’s College London. Horrible name, interesting content.
Although it’s inevitably linked to ‘citizenship education’ – sigh – the wonderfully interactive Food Stories website (click on interactive) drawing on the oral history department at the British Library’s project on food. I wonder if they want to put on a university course?
January 18, 2008
Three men create a not too bad at all version of Omaha for the BBC. It seems from this that D-Day involved a lot of running round and some falling over. Bit of a broad brush summing up, perhaps, but not totally inaccurate. I would say that the noise you can hear is John Reith rolling in his grave, but I can’t see any other sort of history making it to third on the Guardian’s list of viral videos this week.