Just a few articles that are accessible to all this month -
Working-Class History: Emma Griffin charts the postwar emergence of working-class history as a scholarly discipline and argues that, thanks to the torch-bearers, the rationale for it has ebbed away.
Rule of Contradictions: Daniel Beer reassesses W. Bruce Lincoln's 1976 study of Tsar Alexander III's brief reign, which combined reaction with rapid industrialisation and left a troubling legacy for his successors.
With the updating and refreshing of the Cuban pages, attention has now turned to some of the admin pages. Both pages (the casahistoria main one and the more compact young-casahistoria version) dedicated to looking at where to search on the web for individual research have been revamped.
However whilst doing these and the Cuban pages I saw that Spartacus educational has in the recent past gone in for a major site rename. I realise that at times this may be needed but why were no automatic forwarding links provided?
When sites like the Internet Sourcebook changed they forwarded all existing links to the old. Goodness knows why Spartacus did not do the same (or if they did it is not working now! There is a pop-up to tell you to change your bookmarks but you have to be on the new page to see it!). Casahistoria is not the only site to link to their pages. Many teachers will also have given out links to their sites on the original addresses. All of these will now end up with an error page and no way of getting to the intended page without googling away at random.
Spartacus is one of the key history resources online, so this confusion is unhelpful to say the least. in the meantime as I get round their affected links on casahistoria I will put a work-around on the site 404 page:
"In the address box replace the existing prefix, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/ with http://spartacus-educational.com/"
If you are presently studying for a Edexcel, AQA or OCR GCE A level history course as well as working towards the IB you will find the revision pages and pdf guides have now been updated and links checked to make them as useful as possible to you. It is also hoped to produce resource guides for the new GCE schemes in the near future.
For those looking at Cuba for the IB a new page has been posted on Cuba after Fidel Castro to bring the existing Cuba pages up to the present and to "bookend" the Fidel era.... The remaining Cuba pages are currently in the process of being updated.
The café has recently been on a museum trail including the Museum of Archaeology in Alicante (MARQ) and the Memories of Germany exhibition at London's British Museum. What is interesting about the two is how they would appear to be fulfilling their role to educate and serve the general public.
MARQ is a recent museum (It was European Museum of the Year in 2004) which has made good use of local finds and modern audio-visual techniques to tell the story of the regions history from the earliest settlements until the early modern period. Background films covering the entire walls of display rooms give simple reconstructions to connect with the exhibits (for example the Roman area shows people walking, shopping and going to the baths as a backdrop to the many Roman artefacts on display). Pottery designs are projected onto the floor in high definition to help create atmosphere in keeping with the period being displayed. A large separate museum area shows three reconstructed "digs" linked to the locality and explaining how archaeologists operate. Again much use is made of modern technology to draw in the visitor. A recent special exhibition showed treasures of Han China. Finally all this is at little cost despite Spain's economic crisis and lack of public funding. Free Sundays and festivals (it's Spain, there are many of these!) normal admission is 3€ but there is a long list of those eligible for free entry - the café was able to take advantage of this! If you are in a school within hailing distance I should imagine you have already taken a busload there. If not, it is well worth a visit.
That takes us to the BM's recent blockbuster, Memories of Germany. It has brought together some amazing artefacts. The café favourites were Barlach's Schwebender Engel (hovering angel) and the cardboard model of the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint used to train DDR border guards! Pretty limited in size though (in the old Reading Room area) it was also rather expensive given what was on show at £11/14€ (£10 entry plus the £1 online booking charge as no walk-ins were being accepted....). This was disappointing as a quick, unscientific count of what was on show revealed that many, if not most came from the BM itself. What was being paid for was largely for the curating (by a public servant already paid well to do the job) of existing holdings, which might be free to view elsewhere in the BM. To be fair to the BM the Museum at large is free entry but why so much to show a selection of the museums own holdings? This may explain the fact that when the café attended, the visitors appeared to be largely well healed Germanists of yore whilst young (often) overseas visitors perhaps in London for a few days only were being turned away due to the no walk-ins situation. Nor would there be much room for a busload of students, even at special group rates. Where is the public service remit in all this?
Sadly, the experience of both museums tells a story of divergent philosophies with regard to freeing up access to the past. The café knows which one it is closer too.
Clement Attlee would appear to be having something of a revival in public view at the moment. He even appears on a series of T-shirts with the phrase "what would Clement do?" alongside an image of himself. What indeed? Attlee has become something of an unknown quantity for students. Less charismatic than his prime ministerial predecessor (Churchill) he led the British post war Labour government that changed the structure of British society and welfare arguably more than any other before or after. Michael Jago's biography begins to flesh out who Attlee was.
Michael Jago's narrative soon makes clear what he was not. He was not from a poor background. He attended a good public school and joined the legal profession before the 1914 war broke out. He was not a radical socialist from the Trades Union wing of the left. He was modest, not extrovert, pushing himself to the front or that ambitious that he trampled on rivals to get ahead.
However it is clear from early on he was a respected leader able to win confidence from those he led. World War I saw him serve at Gallipoli and in France with honour and an officer who cared for his men. He had a social conscience, albeit initially rooted in the upper class concept of helping the poor and needy in a "lady bountiful" way but one which led him directly into social work in the East End of London and through that into Labour Party politics as the only way he could see to change the lot of those in need. He identified with his constituents. Initially not only did he live amongst them, his East End home was partly given over to party usage.
As he rose up through the Labour Party in the interwar period to eventually lead the party Jago portrays Attlee as principled (he came to resent what he saw as MacDonalds hypocrisy and opportunism) as well as hard-working and quietly efficient. Jago raises the question of whether the party leadership came to him through luck to be in the right place at the right time rather than ability. He then tends to leave this question hanging until the final chapters when he disregards it. Always quietly efficient and hardworking, but most of all generally trustworthy towards colleagues seems to explain his success.
Most enlightening to the café is Jago's portrayal of Attlee as Deputy PM to Churchill in the wartime coalition. He is shown as a loyal supporter of the PM, softening his harsher exclamations and working very publicly to keep support up. Touring the country, giving talks in factories, shipyards as well as in town halls Attlee became the face of the government, looking forward to a better future. This had been agreed by both main parties, but Attlee came over as the confident, well organised, hard working member of the top duo. The safer pair of hands for the peace.... His profile thus raised, this made the 1945 Labour victory more easily explained.
The post 1945 period is perhaps the less satisfying part of Jago's book. It is clear the Foreign Policy saw Attlee at his weakest. India and Palestine especially were disasters whose repercussions remain today. Equally it is clear that Attlee played the Atlantic relationship poorly. Truman was too easily ignored. He lacked Churchills ability to cajole, to compliment or simply to invest the time in maintaining close personal relations with the US leadership. Whilst Jago shows this well, the café would have liked to see more focus on the personal mechanics and relationships that drove through the post war welfare state. After all it is this that would seem to have been Attlees' real strength.
Overall however a work to be recommended. Attlee needs wider study as well as recognition. It is as if he has been able to maintain his own modesty over historians in the near 50 years after his death in 1967.
History Today has revamped its website in the general form of Windows 8 tiles. This should make reading on a mobile easier. Additionally it is more straightforward to navigate the free items more easily. These include:
Ben Macintyre is now best known for his espionage books including Agent Zigzag and his latest on Kim Philby. This is one of his earlier publications (perhaps the back catalogue being re-released on the back of these later, more successful works.) and is not about spies. Rather it combines two unlikely themes in an offbeat but readable way.
Going off to Paraguay, Macintyre looks for evidence of German colony founded in the 19th century by the sister of Friedrich Nietsche. In 1886 Elisabeth Nietzsche, set up a 'racially pure' colony in Paraguay together with a band of blond-haired fellow Germans. Macintyre describes his travels as he crosses the inhospitable centre of Paraguay to find actual survivors of Nueva Germania still living an isolated existence in the remains of the bizarre colony.
However, Forgotten Fatherland is more than this. It is written in a "double style" retelling not just the narrative of colonial settlement but in tandem the more intriguing story of how Elisabeth came to hijack her brothers legacy and turn him into a cult to serve her own nationalistic and racist ends. Nietzsche, the stalwart of the individual, anti church, anti imperial and anti nation (he himself refused to support Nueva Germania) is transmuted into the intellectual rock behind National Socialism, Elisabeth's shrine for her brother in Weimar becoming a place of pilgrimage for Hitler, Mussolini and other assorted nationalists of the far right during the 1930's and early 1940's.
This has elements of Pimblet's Paraguay history/travelogue, Inflatable Pig but is probably also a straightforward primer in understanding what Nietzsche actually does represent. Well worth looking out for.