I am a chronic hooky-player - I blather on other people's blogs when I should be writing my own. Well, I say 'should'...but that's debatable. Another way of looking at it is that I'm simply giving my readers (all two of them) a rest. I'm heeding Henry IV's advice to Hal, and making myself a rarity, so that people will want more instead of less.
There is an interesting discussion of the Odyssey at City Comforts. I'm trying to remember if Odysseus is really a king, or merely the biggest landowner on the island. Ithaka was a pretty rocky, unprosperous island, in any case - but Odysseus was rich enough to provide meat for the suitors for nearly ten years. I have an idea he was an anax rather than a basileus or a turannos, but I'm not sure. Anax is usually translated as 'lord,' I think, as in lord of the manor.
The question came up in connection with a comparison of Homeric Greece with 5th century Athens, triggered by this comment:
But one thing that struck me was Vandiver's depiction of ancient Greece as a place where there was no law, where justice was private vengeance, where there was no state to claim a monopoly on the use of force to punish.
How sociologists and political theorists would love to know what happened during the transition - exactly how the Athenians decided to give the state that monopoly. If we could read their speeches - would they sound like Hobbesians, or Lockeans, or Rousseauans? Or something no one has even thought of.
Well here's one in the eye for historians, researchers, biographers, people who staff research institutes, people who learn from historians, researchers, biographers, people who staff research institutes, and the books and manuscripts they have in those institutes. Who do they think they are, anyway?
I would provide all the links separately but complete review already has. Thanks to the people there and to the reader at B&W who told me about it.
And speaking of Indian scholars and historians under attack by Hindutva - there is also Romila Thapar. I was alerted to her situation by another Indian scholar who lives in the West and is a fan of B&W. That's one of the hugely rewarding things about B&W, as a matter of fact: that people do tell me things like this. And that B&W is considered a resource in the effort to counter such things.
Emeritus professor of ancient Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, author of many seminal works on the history of ancient India, recipient of honorary degrees from many leading world universities, Thapar was recently honoured by the US Library of Congress in a manner befitting her scholarly standing. The library announced that it was appointing Professor Thapar as the first holder of the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South, and that she would spend 10 months at the John W Kluge Centre in Washington DC pursuing “historical consciousness in early India”.
But, as this story in Himal puts it
While 72-year-old Thapar’s appointment was greeted with applause by serious students of history, little did anyone realise that acolytes of the Hindutva brand of politics, primarily those in the Indian diaspora, would unleash a vitriolic campaign against her built on name-calling and the disparaging of her professional qualifications. Claiming that “her appointment is a great travesty”, an online petition calling for its cancellation has, as of the last week in May, collected over 2000 signatures. Thapar, according to the petition, “is an avowed antagonist of India’s Hindu civilization. As a well-known Marxist, she represents a completely Euro-centric world view”. Protesting that she cannot “be the correct choice to represent India’s ancient history and civilization”, it states that she “completely disavows that India ever had a history”. The petitioners also aver that by “discrediting Hindu civilization” Romila Thapar and others are engaged in a “war of cultural genocide”.
There is an article by Thapar in the Indian magazine Frontline on Hindutva misunderstanding and distortion of history.
Indian history from the perspective of the Hindutva ideology reintroduces ideas that have long been discarded and are of little relevance to an understanding of the past. The way in which information is put together, and generalisations drawn from this, do not stand the test of analyses as used in the contemporary study of history. The rewriting of history according to these ideas is not to illumine the past but to allow an easier legitimation from the past for the political requirements of the present. The Hindutva obsession with identity is not a problem related to the early history of India but arises out of an attempt to manipulate identities in contemporary politics...History as projected by Hindutva ideologues, which is being introduced to children through textbooks and is being thrust upon research institutes, precludes an open discussion of evidence and interpretation. Nor does it bear any trace of the new methods of historical analyses now being used in centres of historical research.
I'm a sucker for diaries. Even boring ones, I like to at least sample. Parson Woodforde, who loves to report on what he ate for dinner - I don't mind, I want to know what he ate for dinner.
Fanny Kemble, George Templeton Strong, Frances Partridge, Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Thoreau, Boswell (dear Bozzie, what a joy he is), Marie Bashkirtseff, Dorothy Wordsworth, Emerson, Dostoevsky, Katherine Mansfield. I eat them up.
The only one I can think of I don't like is Sylvia Plath's. Partly because I hate the ridiculous cult about her, which wouldn't exist if she hadn't killed herself, and what kind of stupid reason is that to make a hero of someone? but much more because of the content. The soppiness, the sub-Lawrentian guff about Ted and babies, the bad literary taste.
Susan Hill has a very good article here about diaries. Kilvert, Pepys, Scott, Sarton (that's another I don't like much), James Lees-Milne.
In an attempt to make the qualification more vocational, candidates will be able to junk the actual history and instead study the role of museums and galleries, traditional handicrafts, and the role of the media in popularising history. Among the more gruelling tasks students could be required to undertake would be, for example,"to design a brochure presenting a historical site to the public; devise an advertising campaign for a commemoration of a local event, or write about the management of a heritage site."Oh what a good idea. Or they could just go to the movies and study how Mel Gibson looks in a kilt or Nicole Kidman in a prostehtic nose. The possibilities are endless.
Will teenagers have the sophistication to analyse the implicit agenda of a television programme? When they design a brochure for a historical site, will they have any idea of the multiple histories it contains? Without these fundamentals, the introduction of a vocational element at the expense of academic approaches a nefarious robbery of knowledge.It's the old conflict between education as an instrumental good and education as an intrinsic good. It's depressing how automatically the first is taken to trump the second - how often the second isn't even taken into account.
I've just posted (well, a few hours ago) a really fascinating new article by Latha Menon on the fundamentalist Hindutva movement and the dire effects it's having on education, history, rational inquiry, scholarship, textbooks and similar areas in India. It's a highly discouraging picture she paints, but all the more worth knowing about for that.
There is no doubt that the Orientalists of the 19th century framed and periodized Indian history in accordance with certain assumptions concerning the ‘other’, which coloured and constrained their otherwise impressive achievement in building a vast corpus of knowledge about aspects of Indian history and culture. But Indology has moved on since then. The approach of leading Western scholars of Indian history today is far more self-aware and sensitive to such assumptions, while remaining appropriately rigorous and critical in its analysis. Yet in the intensely Hindu nationalist climate currently pervading India and flourishing in sections of the Indian diaspora, even distinguished Indologists such as Wendy Doniger are attacked in a knee-jerk response for daring to critically evaluate Hindu texts. Those Indian historians who question the agenda of Hindutva or ‘Hindu-ness’ fare even worse. Eminent, internationally respected historians such as Romila Thapar have been threatened and vilified. But these courageous individuals refuse to be silenced.
History is not faring well in India right now.
Well good. A court of appeals has ruled that Kennewick man should be turned over to archaeologists for study rather than being reburied.
He's a neighbor of mine, old Ken guy. Not a close neighbor, to be sure; the Burke is a few miles away. But pretty close, and anyway I walk past the Burke often. I've thought of him many times over the past couple of years, wondering how the decision would go. Perhaps I ought to feel some sympathy for the people who want to bury him - but I don't. He's nine thousand years old. How many generations is that? Only think: if we go back twenty generations (taking us to about the 16th century) each of us would have a million great-great-etc-grandparents. Nine thousand years ago and one might as well think of a dandelion or a piece of tree bark as a relative.
A lot of anthropologists and archaeologists don't agree though. Both disciplines are sharply split over the issue, but I have no idea how the numbers fall out - if there's a majority for one side or the other or it's a toss-up. It would be interesting to know.
A friend and contributor of B&W's, a journalist (from the UK) in Shanghai, would like to know of any books that look at the economic development of early America. It's for something he's working on -
The idea is that"economic development" everywhere - essentially the transformation from countryside to city, the movement of people - is bound to cause pain and dislocation, and I was looking for concrete examples.. Many reporters seem to believe that the process here in China is somehow uniquely evil, when in fact it is just an accelerated version of what has gone on elsewhere.. The tone in the reports is almost like,"God, China has problems, has an oppressive government, has people suffering," with the assumption that nothing like this has happened before...
I have no idea, myself, so I told him I would ask here.
Being a great fan of Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men I wanted to point out this interview with Browning at the Atlantic Online. And on a completely different note, doing a Ralph-style round-up only less organized (I'm short on time), there is a very interesting discussion of speech act theory and its relation to political smears at Crooked Timber. Chris Bertram points out (or, if you don't agree with him, says, or claims - speech act theory in action, so to speak) that just saying a given smear is true doesn't necessarily make it not a smear (because it can be true but selective, for example). All of which leads (or can lead, seems to lead) into further questions of how entrenched ideological positions can distort the truth, and whether people can change their minds.
I happened on an interesting show on tv last night, by way of that dreaded vice of idly flicking through some channels without any particular goal in mind. I thought it was Nova, but upon going to the Nova page to find a link and being unable to, discovered that it was something called Secrets of the Dead. Not a very alluring title. Sounds like something on one of those odd channels, one of those channels full of cop chases and other lurid items. But in fact it was quite good, and I ended up watching though I had thought I was going to wander off again after a few minutes. It was about the 1918 flu. There were some mildly irritating aspects, such as unnecessary re-enactments to supplement the archival photos and film, but that's a small point.
The most interesting part, to me at least, was toward the end, when questions of evidence and how to think about them and what to decide came to the fore, and we were presented with two scientists, both apparently quite reasonable and sensible, drawing rather different conclusions from the same evidence. Nothing remarkable in that, it happens all the time, and that's why it's so interesting. It was a very good little lesson in how both science and history actually work, there on our tv screens.
One researcher, an Oxford virologist (whose name I've forgotten), had and has an idea that the flu originated earlier and elsewhere than the generally-believed spring of 1918 in US military camps. So he searched the literature, and found a contemporary article in the Lancet by several military doctors about a virulent respiratory outbreak in a military camp in Etaples, in northern France. The doctors said it was not quite like ordinary bronchitis nor like ordinary pneumonia; they called it 'purulent bronchitis.' It was frequently fatal, and it produced the same 'heliotrope cyanosis' that the 1918 flu did. The Oxford virologist looked for three enabling conditions for a flu like the 1918 strain: pigs, live birds that humans have contact with, and crowded conditions; he found all three.
But that's all the evidence there is. He and others have been looking in permafrost for genetic material that would clinch it, but so far they have not found any. And that's where the two different takes come in. The Oxford virologist is convinced that the Etaples outbreak was the origin of the 1918 flu. But part of his argument for why he thinks so and we should think so too was a little bit odd (and, so, interesting as part of as it were epistemological psychology). He said something like 'How can we just ignore the findings of the doctors who wrote the Lancet article, who risked their lives to do the research? We can't just say they were wrong, we can't just dismiss them.' That's an odd thing to say because it's not necessary to say they were wrong, surely, and even if it were that would not be an argument! Obviously enough.
The virologist then went on to say that the preponderance of the evidence was in favour of the Etaples idea; that it wasn't proven, but the evidence was heavily in favour. His colleague Jeffrey Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist, put it quite differently. He simply said we don't have the evidence, and that's that.
Clearly the two are considering different kinds of things to be evidence, and it's also somewhat clear that the virologist is letting himself persuade himself. That he's taking what one might call circumstantial evidence to be firmer than it really is, and not being tentative enough. And that in itself is quite interesting. The difference between the two is a nice illustration of what lab technicians, journalists, detectives, historians, molecular pathologists and virologists do every day, all over the planet. Figuring things out.