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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Round the history blogs 10 - a melange

Just over a month since my last round-up.

Mike Dash, the winner of the 2010 Cliopatria award for best history post with his "The Emperor's Electric Chair", has established a new blog, A Blast from the Past. Mike writes remarkably good well researched posts.   A Russian prince on a Wichita road gang deals with a remarkable Hollywood figure, while The Shogun’s reluctant ambassadors provides interesting insights into the closed world of Shogunate Japan. Both posts are worth a read.

It is absolutely impossible to keep up with the full range of historical research and writing. I find that I can do no more than browse, noting things that interest me with the thought that some day I might check. In doing so, I find views from other countries helpful.

Much of my historical work necessarily centres on New England. Some balance to this is provided by my general writing since this often has an historical component that takes me in many directions. Even so, I find it easy to get trapped in a very Australianist position.

The US Legal History Blog continues to be a useful corrective because of the range of topics covered. I may never read the books referred too, but at least I get a feel for issues. In Nineteenth-Century International Law: Becker Lorca, Oszu, and Gozzi in the Harvard ILJ, for example, Clara Altman looks at a discussion on the evolution of international law. Did it become universal through a unilateral process of European expansion or, alternatively, did international law became universal during the nineteenth century as semi-peripheral jurists appropriated and reinterpreted international law to include non-Western sovereigns?

I do wonder, though, just what is meant by international law in this context.

There have been a couple of recent posts on Christopher Moore's History News that I wanted to mention in passing.

In Three things about Marcel Trudel (1917-2011), Christopher reports on the death of the leading historian on New France. He says in part:

Trudel responded to hagiographical history with an absolute commitment to data, to evidence-based statements. He had no elaborate theoretical or methodological technique; he just wanted to know every fact and to set them all down in endless encyclopedic detail. That is not the only way to practise history and probably not often the best, but it was almost revolutionary in its day and did lay down an enormous evidentiary foundation for the history of early Canada.

Quite a bit of my own historical writing attempts to define patterns and relationships. All this type of work has to build from and be checked by facts. The very, very, detailed analysis of the type apparently done by Marcel Trudel is actually quite critical.

Controversies real and invented provides an introduction to one current round in what appears to be the continuing North American history wars. There are Australian equivalents. Speaking personally, I just don't want to play in this sandpit. Life's too short!

Turning to Australia, I thought that The Resident Judge of Port Phillip's ‘Dublin Tenement Life: An Oral History’ by Kevin C. Kearns was a pretty good review. She summarises the book this way:

If I had to think up a pithy title for this book, I think I’d call it “Angela’s Ashes: The Documentary”. It’s all here: the feckless father, the bedraggled and burdened mother, the dead babies, the supercilious priests and nuns, the sheep’s head stew and the overflowing toilet.  And the power of this book is that it’s here again, and again, and again, and again.  In his lengthy introductory chapters, the author comments that the sainted-mother-who-held-the-family-together is a stereotype, and yet when you encounter her so often, it is insensitive to dismiss her as just a sentimental trope.

At a personal level, I am not a good observer of Irish history. I am simply not sympathetic enough, too conscious of the way that Irish history plays out in the Australian present. I avoid writing on Irish history unless absolutely necessary. Still, and as often happens when you have to address facts, I have a higher degree of sympathy than I did a few years ago.

I did laugh at the Angela's Ashes reference. Some years ago, I gave the book to an aunt as a present. I had looked at it, but not read it. In response, she insisted I read it. Bottom line: worst present ever!

Narrowing the focus again, I did love this photo from Archives Outside. Man and horse drinking! Man & horse

I am looking forward to 2011 posts from this blog. 

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