Last week Ralph Luker asked me to join a new group blog over at the History News Network. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I read HNN on a regular basis and I thought they did a great job with my piece "Why the Civil War Still Matters." The group includes bloggers with a wide range of interests and should generate some thought-provoking debates. As for me, this should not involve more time in the blogosphere as I plan to cross-post entries from this blog. No doubt I will need to spend a bit more time fine tuning my ideas. Here is the maiden post for Revise and Dissent. I hope you enjoy this new group venture. I know I will.
Around two and a half thousand years ago there was a man from a town on the shores of what is now Turkey who had a love of travel. He travelled widely across the known world talking to people and listening to their stories. Wherever he went he heard tales of wonder, bravery and achievement. When he could he travelled to places to see the remains left with his own eyes. But the tales he found would rely upon the memories of those he told. Then he had a stroke of genius. He wrote them down:
"This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvellous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their glory…" – Herodotus 1.1
The ancient Greek word for inquiry was Historia.
In common usage history is synonymous with the past, but this wasn’t originally the case. The Greeks already had a past that they knew well from Homer. They had their own stories of how they came to occupy their land. Yet Herodotus brought the innovation of distinguishing between what is known and what is true. He became known as the "Father of History". In many places he didn’t do a very good job. His sometimes overly credulous retelling of stories gained him the dubious title "Father of Lies".
While Herodotus wasn’t perfect he did at least lay the foundations for a system of inquiry which survives to this day and can provide the tools to help tease apart what happened in the past from what we wished happened in the past. Yet, as long as we remain human, this process must be ongoing because we bring our own prejudices and perspectives when we interpret the past. The past is a battleground of current ideologies.
The Airminded Brett Holman examines a new dimension in warfare for his forthcoming PhD thesis, the development in airpower and British society from 1908-1941. He came to history from an MSc in astrophysics and so is excellently placed to combine the history of science with broader history. He’s excellently placed anyway, being based at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Kevin C Murphy follows American history from 1890 to the end of the Second World War at his blog a Ghost in the Machine. His thesis in progress at Columbia University is "Armageddon Days are Here Again: Progressive Persistence in American Politics, 1919-1928" which explores the politics of America in the aftermath of what was thought to have been the war to end all wars.
The non-rhyming Kevin Levin holds two MAs in History and Philosophy and teaches AP History at the St. Anne’s – Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia. His area of choice is the Civil War and its continuing effect on American society which you can read about at his blog Civil War Memory. Even today the Civil War has the potential to divide society. Yet the Civil War is also arguably one of the factors which led to America becoming a superpower. Undivided, America became stronger.
Jeremy Boggs, also a student of 19th century America, writes at Clioweb. He’s based at George Mason University and responsible for a lot of the design of what you see here. When he’s not working on his PhD he’s devising new techno-gadgets at the Center for History and New Media.
David Davisson has recently turned his attention to medicine shows in early colonial North America. As a way of experiencing itinerancy first hand he finds himself moving from Norman, Oklahoma to the sunny climes of Tampa, Florida and the University of South Florida. When not distracted by shiny objects in the real world he can be found blogging at Patahistory.
From the Land of Lime on the other side of the world comes Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, currently at the University of Chicago. Prithvi also deals with the History of Ideas and the Philosophy of History, but from the perspective of medieval and contemporary South Asia. To western eyes India has always been exotic on the edge of the world from Alexander the Great to Marco Polo. Yet India has long exerted a subtle influence on other cultures through long distance trade.
Natalie Bennett is currently a freelance journalist based in London, with a keen interest in women’s history, with an avowedly feminist slant as seen at Philobiblon. As you’d expect, given that women generally make up about 50% of societies, she’s interested in a wide variety of time periods. Can, and should, the previously silenced voices be given a space? She says ‘yes!’.
History from silence is a good description of archaeology. Alun Salt is our final contributor. He’s one of the cohort of archaeoastronomers at the University of Leicester where he is currently completing a PhD on colonisation in ancient Sicily. He doesn’t trust people who can write about themselves in the third person.
Separately each of the authors has had their own weblog, and these will continue. The reason for coming together is that no part of history is isolated from any other part and often work in one period will have repercussions in how we see other periods, including the present. Lord Byron said: "The best of prophets of the future is the past," but Karl Marx noted: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
We’ll see if either of them were right.