Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Round the history blogs 9 - Footnotes, presentism and soldiers of fortune

I am still bogged down writing the next piece in my social change series. In the meantime, another round-up from some of the history blogs I read,

Starting with two new blogs. Legal History Blog is a US group blog focusing on scholarship, news and new ideas in legal history. Vicky Woeste's post Deja vu all over again really caught my eye. Vicky is going through the trails and tribulations of checking footnoted before publication. I really shuddered on this one. Hat tip to Christopher Moore for the lead.

Adam Rubinstein is writing a book of poems about his hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts. "I'm writing it", he wrote, "to explain my town's strange disinterest in its own history, mostly to myself. It's sort of becoming a novel." To do this, he centres his writing on slices of the town's past. His blog, the Dredge Cycle, describes the process, but also deals with different aspects of the history.

In Embrace the political, Christopher Moore reports on a controversy involving the still to be completed Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Here I quote from a column by Dan Lett in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Last week, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress expressed outrage that the Holodomor, the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Russia in the early 1930s, will not be given permanent exhibition status in the museum. In a report delivered to Ottawa last week, the UCC demanded the Holodomor be given "coverage" equal to the Holocaust, the slaughter of six million Jews and millions of others by Nazi Germany, which will have a permanent exhibition.

Although it made news just last week, this is a fight Ukrainians have been waging for decades. Ukrainians all over the world have protested the fact the Holocaust has a higher profile than the Holodomor, that it is the subject of more memorials, museums, study centres, and even films. Many Ukrainians believe the aggrandizing of the Holocaust has marginalized the Holodomor and dishonoured its victims.

Christopher's post is worth reading in full. He concludes:

How do we, as historians, and as citizens, measure historical evil and victimhood? Is the perception of the holocaust as the ultimate historical evil in the mind of much of the Western World the product of inherited guilt and/or superior organization, commitment, historical consciousness on the part of the Jewish diaspora, or is there some additional degree of evil inherent in the intentionality of genocide by the Nazis which transcends any quantitative measurement of lives lost and terror and suffering undergone?

There is, of course no definitive answer. I tend to favour the latter explanation, but it is a question that cannot be dodged, and should not be dodged. Yes, this is presentism. Or maybe the reverse: pastism. Everything is present, and everything is political (in the largest sense of the word.) As William Faulkner put it, in my fave quotation about history :"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."

Communities exist in time. They are backward looking and forward looking. The debate is nasty, because people care. A lot. And if they didn't, there would be no debate to advance

Presentism is defined as an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.

I find that I profoundly disagree with Christopher's conclusion, or at least the way I interpret that conclusion. The reasons why will have to wait for another post; after all, this is a blog round-up.

On rethinking history, Nigel Davies' has a remarkably good post, Uses and Abuses of Wikipedia.

I use Wikipedia all the time. I am well aware of the weaknesses. However to say to students, as schools and universities do, that they cannot use Wikipedia to write essays is, to my mind, corrupting censorship.

I say corrupting because students will in fact do so, and indeed I advised eldest to do so in one of her economics essays. Why? Well, on the topic she was working on, the best and quickest way to get an initial feel for the issues was a Wikipedia tour. This then gives rise to an intellectual dishonesty if you cannot acknowledge the source.

I especially liked Nigel's comments on the War of 1812 since I had written something similar. Remarkable how often we like things that we agree with!

A Fortean in the Archives continues to have some quite wonderful posts, posts that make me realise what a rank amateur I am. Here I will mention just two recent ones.

Tracking the trends via Google’s New Book Database introduces a new tool, one that I had not caught up with but now need to play with. The immediately preceding post, Truth, beauty and Pancho Villa, provides fascinating early picture of the role of what we now call the media in war. I quote:

So… Understanding the Mexican Revolution means realising that it was an unusually early example of a 20th century “media war”: a conflict in which the opposing generals duked it out not only on the battlefield, but also in the newspapers and in cinema scenarios. At stake, in this particular instance, were the hearts and minds of the government and people of the United States – who could, if they so wished, intervene decisively on behalf of one side or the other.

On The Resident Judge of Port Philip, Janine Rizzetti records the death of her mother. My thoughts are with her.

Helen Webberley's Art and Architecture mainly has introduced me to an entire new resource, Colonial Film: moving images of the British Empire. The coverage is still patchy, while you cannot access films directly. Still, the historical notes are interesting.

No matter how much history one knows, there is always more to know. My knowledge of the chaotic history of Northern Europe and Scandinavia during the First World War and the immediate period afterwards is very limited. I know very little of the history of Finland, for example.

To get a taste of the chaos, on History and Futility see Jussi Jalonen's story of the Finnish soldier of fortune Kaarlo Kurko. The latest post is  Kaarlo Kurko; the victory, the downfall and the aftermath. You can follow the earlier posts back from there.


Adam said...

Thanks again, Jim! On your point on Christopher Moore's point, I'm reading a book at the moment called Sex at Dawn. The authors are fond of a term they seem to have coined, "Flintstonization," which it sounds like is a hegemonic version of "Presentism." It's also something I'm planning a post for in the next few weeks. And Wikipedia as a starting place, likewise.

Go synchronicity. :)

Jim Belshaw said...

Look forward to the post, Adam.