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Posts Tagged ‘historical narrative’

I don’t have the time or the patience to look through more than a couple of pages of search results, so this is not a definitive conclusion, but Googling the phrase “hacking history” produces plenty of accounts of the history of computer hacking, and not a lot else. There’s a summary of a 2014 talk on how the rise of digital tools ought to have led to a democratization of the production of history, and an advertisement for a History Hacker’s Camp on a farm museum in Maryland in June (tickets still available!), where children can learn all about farm life in the early 20th century through practical activities; in both cases, “hacking” seems to be little more than shorthand for “new and exciting!!!” Finally, if you look instead for “history has been hacked”, you’ll find an Assassin’s Creed III tie-in where you have to identify how the historical record has been tampered with, and a collection of links to claims that history as we know it is all a lie, the Trojan War was actually the same event as the First Crusade, the Book of Revelation was written in 1486, and no life’s just too short to start on this nonsense.

Why am I worrying about any of this? Because of the opening sentence of an essay by Mike Davis in Jacobin, ‘The Great God Trump and the White Working Class’: (more…)

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2016, as I reflected on at least one occasion, was a year that seemed to represent a return to old-fashioned l’histoire événementielle, where world-changing developments occurred at the sort of pace with which we humans feel naturally comfortable (indeed, sometimes a bit faster than we might have preferred) rather than unfolding over decades or centuries. Both Brexit and the election of Trump represented, or appeared to represent, the sorts of dramatic turning-points that make for an exciting narrative, played out on a human timescale. But in addition – and this is something that I noted in passing, but could have made more of – it seems to represent, or can be claimed as, a series of events driven by humans and human-level factors, rather than vast, mysterious and impersonal forces and processes. Indeed, the force of the ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ slogans is precisely that of a revolt against those who surrendered to abstract ideas like globalisation and the march of automation, in the false belief that they are more powerful than any human agency; we are presented with a reclaiming and repurposing of the progressive idea that something else besides eternal capitalism is still possible.

It struck me this morning that there may be a connection here to the sudden popularity of historical analogies, especially classical analogies, for contemporary political developments. (more…)

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How long was the Twentieth Century? If you spend most of your time studying classical antiquity, that may sound like a trick question, but since Eric Hobsbawm published Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century in 1994, the idea that the 19th Century persisted until the shattering of the European political order in 1914 (not a new idea, of course; it’s found in Stefan Zweig’s Die Welt von Gestern, for a start) and the 21st Century began in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism has been widely recognised as a useful discussion point, if not as a definitive reading. There’s been a flurry of debate on this issue in the last week, with blogs on the topic from Brad DeLong and Branko Milanovic, plus multi-faceted exchange on the Twitter.* (more…)

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Yes, long time since I had time to post anything here, for which I can only apologise to anyone who’s actually interested. It hasn’t all been the usual mid-term weight of teaching and admin, nor can I entirely blame the kittens, their various ailments and the way they’ve been behaving since they got better, that have made uninterrupted sleep a rare and precious commodity. No, there was also a trip to the First International Conference on Anticipation in Trento last week, plus writing the paper for that beforehand, a fascinating and stimulating event that I shall be blogging on in due course – but you’re going to have to wait a bit until I’ve caught up on the emails.

In the meantime, if you’re feeling bereft of history-related reading, I’d like to point you in the direction of Ned Richardson-Little’s latest blog post (he’s also well worth following on Twitter, @HistoryNed, for pictures and stories from the DDR), on The Long Fall of the Berlin Wall (more…)

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One of the crucial insight of Greek historiography was that different accounts of a past event might be truthful and sincere, and yet untrue and misleading. Herodotus clearly recognised this, as seen in the way that he often offers several different versions of an event (different not only in their interpretations but even in their selection of key information) and then goes on to offer his own judgement of where the truth lies, or the real story that none of these partial perspectives has been able to grasp. Thucydides went further, not only noting the inconsistency of his informants and the fallibility of human memory, but also listing the various factors that might also lead would-be chroniclers of the past astray (failure to be critical, wish to please audience etc.).

Both these writers present this as one of the great challenges they faced – and thus bolster the authority of their accounts, as they have recognised the problem and sought to address it, unlike their rivals. This insight informs their underlying historical methods, as it does the methods of all subsequent versions of critical historiography, but it also raises questions about the appropriate means of representing such divergence and disagreement – if it is to be mentioned at all. (more…)

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My only real engagement with Paul McCartney’s birthday celebrations this week has been to re-read the classic Charles Shaar Murray interview from 1975, reprinted in his Shots from the Hip. It took place after the release of Wings’ Venus and Mars, which CSM regarded as a truly terrible album, and a symptom of artistic decadence. “It’s the whole lilies-that-fester syndrome: basically, nobody gives a shit if someone they’ve never heard of unloads a turkey because it’s just another bad album. For someone of McCartney’s level/status/importance to deliberately trivialize his talent is something of a blow.” The entire interview then becomes a nightmarish exercise in trying to cope with this problem: “What can a person such as myself say to a… to a… to an ex-Beatle who’s just made a crappy album?”

Where am I going with this? Well, over on the political philosophy blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians there’s a contribution to a symposium on John Tomasi’s book Free Market Fairness by Deirdre McCloskey, that focuses not on Tomasi’s own arguments but on the critiques of others, specifically those that argue for the need for the state to play a role in policing the workings of capitalism. (more…)

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