Monday, January 24, 2005

On hiatus

On hiatus until I finish my PhD.

Site meters

I've removed my site meters because I keep looking at them, inventing a fictional audience for myself and then distracting myself from the PhD. They were useful because technorati doesn't pick up everyone who links you and it's always nice to know who's doing that. If I close down the comments just while I'm doing the PhD then that will remove another distraction. I'm not sure I want to do that though because it's nice to get comments. Mmmmm. I know. I'll close down the comments and set up an email address. That way if anyone really wants to say hello they can and I won't keep staring at my blogs looking to see if anything has changed.

Themes

For the rest of the week I'm only going to write about English royalty and sex. I have a couple of early modern scandals in mind and will be searching around for others. I'm trying theme related blogging because it makes it harder for me to waste time online when I should be writing my PhD!

Over on Piccola Inglese I'm exploring historical memory. This week I'll be talking about the experience of remembering the second world war. For privacy's sake I have changed all the names and some details. The attitudes and memories are as I saw them. I might do the Soviet Union next week.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Freedom

I used to be very unclear about certain things because I hadn't given them proper thought. It was all about how I saw my position in the world. I think I felt obliged and driven to do certain things because I hadn't got past the adolescent feeling of self-importance. I knew I was just one little soul among billions but I didn't feel it in my bones. I think when you truly believe that there are billions of other people looking out of their eyes just like you look out of yours, then you can begin to take joy in the world. I feel far more free now because the sense that I'm obliged to leave a mark and stand out from the crowd has lifted. I still want to be good at what I do but I've given myself permission to be a private citizen who just does things for the joy of it. I think the strong drive I felt before had something to do with fears about my mortality. I saw how someone could be wiped from existence and I felt pushed to do something to leave a more solid anchor in the world. Accepting that I am one of billions and that nothing I do will make me immortal has given me permission to be quiet. I am more inclined now to do things for the pleasure of the moment rather than to push out a product like a greeting card design or an article. I have been criticised by people my own age for being so product centred and I wonder how they knew about this before I did. They made me feel rather small when they spoke to me about it.

Teaching

I've just been drinking green tea with friends. We were talking about academia and school teaching again. Whenever I tell British friends that I'm thinking about school teaching they do everything they can to put me off. The reasons are usually:
  1. Teenage behaviour.
  2. They've heard there's a lot of paper work.
  3. They've heard it's very stressful.
  4. If you're a bad teacher it could be a disaster.
  5. No guarantee that you can get a job in a reasonable school.

Only one of these people has actually taught in a secondary school. The rest of it comes from the same media coverage that I've been reading. One of the friends I drank tea with taught in her native country and she's well aware of all the stress factors. However she emphasises that there are ways round it and that it can be very rewarding.

The nice thing is that you can train to be a teacher at almost any age so I think I'm going to put the idea on the back burner for a couple of years. I need to recover from the PhD first. I do have a really good feeling about it. I'm going to have to spend more time with teenagers and perhaps observing schools to make sure I know what I'm getting into. When I look back at my own school days what I remember of the school makes me think that it's a very stimulating environment. All jobs have their bad points so I'm definitely not going to pay attention to people who complain about paperwork. Almost everyone has too much paperwork. It's not a reason not to do a job.

I'm still not against academia. I like research. As I'm thinking about teaching history at secondary school I obviously like teaching history. My only fear is the employment conditions. Can I get through the competition? Could I get a job where I want to live? Will my career path be steady enough to give me a reasonable level of financial security? I want to have children eventually but I keep hearing about women who can't get lectureships until they're 32 or 33.

Blogiverse round up

George Washington's diaries. From Exploratoria.
Southern American literature in context from Ex Libris.
Greg remembers Will Eisner.
It's difficult to sum up this article by LiL but I like it.
My friend Jon's Dad visits the bees.
An elderly couple wait for the bus. (I can picture them exactly because my family are from that part of the world)

Korean horsemen

My boyfriend sent a big package from Korea full of Christmas presents for my family. Among other things it contained two little clay horsemen. My boyfriend bought them from a shop where he was told that they were made as a sideline by an artist trying to earn money for his main line of work. They're such happy looking little horsemen. My boyfriend told me that they were modelled on paintings like this. I don't anything about it but it's rather nice.

History in the blogosphere

Sepoy on coronations. Jonathan Dresner on Kikiyu revisionism. (Is it me or do the British Empire's claims of a civilizing mission remind you of these stupid liberal wars we keep having?) Natalie goes through her inboxes.

In the sunday papers

The last major gathering of Holocaust survivors is to be held in a bleak corner of southern Poland this week as the world marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp. The Independent

Italy finally ready to recognise the suffering of gays in Holocaust camp. The Independent

Historians hit back at David Hockney's claim that Renaissance artists used optical instruments to create their masterpieces. The Independent (I don't see why the use of optical aids is viewed as cheating)

Search for the lost library of Rome. The Times

The Royal Academy’s Turks revels in the eastern promise of the Ottomans, but there’s far more to this show’s gorgeous array of objects, says Waldemar Januszczak. The Times

TREASURES of Tutankhamun are to be displayed in the Millennium Dome, 35 years after the first British exhibition of artefacts from the tomb of the Egyptian boy king, writes Nicholas Hellen. The Times

BRITISH Muslims are to boycott this week’s commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz because they claim it is not racially inclusive and does not commemorate the victims of the Palestinian conflict. The Times (What a pity this article fails to distinguish between the people who say they represent British Muslims and the thousands of British Muslims themselves)

Islam, race and British identity. The Guardian.

Why Churchill saw himself as a failure. The Guardian

What's it like in a British primary school? The Independent

Gay Pride heads for black townships, to take on African taboo. The Independent

Gammelost

Via Sharon I've found a blog written by a British philologist living in Norway. You must go and have a look.

Enjoyable and interesting

After deciding that the purpose of life is to do things that are enjoyable and interesting and don't hurt anybody, I started listing the things that I like. (In no particular order)
  • Meeting people from other countries.
  • Speaking foreign languages although I only know one at the moment and that took me a long time to learn.
  • Blogging.
  • I used to think that I wanted to be a fiction writer but I also enjoy reading travel literature and I think I might prefer writing in that style.
  • Learning general history, arts and culture.
  • Waffling on endlessly about the things I enjoy.
  • Researching history that interests me.
  • Drawing when I'm on a flow.
  • Being quite independent with the work I do.
  • Being attractive and healthy (not doing too well there at present)
  • Lots of thinking time and a relaxed approach to life.
  • Walking around old cities and visiting old buildings like churches.
  • Reading

The purpose of life

I think I've discovered the purpose of life. You know. That thing you have to worry about once food and shelter have been sorted out. Do things that you enjoy and that interest you. Do whatever it is that makes you feel like a round peg in a round hole. Don't do anything that will cause harm. Accept that all human beings want recognition in one way or another and that if you focus on what you enjoy then you will meet people with similar interests who like what you do and will give you approval. You could be a collector, an athlete, a painter, anything.

I think accepting that it's ok to want recognition is very important. We're all human and we all want to be attractive and successful. When being attractive and successful is enmeshed in something we dislike (like a patriarchal value system) we can be very self-critical. We say 'I shouldn't want to be beautiful. It's shallow.' Or 'I shouldn't want people to praise my work. It's superficial.' It's good to question the system but accept that you are human. It's not wrong for a child to want praise so why should it be wrong for you? The important thing is balance and moderation.

p.s. The naked Arnold Schwarzenegger snow fight scene at the start of Red Heat is now officially my number 1 kitsch movie moment.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Goals

My friends and I agree that when you hit 26 or 27 you tend to go through a bit of a funny patch. It's an age when a lot of people look at their lives, wonder whether they're doing the right thing and start reinventing themselves. I did a lot of thinking in 2004 because I had to work out where I was going, who I was and whether I was thinking about life in the right way at all. I don't think we're ever entirely certain of who we are but it helps to have a rough idea. Daniel Lemire points out this essay by Paul Graham. I like the section Daniel picks out but I also particularly like these lines:

Now I have enough experience to realize that those famous writers actually sucked. Plenty of famous people do; in the short term, the quality of one's work is only a small component of fame. In retrospect, I should have been less worried about doing something that seemed cool, and just done something I liked. That's the actual road to coolness anyway.

BBC sites

Take an interactive journey through Leonardo da Vinci's life and works.
How Einstein hoped to unlock the mind of God.

Grangerizing

In the comments at Thanks for not being a zombie they talk about Grangerizing. In 1769 the Reverend James Granger of Shiplake published a book for portrait print collectors. It sparked the craze for Grangerizing, the extra illustration of books with portrait and other prints. You can read about it in Chapter 2 of Marcia Pointon's Hanging the Head. Lucy Peltz, now a curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London, expanded on Pointon's chapter to produce a PhD.

I say all this because I've just been reading Pointon. Earlier this afternoon I read 'Gods, Saints and Reformers: Portraiture and Protestant England' by Margaret Aston (pp.181-220) in Albion's Classicism: The Visual Arts in Britain, 1550-1660 by Lucy Ghent. Aston talks about Protestant attitudes to portraiture in the light of fears of Papist style idol worship. I'm currently waiting for another user to return a book by Frances Haskell that deals with collecting galleries of great men. Pointon also deals with it. If you're going to be looking at portraiture in early modern England then you'll need to be aware of all the issues I've touched on here.

BBC writers room

I found this via James and the Blue Cat.

(Note to self: I will get on much better with writing and life in general if I stop taking myself so seriously)

Arts and history in the news

Four women were among the first students to graduate from Birmingham University in 1901 - and the presentation ceremony was recorded on recently discovered archive film. BBC

The Spanish government is to compensate citizens who were forced to flee abroad as children during the 1930s civil war. BBC

Auschwitz was liberated 60 years ago this week, but it is fresh in the minds of its victims. Our correspondent reports from a centre in Toronto that helps them. The Times

Forget hype, it is recommendations that really boost a novel. The Times

WHEN YOU purchase a Chinese-made television set, which may be hiding its true identity behind a Japanese brand name, you are paying homage to Zhao Ziyang. The Times

The Louvre authorities have abandoned their objections to scenes for the film version of the thriller The Da Vinci Code being shot in the museum. The Guardian

Colonial attitudes linger, finding their most xenophobic expression among liberal defenders of free speech. The Guardian

The discovery that ancient artefacts sacred to Jewish history are forgeries has sent shockwaves through the museum world. But was the gang behind the scam only interested in cash, or did they have other motives? Rachel Shabi investigates The Guardian

Michelangelo's David is meant to be a representation in marble of the perfect male form. So why did his creator not make him - how would one say - a little better endowed? The Guardian

Lee Miller started out as a Vogue model, but by 1930 she had moved behind the lens to take piercing photographs - culminating in her rage-fuelled portraits of Nazi kitsch. Fiona MacCarthy reports The Guardian

On the eve of Russia's first biennale of contemporary art, Sarah Walden visited Moscow's museums and discovered that a lack of funding can be a good thing. The Guardian

Friday, January 21, 2005

Cogent Jorj

Is there something we can do to counter this trend towards assuming that everyone who watches TV is a half-wit? Even the long-respected Horizon on BBC is doing it! Says cogent jorj, who I found via Tony. Tony uses the word 'blogiverse'. I must say that more often.

Snappiness

I deal with a lot of students at work. In their different ways they're all very polite. I get snapped at about once in every five shifts. It's usually someone who's got their mind on other things. I remember what it was like to be 18 and absolutely panicked about your work. The snap rate increases in the summer when we have students training on a very high pressure course. I did the same course myself so I know how tense they're feeling. We all have snappy moments. I was horrible to someone last weekend. I wanted to sit quietly for 5 minutes in the cathedral so I went in a quarter of an hour before service. One of the ladies handing out service booklets asked me if I was staying for the service and when I said no she told me I couldn't stay. I said 'No problem. Quite alright' in my best eye avoiding snappy tone. I wish I hadn't done that. So we're all snappy.

I think solitary PhD students like me aren't really used to negative work related snappiness. I spend all day alone at my desk. When I start work for real I'll have to deal with brusque bosses, impatient customers and all that sort of thing. I wonder if sometimes the students who snap at me forget that I'm a person. They probably think I'm like a mushroom that sprouted out of the university. We meet so many people in our daily lives that it's sometimes hard to maintain the right level of empathy for all of them.

Sars

Here's an example of a blog article that will be of interest to historians.

One does not simply walk

I found this via James and the Blue Cat.

My flatmate forwarded me this spam.
FW: {Spam?} Soft and soluble lozenges for actual chaps
Our lozenges are only similar normal pills but they
are specially explicated to be pliant and soluble
under the clapper. The pills is took up at the rima oris
and goes in the fluid direct rather of proceeding
through the breadbasket. This results in a quicker much more
strong event which even up to 32 hours!

Fantasy

If I was offered an academic job I would take it. When I see postdocs advertised I imagine myself pottering around in the archives. But it's not that simple. First my chances of getting a job in that area are not guaranteed. Secondly if I can get a job will it be in a place where I want to be? It would undoubtedly be a short term contract and I know my chances of continuing on after that would still be low. What puts me off most is that there are young academics who struggle on in part time posts for a couple of years, then get a good one year contract and then go back to struggling on in part time posts. You have to be very tough to get any kind of career stability and what you get won't necessarily fit in with your personal life.

At the moment I'm feeling a bit trapped because I'm writing up my PhD. I'm having fantasies about getting away from the academic career structure and doing something completely different. Like school teaching or something for a charity. I've stopped measuring myself as an academic and I've started looking at how I am as a person. In my fantasy I have a nice job and I spend my spare time reading and writing. LiL reminded us that Kafka was an insurance lawyer. Paul Gauguin was originally a banker. You don't need to earn money in arts and culture to make a life out of it. The internet is a big help not only in terms of self-publication but also because more and more resources are available online.

I still don't know the best way to measure my life. The little creature in Dale's post (below) wouldn't worry about things like that. At the moment I feel like a portable project. I've spent my twenties developing my arts/history academic side and now I want to continue with that as well as developing new subject interests, be more creative, explore religion and learn physical skills like ballroom dancing or martial arts. Sometimes I wonder if putting so much energy into myself is a bit self-absorbed and pointless, but why is that? If I'm here for a reason it's to make the most of life and learn as much as possible. (I know I know. I'm as corny as an after school special)

Subfusc

Have you any idea what a subfusc is? I like this post of Dale's, particularly the lines:
Maybe there's a lift to it, a small exaltation, the same we feel any time when we are doing exactly what we're suited for.

That's the point of life. Doing what we're suited for. The world wouldn't work if we were all the same.

More on Summers

Professor B has an interesting post on women and work inspired by the Summers row.

The internet shall set you free

I'm taking the morning off. I have to go to work this afternoon and I absolutely must do some writing over the weekend so I thought I'd relax today. Listen to how guilty I feel.

I don't know anything much about manuscript circulation in 17th-century England. I know there was a lot of it going on and that in our printed age we tend to underestimate it. The 17th century saw a huge increase in the amount of printed news. Alongside all the pamphlets, broadsheets and newspapers news was also transmitted in manuscript form. London journalists ran manuscript newsletter services. I'm a bit hazy on the details but I think they were sent around the country via the developing postal system. They were sometimes sent out with printed newspapers like The London Gazette. When we think of Restoration England we sometimes remember the really dirty poems that got passed around the Royal court. A large proportion of these were also passed around in manuscript form. I remember attending a talk given by an academic researching Catholic poetry. She told us how these poems were not intended for printed publication but were copied out and passed from reader to reader.

What I mean by all these examples is that back then news and other literature could circulate on a very individual level. It wasn't reliant on the say so of a big publishing house or a panel of editors. If it pleased the reader it was copied out and passed along. The internet has given us a similar environment. We are now free to express ourselves in any way we please. Just look at the recent explosion of blogs. If we want to publish poems or stories or historical research we no longer have to get past the judgement of others. We can put it straight online. If it's any good it will get linked and passed around.

I know the publishing houses and review boards serve a very useful purpose. They maintain a certain level of quality. When an article is published in a respected journal you know you can trust it because it's been peer reviewed. People can publish all sorts of dross online. I don't think the quality problem is one that should deter us. As more people use the internet for this kind of thing mechanisms will evolve to filter out the crap. Even now you can see bloggers peer reviewing each other. Peer review is less necessary for creative writing than it is for academic work. If the reader likes a poem then that's enough. You don't need a Harvard professor to tell you it's good. If you really take your academic or creative work seriously then you should take some responsibility for your own quality levels or ask someone to check it for you.

You might say that my enthusiasm for self-publication means that I know I'm too mediocre to get past a publishing house. Perhaps that is part of it I admit. But when only something like 0.6% of submitted manuscripts ever get published you've got to start asking questions. Obviously a large number of failed manuscripts are absolute rubbish but how many good ones just aren't getting through because they're a bit unusual or not likely to make money?

Maybe one day we'll have fewer books published each year because only the ones that are popular online will make it onto paper. That will be better for the environment at least. The freedom of the internet will change things and it will unleash a lot of rubbish, but if it means that every man and woman can publish their historical research and express themselves then it's worth it. I keep hearing the joke 'Everyone has got a novel in them and that's where they should keep it.' Sure, fine, yes I can see the point. But won't it be better when we can see everyone's novel and decide for ourselves what's worth it?

I'm meandering and rambling now so I'll log off.

Blog round

Oscar Chamberlain remembers his father.
Asian blogs and news sites from Along the Journey.
Bodies found at scene of 1915 battle. From Barista.
I'll be getting my French dictionary out to see why Zid has got 'Glowin Virgin' at the top of this post
Where was the Bosworth? From Cronaca.
Rob reads about historians and ethics.
Joel marks the tenth anniversary of the Hanshin earthquake and looks at the history of Harlem.
Natalie looks at two Indian mystics.

Measurement

Last night I had a thought about the issue I was talking about yesterday in the posts below. I'm not sure if my thought makes so much sense in daylight but here it goes. I was talking about people who work in officially sanctioned bodies and have a recognised label and others who do similar things in their spare time but get dismissed as amateurs. One aspect of the issue is whether you're measuring things by personal growth and experience or by the extent of the recognition you get.

At my old secondary school we had three very clever male English literature teachers. Mr W, Mr R and Mr L. Looking back I know that I couldn't really have known what they were like as people, but from what I saw in the classroom I admired them a lot. They were confident and comfortable with the arts, history and general cultural stuff like that. When I started university I remember telling another girl that I wanted to be just like Mr L.

I've been feeling quite pleased with myself over the last couple of days. I know I don't know a lot about much. My supervisors can run rings round me and from past experience I know I'm not a first class with honours kind of girl. But nevertheless I've grown in confidence. I've been looking at how I've managed to pull a lot of different threads together to make my thesis and I feel proud of myself. I'm still terrified of the viva mind! When I was a teenager I wanted to be just like Mr W, Mr R and Mr L and now I am. I'm just as confident and comfortable with these things as they were. So my university education has given me what I really wanted.

These internal things are separate from the formal academic stuff. I could do any job and I would still have this confidence. When I look at the external things and compare myself to all the academics in the system and whether or not I could write a book or get funding I don't feel confident. But that's a different thing.

Does that make sense?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Giant baby

A woman in Brazil has given birth to a "giant baby" weighing 17lb (8kg) - twice the size of an average newborn.

Word 4 Word

Word 4 Word is a new programme about language - local language. It is part of the BBC's Voices season that will run through 2005. Here.

Feather duster

This post by Chameleon is one of the longest I've ever seen!
“As far as I am concerned the ‘house-wife’ does not exist. She is a patriarchal wet-dream, designed (albeit unconsciously) to curb the pleasure and jouissance of the woman and to remind her that enjoying her baby is all very well, but her real task is to be a wife-in-a-house”
Jane Graves, The washing machine: ‘Mother’s not herself today’, in Pat Kirkham (ed.), The Gendered Object, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1996, p32

A further thought on the post below

When we worry about whether or not we're artists or amateurs and other distinctions of that kind we forget something quite important. No one is really looking. We might impress a small group of people with our installation or magnificent monograph but they are a mere droplet in a sea of 6 billion+ souls. Nothing like that really matters. You could be the most famous artist in Britain and they still wouldn't know who you are in Bhutan. No matter how much recognition you receive you'll be forgotten. Perhaps quite slowly but then who remembers the most brilliant poet of Mesopotamia? So as no one is looking it doesn't matter whether you're an officially sanctioned scholar or artist or not. If you can feel positive about whatever you're doing and at the same time spread a little positivity to people who come in contact with you then that's enough.

Private citizen

I sometimes think of non-academics who study history as private citizens. It's as if those of us in the university are in the army or something. I'm not sure if that's an arrogant thought. If I were feeling cranky I would say that university historians are like flies trapped in amber whilst the independent scholars are ants outside in a big cheerful circle. I don't actually believe that. I'm just feeling a bit trapped myself because I'm writing up my PhD.

What I'm probably trying to say is that university academics have been absorbed into a professional body that has certain codes whereas those outside can study and say what they like.

I was thinking about this earlier when I realised that I have the potential to be happy just doing history in my spare time and writing about it online. I'm typing this in the library. When I went to get a book off the shelf just now I thought how interesting all the other titles were and how I'd like to read them just for fun. Not to write a research proposal or get brownie points. Just for fun.

LiL has been thinking about similar issues. She wonders why:
There are artists in whose opinion practicing art when you're not doing your other work makes your art not art but a mere hobby. To be looked down upon a bit - not necessarily in a mean way, but still.

In the comments Wolfangel says that she has always had the same thoughts about authors.

Is the issue that we feel that we can only claim to be something when we earn a living by it? Do we feel that if we can't earn a living then we're not good enough? I know it's a cliche by now but we have to go far deeper and ask what is an artist, a writer or a historian/academic? And we have to ask whether those labels mean anything at all. The status of the artist has changed a lot over the last thousand years. Our idea that artists have to be unique, original and creative (plus a bit temperamental) wasn't around in the 17th century. Someone was telling me the other day that authorship also had a different status back then, but I don't know how. Our idea that you have to be in a proper university to be a proper historian has developed over the last hundred years. The idea isn't even global as some countries have a much more liberal attitude than others. Back in the 17th century historians were antiquarians. When we meet antiquarians today many of us think of them as hobbyists.

I'm sure that last paragraph contains a lot of historical errors. I haven't studied these things so I don't really know the dating and how the concepts changed over time. I'd love to hear from anyone who has. The point I'm making is that the labels historian, academic, artist and writer are not inherent in the fabric of the universe. They're just social constructs. Maybe what I mean by a private citizen is a person without labels.

Mixed feelings

I am just about to take a break and I have mixed feelings. I was scanning through the library catalogue to see if they had the reprint of John Evelyn's Sculptura. I don't desperately need to look at it but I thought I might as well if they had it. (Incidentally Henry Peacham's Complete Gentleman also contains a few early references to engraving.) As I was looking at Evelyn's publications I thought that I could quite happily spend my life pottering through books like these and writing about them online. Just imagine. No fussing about and worrying what other people think. Just doing what really interests you. I felt rather surprised at and pleased with myself and started looking for something else. I then came across a Masters dissertation on an area I'm interested in and I felt very jealous because the student had written it in a department that specialises in that area whereas I had to teach myself. It was an unpleasant feeling. I doubt I'm alone in feeling like that sometimes. No department can specialise in everything after all. The other day someone was telling me that they felt jealous of people who get to do PhDs in America because their programmes have taught courses and exams. I am quite glad that my PhD is much shorter but I know what they meant. It is nice to be taught. British PhDs in the humanities have little to no taught elements in them at all.

When did I turn into Gollum?

Doing a PhD does funny things to your mind. At the moment I decided to write this post I also thought 'mustn't do that! mustn't give information away!' Since when did I turn into Gollum? In a pure world knowledge would be shared openly but instead we're all sitting on it worrying that other people will steal our ideas.

Anyway. What I was going to say is that if you are at all interested in attitudes to portraiture in 17th-century England you must read Numismata by John Evelyn (1697). There's a microfilm copy available in the UK on interlibrary loan. I don't know how you can find it elsewhere. It's largely about medals with a chapter on portrait prints and another on physiognomy. Medals are relevant to portraiture studies because many of them did of course carry portraits.

I'm having a bit of problem reading early modern English at the moment. I think I must be tired because the punctuation just knots my eyes up. Nevertheless I did enjoy Evelyn's prose when I was looking at it this morning. I particularly like these lines where he proposes a collection of medals of contemporary British heroes:

‘Nor this out of Vain-Glory, Ostentation, or ambition of a Name. . .but for Encouragement and the Benefit of future Ages, as well as of the present: For who can Divine (as all things are in continual Flux in this sublunary State, obnoxious to Changes and Vicissitudes) what, or when the Period of things, seemingly never so fixt and stable may be? Since we our selves have seen, daily read, and have before us the Fate and Catastrophe of the most polish’d and civil Nations;’

Maybe someone ought to show that to our leaders. Evelyn also wrote the first English book on engraving. It's called Sculptura and it's very very dull. He writes like a first year undergraduate who's determined to squeeze every piece of juice from his essay title. He goes on and on about engraving on every imaginable material before he finally gets to printmaking. It is interesting though because he alludes to mezzotinting, a printmaking process developed in the 17th century. My brain's gone all blank so I don't remember if Evelyn was the first in any language to devote a whole book to engraving or not. He was definitely the first person to mention mezzotinting.

Why I moved

Whenever I move to a different blog address my friends always warn me that I'm losing readers. In one way that's true and in the other it isn't. My last site was very well linked and I was getting a lot of hits, particularly over night. I realise now that they were one time visitors surfing in through one of the many links never to return. I know that because I've been tracking how many people have followed me here through the link on my old site. I reckon I've got about six regular readers.

I thought I'd be disappointed by a revelation like that but I'm thankful for it. It supports my reasons for moving. I like to think of myself as a bit of a blogosphere veteran because I've been online and keen on blogging for over a year. I enjoy several different styles of blogging. History blogs come in all shapes and sizes. There are some written by people doing it purely for their own pleasure. The quality that comes with doing something entirely for your own satisfaction comes through in the writing. That's definitely the case with Philobiblon. Then there are some very good blogs written by university people who are also doing it for their own pleasure. Ditto the quality. Then there are blogs written by people like me. I do enjoy doing it but my primary motivation was probably to make up for the invisibility that comes with being a PhD student. I felt like I had no voice in the real academic world so I tried to make one online. I really think the blogosphere is a valid academic forum and I really applaud the pioneers. But at the same time I can understand the criticisms made by the older academics who just don't get it. You can be a really big history cheese online but in reality you might be a very mediocre scholar. We have no way of knowing who is who on the blogosphere because very few people put their research online.

I decided to move blogs because I wasn't writing the last one for the right reasons. When I blog about history I want it to be for my own pleasure. Like Barista here. I need to do it free of all the flag waving that comes with using your own name. There are plenty of lovely male bloggers who use their own names, but I wonder if male showing off is the reason why there appears to be a disproportionate number of anonymous female bloggers online. Just an idea.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

In the news

Two million Muslims have gathered in Mecca for the annual hajj. You can see pictures here.

The Guardian archive page remembers Jan Palach, a Czech philosophy student who set fire to himself in protest against censorship and the distribution of a Soviet newspaper.

One of the thousands of mentally ill people gassed by the Nazis was a relative of Hitler. The Guardian reports.

The tsunami death toll in Indonesia has risen to 166, 000.

Facts and ideas II

What was I just saying about facts and ideas? Here's Hala Fattah.

Big ideas and little facts

The thing with my PhD is that it's very wide ranging and about as deep as a puddle. On the one hand this is quite nice because I don't have to be an expert in anything and on the other it's a worry because because I'm always skating on thin ice. For the last couple of days I've been writing about booksellers. I don't know enough about 17th-century booksellers to feel reassured that I'm not ignoring some classic reference work. I'm also bothered because although it's only a couple of pages I know that if I wanted to do a really good job I would go scooting off looking for articles and publications etc. . on all the names mentioned. I can't do that though because this is a PhD and part of the skill of work like this is knowing when to say 'No, I will not go down that road.' Everywhere I look I see hundreds of different ways my PhD could have turned out. Thousands of different ideas that will never have the chance to develop because I've got to get this thing written up and handed in. I am enjoying my work now. I enjoy business history and I like chasing up and piecing together little facts far more than working on big ideas. Little facts last forever but big ideas always go out of fashion. (O dear I sound just like one of my supervisors. What am I? A clone?)

Balance

Barista's article on journalistic response to claims of global dimming discusses the demand for balanced reporting and how this can in itself distort things. Being a journalist and being a historian are very similar things. I wonder how often our desire to be impartial tips the balance of history?

WWI

Somebody once told me a very peculiar story about Korean soldiers fighting in France in World War One. It involved a game of Russian roulette. I forgot about it because it sounded so daft but now it's got me wondering. Did any Koreans fight in France in that war?

Theodicy

I particularly enjoyed Mrs T's article about Paul Johnson's reaction to the Tsunami.

Islamic storytelling

I think Tony in particular would be interested to read this post about Islamic storytelling by Umm Zaynab. She is looking for good Arabic and English language story books that tell the life of the prophet but she hasn't had much luck.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Family tree research scam

If you're interested in finding out about your family history either do it yourself or ask your library if they know of a genealogist. Don't be tempted by unsolicited letters that offer to do it all for you for some ridiculous sum. BBC's Watchdog programme reported on a scam outfit called William Pince publishers that has already cheated thousands of people. Cutomers paid £70 expecting to receive a family tree and got nothing more than a few cheap bits of paper with lists of meaningless names. This BBC site gives you more information on how to research your family tree.

Turks

A friend of mine is studying the Uighur people of western China. Not so long ago she complained that Turkish scholars have a linguistic advantage. She told me that it was because the Uighurs speak a Turkic language. I knew that the Ottoman Turks originally came from central Asia so the connection seemed logical. I was just reminded of this conversation when I read news of the Turks exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. If you follow the link you will see a timeline that begins with the Uighurs. You can read Jonathan Jones' review of the exhibition here.

Nostalgia and History

When I was little Noddy was one my favourite characters. He appears in a series of books written by Enid Blyton. The original stories had to be modified in the 1990s to keep up with changing social values. Noddy no longer shares a bed with his friend Big Ears, corporal punishment has been abolished and the Golli character was replaced by another toy. I don't know why the bed sharing was an issue. It seems a pity that our society has become so over sexualised that two toys can't share a bed together without people thinking they're having an affair. The Golli had to go because the publishers finally noticed that it was racist. You can read about the history of the doll by following the link I've given above.

When I was a child I didn't realise that the Golli was modelled after African Americans so I was surprised when I heard that it was racist. I think most children genuinely didn't make the connection because no one told them. Now I know better I don't like it and I'm glad Noddy's publishers took it out. Not everyone feels the same though. This Guardian article from 2001 records the decision of a jam company to stop promoting its products with Golli badges. Fans of the badges and other Golli dolls refused to see them as racist. This newsletter of an international collector's club defends the character. I imagine nostalgia plays a strong part in this refusal to see sense. If you are of a certain age, loved the doll as a child and didn't realise that it was racist then maybe sometimes it's hard to let go.

I've been thinking about this because I recently saw a display of the dolls in a shop window. They were lovingly arranged and carried tags dating some of them back to the 1960s and earlier. I was a bit surprised and another friend commented on it the next day. This morning I wondered whether I should do the shopkeepers a favour and tell them that they risk causing offence. I'm sure they acted out of thoughtless nostalgia and didn't mean any harm.

Thinking about all this reminded me of the strand of British Empire nostalgia that runs through British literature and television. You can see it in series like Jewel in the Crown and the film Passage to India. Productions like this are not uncritical of the Raj and they don't ask you to think that it was a good thing, but they are a hit in the nostalgia market nonetheless. The party where Prince Harry made his Nazi gaffe had a Colonials and Natives theme. A lot of people have condemned that as every bit as tasteless as Harry's mistake. I don't know if the party hosts were drawing on British Empire nostalgia or whether it was some kind of attempt at satire. (I doubt it.)

I've often condemned nationalist and political use of history and now I realise that we should also be on guard against sweet sentimental nostalgia.