Fortunately, Tony Blair decided to provide me with suitable material, with an official expression of regret for Britain’s part in the slave trade. Here, my colleague Tristram Hunt argues that this is an appropriate gesture. It is a necessary precursor to a celebration of Britain’s abolition of slavery – but it is a sad measure of this Government that, just as with the less logically coherent pardon being prepared for those executed in the First World War, one’s immediate response is to question what bad news is being hidden.
The growing field of specialist online exhibitions set up by museums and galleries would repay some study. The particular advantages of a permanent exhibit which can incorporate a range of material are well demonstrated by this exhibition of Second World War images from Britain’s National Archives.
The selection of pictures commissioned by the Ministry of Information to celebrate Victoria Cross winners has some interesting implications for the ways the Home Front visualised combat. Best exhibit – this illustration of Sergeant J. Hannah winning the VC for putting out a fire in his aircraft, complete with account and images of the unfortunate carrier pigeons roasted by the heat. Available elsewhere on the same site – public information films, treasures of the archives and Nelson and Trafalgar .
Receiving books for review poses some potential ethical problems for the blogger. One way to keep us honest (and to make full use of the medium) is to rely on the collaborative power of the web. Brett Holman, (of Airminded and Revise and Dissent) and I have written a joint review, in the form of a conversation. It's up now at Trench Fever and Airminded. Let us know what you think, both of the review and of the approach.
An excerpt from Eric Evans' report on 'Rethinking and Improving Lecturing in History', available at the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology in summary and in full. Well worth a read, particularly for its comments on student expectations and means of developing effective, but individual, practice. Hat tip to Dr Virginia Davis.
Further reactions to the death of GeorgeMacdonaldFraser, including the question, 'Should we mourn Flashman?'
Why where you put certain questions matters, in tests, in semesters, in lives, from Mixing Memory, via Gavin Robinson.
The Decision Hedgehog, for all those who've told that joke about why 'working for this company is like screwing a hedgehog'...
Sad departure of 2007, Alan Eames, 'the Indiana Jones of Beer'
Self-agrandising public history corner, as I talk about doing a podcast for the OU and the BBC, with another corner for agrandising one of my PhDs, Jack McGowan, who spoke to BBC Radio 4 about newly declassified material from the National Archives.
It is astonishing to think that The People's War was published when he was only 27. Even if Calder wasn't 'right' in every case the first time around, as he himself acknowledged, it's rare to find a nuance he didn't mention. RIP. Obituaries from the Independent, the Herald, The Times, the Telegraph and, from Bernard Crick, the Guardian. Many of these seem to put Calder as a 'revisionist' from the start, which is an interesting comment on how his work has been perceived by different people at different times.
This is just one of a number of 'showreels' put together to highlight the modern British history resources recently put online thanks to funding from JISC, the Joint Information Services Committee. JISC now has its own youtube channel, where you can find out more about the Cabinet Papers, newsfilm, cartoon and ephemera archives that have been digitised.
The quantity of work involved - and the quantity of material now potentially available online - is remarkable. And whilst some of these archives remain ATHENS password protected, others are freely accessible to the general public. I have the odd quibble about interfaces (I found the Cabinet Papers system rather clunky and hard to use, but I get the feeling it might be aimed less at academics than at sixth formers). Mostly, however, these are all good things.
This has made me think about the digitising of archives as a means of public history, and particularly putting the web to work not just to make this material available, but to increase its utility . The Great War Archive, as showcased above, has created a new resource by getting users to send in photographs and scans of artefacts. On the British Cartoon Archive, users will eventually be able to create their own 'groups' of images to which they'll be able to add content. And elsewhere on its site, the YourArchives section of the National Archives seems to be going from strength to strength.
But wouldn't the real power of this digitisation come if you could have a way to create links across the different archives? There are, of course, all sorts of problems of formatting, terminology and software. But I wonder what you could do with simpler sites that provided a way of visualising these connections and allowed users to do the work of adding in connections. Look, for example, at the 'Mapping our Anzacs' site, created by the National Archives of Australia. Here, a map interface allows users not only to see the digitised enlistment records of Australian servicemen from the First World War, but to add in their own information and tributes. What if you had a map and a timeline, onto which you could add links to all of these different digital archives and your own uploaded images and data? This would increase the range of sources of which historians made use and improve engagement with the public sphere. Or are the problems - the need for moderation, the existing structure of archives (which are often set up to compete, not collaborate), the variety of different software in use - too great?