On a hiding to nothing

May 7, 2007

An adapted version of a review for the Journal of Army Historical Research

Imperial War Museum London
23 March – 18 November 2007.
Entry: £7.00

This is an exhibition that will spark a great deal of thought and conversation, both about the history of camouflage and the purpose of the Imperial War Museum.

‘Camouflage’ has four sections – concealment, distortion, deception and advertisement. They chart the rise of camouflage over the twentieth century and its spread into the worlds of popular culture and fashion. Camouflage is defined very broadly, so that it includes not only a variety of DPM, but also the ‘escape boots’ manufactured for British aircrew, which could be cut down to resemble civilian shoes. A particular theme is the involvement of artists in the development of camouflage.

There are many points of interest for the expert and the non-expert alike. ‘Camouflage’ would therefore make a suitable excursion for readers and their long-suffering partners, friends and families. The exhibition opens with a greatcoat spattered with paint by the French artist and soldier Eugene Corbin: the progenitor of today’s camouflage uniforms. Towards its end is the camouflaged kit produced by the American army for pregnant soldiers. Even those familiar with the dazzle-patterns applied to British ships during the First World War will probably not have considered how these were developed. Here are the drawings and model ships produced to test out different designs. The latter are arrayed like a particularly well organised herd of miniature zebra in the corner of the room: each a work of art in its own right. ‘Deception’ features not only detailed descriptions of the creation of fake trees to act as observation posts on the Western Front during the First World War, but also amusing footage of British troops inflating, and then manoeuvring a decoy tank in 1944. Several reviewers have noted Roland Penrose’s slide of his lover Lee Miller, semi-naked and camouflaged, which was used to spice up his Home Guard lectures. Read the rest of this entry »


Who do new undergraduates think we are?

April 20, 2007

‘The image of the lecturer, as well as sexist (see para 19), was also predominantly ‘ageist’. Students had the image of lecturers as predominantly bespectacled, middle-aged and wearing unfashionable, or even worn-out, clothes. Leather patches were frequently mentioned and some students believed that their lecturers would be either scruffy, or at least not stylish in appearance. It is not entirely clear how this image has become fixed but it may derive from representations of ‘the learned’ in popular culture which strongly emphasize ‘otherness’, even ‘other-worldliness’. Certainly, students did not expect lecturers to be like them!’

An excerpt from Eric Evans’ report on ‘Rethinking and Improving Lecturing in History’, available at the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology in summary and in full. Well worth a read, particularly for its comments on student expectations and means of developing effective, but individual, practice. Hat tip to Dr Virginia Davis.

(Cross posted at Cliopatria.)

Zebra tank

April 12, 2007

Last month my car was mistakenly towed away by Southwark Council. They gave it back to me free of charge, but I had to go the the council car pound on Mandela Way. Whilst walking from the tube, I came across this T34 tank. This was a bit baffling: it stands in a patch of grass by the side of the road with no indication about why its there what it is. It turns out that it is privately owned, apparently still functional (it had a supporting role in Ian Mckellen’s Richard III) and has been twice repainted, most recently in its attractive zebra motif. A previous, pink incarnation may have been a reference to Prague memorial to Soviet tank crews, painted pink as an act of protest in 1991. (Hat tips to Transpontine and the Independent).

Since I got the car back, it’s been broken into, ineffectively hotwired but, bearing in mind the cost of repair, written off. So the idea of a tank as a means of London transport seems increasingly attractive.

“When you’re dead, you’re dead. Make love when you can. It’s good for you.”

April 12, 2007

RIP Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007. It’s his quote. Worth listening again to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, which had a re-broadcast interview with Vonnegut talking about his experience of Dresden, 60 years on, with references to the Holocaust and satire. He’s rather more interesting on the roots of his black humour in the experience of destruction than on the subject of the number of Dresden dead, about which he was utterly wrong but unchallenged.

The Fire

March 22, 2007

Jörg Friedrich’s book The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945, was first published in Germany in 2002. In 2006, it was published in an English translation (by Allison Brown) by Columbia University Press. The Fire consists of seven sections: Weapon, Strategy, Land, Protection, We, I and Stone. These chart the development of aerial attack on Germany during the Second World War, the counter-measures undertaken by authorities, the experience of those under attack and the destruction wreaked upon cities and culture. The book received extensive publicity when it came out in Germany: according to the Columbia blurb, it features ‘meticulous research’ into a strategy the wisdom of which ‘has never been questioned’. At the end of last year, we — Brett Holman and Dan Todman — received unsolicited copies for review. Despite some anxieties about the implications of such a marketing strategy (for the profession as a whole and for individual careers), we decided to collaborate on a review in the form of a conversation, which we’ll post at Airminded and Trench Fever and highlight at Cliopatria and Revise and Dissent.
Read the rest of this entry »

Suggestions of a dog…

February 13, 2007

Gavin Robinson at Investigations of a Dog has floated the idea of a Military History Carnival. Gavin’s proposal is broad ranging, well thought out, and deserves support from all history bloggers as well as the forty odd who make up Clio’s military history blogroll. Pop over and contribute to the discussion.
Cross posted at Cliopatria

Academic quality: appearance and reality

February 12, 2007

The Guardian’s Ben Goldacre gets stuck in to ‘no longer Dr’ Gillian McKeith. I sometimes find Goldacre’s writing in the Grauniad rather shrill, but in this longer piece he gives a great explanation for his anger and a definition of ‘referenciness’ worthy of Stephen Colbert. The dangers Goldacre identifies in those who seek to give the appearance of academic research without its substance apply across all fields.
(Cross posted at Cliopatria)