Daily Archives: November 2nd, 2006


Apologies if you’ve ever tried to comment here. I have only just realised that you had to be logged in order to do so… I’ve switched that off now. There was me thinking that people didn’t like me and my blog so they weren’t saying anything.

Actually, perhaps that is the case, and I should leave it impossible to comment so that I don’t realise that it wasn’t the only reason I was getting no comments.

hmm. Friday brain. That made very little sense.

(Pseudo?) Historical films

I am flabbergasted that someone has bothered to make a film about Romulus Augustulus; I would not have thought that enough people would know about him and the Goths to make it worthwhile. Maybe it is indicative of the perennial hold that the Romans still seem to have over the Western imagination and self-identity… or myabe because it is relatively unknown, the producers/director thought it would be easier to cut historical corners on. Who knows; I think I will go and see it, whenever it gets released, just for curiosity’s sake. Romulus is played by that kid from Love Actually – that, I am not convinced by. Nor am I entirely convinced by Colin Firth as Aurelius – nice choice of name though.

The other, more probably pseduo, historical movie that has caught my attention recently is 300, which is about the Spartans at Thermopylae. This has great potential, I feel – nice bit of self-sacrifice, high drama, etc. I am a bit dubious, though, because it is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller… and, having seen the trailer, it has a very similar feel to Sin City. I imagine it will be very gruesome, probably highly sexual, and – I dread – a long way from any sort of historical accuracy. I am a fan of Gerard Butler, and heck, it’s got David Wenham too (hasn’t he done well from himself?), so maybe they will be saivng graces.

I guess this brings up the whole issue of whether movies ought to be ‘factual’ and ‘true to history’ or not, much like the Inga Clendinnen question about ‘historical’ fiction. Having not seen Alexander, I won’t even bring that one up, but… I’m really not sure where I stand with this issue. I like my movies that are based on history to be fairly ‘true to life’ (ack, such tricky waters… I know this brings up all sorts of issues about what we actually can know blah blah blah). That said, if a movie is blatant about the fact that they are not, in fact, striving for accuracy, but for a jolly good movie – and they actually manage a good movie – then I can forgive a fair bit….

HTAV Seminar 3

Megan Cassidy-Welch came out from Melbourne University to talk about “Mead and moats” – actually, to talk about the fact that there is more to medieval England than those two things. She did a bit of a general intro/overview and then talked about new and interesting things happening in the field. One of the really interesting things for me was that at least some of this stuff has relatively recently been discussed at In the Middle

Not in the middle of anything, really; is a Renaissance invention, taken on by Enlightenment (such an arrogant term to give one’s self) scholars also. It is perjorative.
— Vague, nebulous; cross-regional. Can’t really say “the medieval [world view, insert other topic you’d like to generalise]” with any real meaning.
— Roughly from the fifth century and the end of the Roman empire in the West, on for another millenium. Or so.

*Medieval England?
— Issues of national identity: what do we mean by ‘England’? And what did people in the Middle Ages mean by it?
— Issues of medieval ethnicity, cultural narrations, and the creation of the past.
— National identity: varying ideas about it, then and now
– it always existed and just had to be named? (this is an old theory)
– when the Romans leave (who did have an idea of ‘Rome’ and some sort of collective), there is no idea of a ‘country’ called ‘England’.
– from Bede, in th seventh century,^ comes the idea that the Ango-Saxons can be lumped together at least to some extent. People south of the Humber River.
– from Alfred the Great comes the idea of ‘England’ – when the people start to think of themselves as a collective?
– the twelfth century is now seeming to be a more likely place for national thoughts. Henry Huntingdon and Walter Map talk about ‘England’. There is then an issue of the distinction between England and Britain. At this time, it seems they were co-terminous; in Geoffrey of Monmouth, they are completely conflated.
– idea that the identity of England is constructed deliberately in relation to a traumatic event – the Norman Conquest.
– the means of constructing the identity, imagining/inventing England: creating the ‘Other’, and history/myth making.
— Creating the Other: this was a persecuting society (cf Robert Moore, in the 1980s). The developing of Christendom happened with the marginalisation of heretics, Jews, prostitutes, homosexuals and lepers, all of which were seen as ‘diseases’ needing to be cut out of the Christian body. Shore up the boundaries of Christian states. Conspiracy theories about what those groups would do. Need to create community by creating difference.
— Norman invasion:
—> castles as visual reminders
—> cultural changes – Latin and French introduced as the languages of importance, English (Anglo-Saxon really) relegated to the language of peasants. Class and, possibly, ethnic differences were huge. Women lost lots of rights, especially re: property. More perjorative language towards “the Celtic fringe”. This type of language was long used, and previously applied, to other, bordering peoples.
— NB role of memory in forging idas, through creating history.
— “Nationalism” seems to start – Normans inserted in as saviours of England. Written by Anglo-Normans. The issue of legitimacy was a big one – so genealogies were important.
— Effects of the trauma (the invasion):
— First generation: little written by the Anglo-Saxons, because so shocked.
— Second generation: Anglo-Normans=English; make links between Anglo-Normans and Anglo-Saxons, especially spiritual links – God inflicts the Normans onto the Anglo-Saxons for some reason. Second generation Normans condemn the savagery of the conquest.
— Third generation: under Henry I and Stephen. The trauma is not discussed; individuals are talked about instead, perhaps reflecting patronage of the time.
— Fourth generation, 1150-75: renewed interest in 1066. Reinvigorate the ideas of pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxons, including the canonisation of Edward. Normans do oral history – of ancestors who were present at the Battle of Hastings, for example.
*What do we do with traumatic events? How do we talk about them, record them?

As I said, I loved this talk. For some of my colleagues, it was probably all a bit too much for 2.30-3.30 on a Friday afternoon….

^ Whose grave I am very hopeful of seeing

HTAV seminar 1

Middle Years, Thinking Curriculum, and VELS^

*Using a picture book can be a great springboard. The woman leading the seminar had a book called Photographs in the Mud, from the Aust War Memorial, about the Kokoda Trail – a Japanese and Australian soldier dying together, sharing photos of their loved ones (very sad, very touching – seriously).

*Got some good hand-outs… one interesing idea for thinking about objects is SCUMPS:
Size – what size is the object now, what size could it be?
Colour – what is it now, could be?
Uses – could be used for?
Material – what is it now, was it appropriate then and is it still?
Parts – can anything be changed?
Shape – appropriate then and/or now?

I also liked BAR:
Bigger }
Added } Then vs now
Replaced }

*A unit’s activities can (should?) be divided into:
Tuning in –> Finding out –> Sorting out –> Assessment (self, peer, teacher).

*Thinkers’ Keys are cool too… I’m guessing it might be breaching copyright to talk about all of them, since they come from a book and all, but I especially like the one where you say the answer is “William the Conqueror” – what are the questions? (Who won at Hastings, who Scourged the North, who built the Tower of London… whose son mortgaged his inheritance to go crusading… who was a bastard…).

Seminar 2 was a waste of an hour. Wasn’t made obvious at all that what the seminar was, was a dude basically spruiking for his medieval incursion business.

^VELS=Victorian Essential Learning Standards. Blech, yadda yadda, etc.

HTAV State conference

The state conference was last week, with the delightfully ambiguous (and, for Australians, mildly hilarious) title, full of over/undertones – it was Frontline: The state we’re in.^ I went to the Friday, because the Thursday seemed to be mostly aimed at primary teachers – all well and good, but not for a secondary teacher. The key note speaker (who was preceded, by the way, by an acknowledement of the traditional owners of the land… we are nothing but pointed, we historians) was John M…someone whose name I didn’t get clearly. He’s from the Commemorations branch of the Dept of Veterans’ Affairs, who has just put together a book of reminiscences of Vietnam vets.^^ He was speaking on issues to do with remembering and teaching Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, which I thought I would record here… it was apt, really, since the 40th anniversary of Long Tan was this year – a battle which has become synonomous with the Australian experience there, and is now officially Vietnam Veterans’ Day.^^^ So:

*Much of the reflection on the Vietnam War has been done for and by Americans – even in Australia.
— The Australian experience was different. They experienced less heavy fighting than the US and S Vietnamese. The First Australian Taskforce was put in a largely secure province; they did manage to keep it secure. It was different, and there were lots of reasons for this:
— Australian soldiers tended to be better educated; there was less of a black/white issue; less drug-taking; the social background of the conscripts was more broad – all in comparison to the US soldiers. And ultimately, 521 service personnel and seven civilians were killed, against 50,000 Americans.

*Australians have formed a collective memory of poor treatment of Vietnam vets – that is, this memory seems to be held by society at lare, but not necessarily by the Vets themselves.
— 6 Battalion received a Welcome Home Parade in Brisbane after Long Tan. Others, of course, didn’t always get this – but it’s still not true to say that no Vets were officially welcomed home until the parade of 1987.
— There is a feeling in some quarters that one mustn’t break ranks, or correct misconceptions. Don’t want chinks in the armour to show….

*The issue of supporting the war or not was not black and whie, as people today might like to think. The peace movement got bigger slowly, and for a myriad of reasons – there was no one concept of what the peace movment was all about. A minority marched, and a minority of them were nasty. At the same time, there was no articulation – as there is today – that one can support the troops but not the war.
— It’s very important to remember that Vietnam vets were not the first to have issues coming from home; they and their campaigning for recognition have helped both their ancestors (eg recognising PTSD in WWII soldiers) as well as their descendents.

*Memorials = fragments of memory, creating history.
— The desire to be seen in the ANZAC tradition is very strong.
— In the Australian memorial, the names are not etched in, as they are in the Washington memorial; history, not personalised.
— “Huey” is often seen as the hero of Vietnam, rather than a person. It’s hard to idealise a helicopter….
— The memorial sets in stone how they saw the war, and also the after-effects – the experience doesn’t end with coming home. There are quotes about the Welcome Home Parade in ’87, as well as lines from “I was only 19”.

*So how do we teach it?
— Let go of the word ‘hero’: vets don’t tend to like it; you lose the ordinary-ness of the servicemen – the extraordinary things they did were ordinary for them.
— Bring in the allied (and even the enemy?) perspective. The Australian experience is, after all, limited, both in general and in Vietnam in particular.
— If we don’t do this, we lose perspective in many ways. Was the Australian experience special, different? How can we know without a comparison?
— The protest movement: did not bring the boys home (this happened because the US were leaving), and did not end conscription. It’s important not to drown out either side: it’s all a part of the whole experience.
— The movement started in 1965 with mothers marching under “Save our Sons” in Melbourne, getting publicity doing that.
— Will we get to the point where we can look at the political decisions beforehand as well as during the war?

^I originally wrote that with a capital ‘s’, and then realised that – to me at least – it changed the feel quite a lot. So I took it off.

^^I was looking through the display copy on the DVA table, and realised that one of the guys, Garry Casey, is someone I know – he was a pall bearer for Dad. And there were a couple of other names I thought I recognised. I went outside to call Mum and tell her about it, to see if she had heard about it; she hadn’t. I went back to ask where I could get a copy… the author happened to be standing there talking to a DVA dude… and he slipped me a copy! Outstanding!

^^^And my Mum’s birthday. Dad took her out pretty much every birthday for dinner… to Legacy, for the Long Tan dinner. Tres romantic. At least she didn’t have to cook, I guess.

Addenda courtesy of a couple of historical consultants…
“Bit of a generalization to say that “They experienced less heavy fighting than the US and S Vietnamese.” Some Aussie units did experience pretty heavy stuff, in particular the special forces guys – although not called that then. Also the experiences of a bomber pilot were pretty much the same whether in Aus or US command; same same ship-borne ops off the coast. Same same helo pilot/gunner etc. Same same loggies and intel etc – it’s important to realise that warfare isn’t just about the sharp end…. Less than 10% of the troops do the fighting if that’s what you call infantry versus infantry, armour ops etc.

“– The protest movement: did not bring the boys home (this happened because the US were leaving), and did not end conscription. It’s important not to drown out either side: it’s all a part of the whole experience.” – yes, agree. Pls don’t bring in Whitlam’s oft-repeated lie he “brought the troops home”…”

And this is from Peter Williams, my Yr12 history teacher, who is now doing a PhD about the Kokoda Trail (using Japanese sources, which apparently no Australian has really done before):
“I agree with everything he said about commemorating Vietnam – what a sensible fellow. He could perhaps have added that the fear of communism spreading down thru Asia-the domino theory-was widely believed at the time, I remember it well myself. Hence it seemed very much in Australia’s interest to try to stop another Asian state going communist.

And a little story from the era – very early in the war I was still at school and my mate… brought to class a letter from his big brother in Vietnam stating that his platoon had ambushed the enemy and he himself had killed four commies – we were all enthralled and delighted – we wanted to join up and do that too.”


I didn’t even know Clifford Geertz was still alive, so reading an article about him dying is a bit weird. It’s also weird to read about the death of someone I did a very short paper on during Honours (that would be Geertz). I knew nothing about anthropology and its intersections with historical writitng, so it was a good thing to research, even in a very cursory way… especially since it was for a subject called “Historians and Ritual.”


I had five keenie-beanies along to the second-ever Amnesty meeting at school today; they were really gung-ho, we wrote three letters, and I’ve sent them off – school’s great, they’ve agreed to pay the postae, which is nice because there were 5 to China and 4 to Iran. Plus three to Brazil. They’re all keen to make it a regular thing, and there were a couple of kids who didn’t make it today who will come next time. So that makes it worth missing my lunch.


I don’t know if this is of a Giant Squid, but it’s still cool… Egg sack found.

Everyone loves squid. They just have to.