Review: The History Manifesto

Book cover of The History Manifesto

The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage, (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Historians, turn to the longue durée and focus your minds on the needs of our age. Your insights are needed to address intractable global issues such as climate change, inequality and governance. Dig deep into long time to assist policy makers to steer humanity into a better place.

This is the siren call of The History Manifesto. Written by historians, Jo Guldi of Brown University and David Armitage of Harvard, The History Manifesto seeks to change the direction of the discipline, to make it not only relevant to the world at large but an active contributor of solutions that speaks to the yearning of today.

In my previous post about the Annales school of historians I explained the term longue durée as it was conceived in the middle of the twentieth century. Guldi and Armitage explain how this approach to history fell out of favour in the latter decades of that century and was replaced by interest in micro-history. Micro-histories shone the light on histories that had been obscured in the old-style nationalist political histories, such as the lives of the working class and the subalterns who were marginalised by colonial powers.

Now historians need to embrace the ‘new longue durée’ in their work, say Guldi and Armitage. The new longue durée draws on its Annales heritage but it focusses on the future and its connection to the past as well as responding to the current intellectual environment and modern research tools.

Using the issues of climate change, inequality and governance, the authors explain the value that historians can give by plumbing long periods of the past to explore alternative ways of thinking about current problems. Guldi and Armitage explain that historians can do this by highlighting the evidence that humanity has free will to decide its future, the importance of ‘counter-factual thinking’ and the exploration of alternative ways of doing things that could bring about a better future. Continue reading

Introducing the Annales Approach to History

They were heady days when the first issue of a new history journal was published. The cataclysmic disruptor, the Great War, had ended and many people in the western world were revelling in the moment on a giddy ride skimming the crests of a sea of change. Others were churning the waters in their desire to shed the old ways, to think and do differently. Everything was challenged.

While momentous change is flung in the face of people through stupendous events, the stirring of the sea that leads to such an upset can be seen in retrospect to have been developing long before the event. The publication of the new history journal, Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, in January 1929 formalised a profound change in the way history was written that can be traced back years before.

Western history was political history for much of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. In the halls of cultural power, the history of important, dead, white men was the only history that mattered. But challengers were emerging, among whom were the Marxists. They shone the light on the mass of people previously ignored, and the social and economic structures that shaped their lives. Yet the traditional accounts of history still held sway in the late 1920s when the Annales journal emerged from the University of Strasbourg. Continue reading

Silence is Human

The interior courtyard of the Australian War Memorial with two soldiers standing sentry.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Today is Remembrance Day.

We bow our heads in silence to remember all the soldiers who were killed on active duty. This year we are asked to pause for just one minute longer to remember those who continue to suffer after they have left the battle ground. Wars kill, maim and etch themselves indelibly in the psyche of returned soldiers.

The war is never over for the returned soldiers and their families.

Silence.

This pause is observed on Remembrance Day throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. The Australian War Memorial says it was a South African and an Australian who separately proposed the silence which first became part of Remembrance Day observances in 1919. But this was not the first time a respectful moment of quiet was used to remember the war dead. In Cape Town silence was observed during the Great War when South African deaths on the front were particularly heavy. As I wrote earlier this year, silence for the war dead was first observed in Australia on Brisbane’s first Anzac Day observance in 1916. Continue reading

Reflection: Europeans in Australia – Vol III

Book Cover of Atkinson's book.

The Europeans in Australia. Volume Three: Nation by Alan Atkinson (UNSW Press, 2014).

The last volume in Alan Atkinson’s trilogy, The Europeans in Australia has finally been published.  Volume Three: Nation caps a wide-ranging and unique view on the history of Europeans in the land that is now known as Australia.

For more reasons than one, this book is the reason why I am writing and researching history today. I have been extremely fortunate that Alan Atkinson has been a mentor to me for several years and gave me the opportunity to do some work as a research assistant for this book. My current work on the beliefs of Australian soldiers on the front line in World War I stems from discussions Alan Atkinson and I had about this period of history while he was writing the book.

For these reasons what follows is not a book review. This is not an independent critique. Instead I want to share with you why reading the final version of this book has inspired me. Continue reading

Canberra Research Week

Conference room showing back of crowd, Tim Sherratt at front with a projector screen and ceiling of lights above.

People, laptops and Manager of Trove, Tim Sherratt – the essential ingredients for a great THATCamp in Canberra. Photo by Geoff Hinchcliffe.

When I made the decision to write a book about Australian World War One history in the midst of our move to Singapore I knew I would have to come back to Australia on various research trips. While much of my research centres on digitised historical records, most historical records are not digitised and t is only recently that publishers have offered e-book versions of histories they publish. These physical records which are held in Australia provide the context and additional depth which provide richer meaning to the digitised diaries I am working with.

One day I flicked through my Twitter stream and was reminded of a digital humanities event to be held in Canberra at the end of October. Digital humanities is the emerging discipline which seeks to develop rigorous research in the humanities using technology. I stumbled upon it through twitter and blogs back in 2010. Through social media I started learning how to program in Python and how to analyse the language used in digitised historical texts. Continue reading

Birthday of Literary Luminaries – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield, Hannah Arendt,

Drawing of a woman in early 19thC dress carrying a suitcase approaching a home with extensive verandahs.

Google Doodle in honour of Miles Franklin, 14/10/2014.

Today, 14th October, marks the birth dates of three literary luminaries of the twentieth century – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield and Hannah Arendt. These three women have made a big impact on western cultural life and thought and continue to do so.

Miles Franklin’s, novel, My Brilliant Career, has a secure place in Australia’s literary canon. This is extraordinary for a book written by a woman, first published in 1901 and coming from the pen of a twenty-one year old. Miles Franklin threw herself into life and writing, taking herself off to live in the United States before World War I, moving to England, nursing soldiers in dangerous circumstances in Macedonia before moving back to Australia. In the words of her biographer, “Miles was no wimp”. She did not make her fortune but through frugal living she conceived and endowed Australia’s premier literary award through her will. Continue reading

Singapore Workflow

Desk with three computer monitors on it (and a few other things).Gradually I am developing a work routine here in Singapore. After moving from Sydney I travelled to Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart visiting relations before flying to Singapore. For five weeks I had been living out of a suitcase and in temporary accommodation. It is so good to finally have a place called home.

I work from the study in our apartment. My desk was made by my father who made furniture as a hobby. It is made out of my father’s favourite wood, Black Bean. This tree grows in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

This desk is where I will be doing most of the research and analysis for my book. It is from here that I will search and analyse the diaries of World War I using Python programs that I have written, spreadsheets and other tools. It is from this desk that I will trawl the internet for other resources and references.

My book will be the result of a union of three skills – writing, research and technical. The three monitors on my desk are wonderful work tools. They enable me to work efficiently and think through research and technical issues. Continue reading