A new issue of History in the Making is out now
After months of painstaking effort by our authors, editors and reviewers, History in the Making is pleased to announce a new issue. In this issue, the journal maintains its high standard of inquisitive, thoughtful works by undergraduates, complemented and honed by a dedicated team of postgraduates.
Two articles in this issue exemplify the exciting and diverse source material available to undergraduate history students. Rebecca Hart provides a close analysis of death certificates, wills, obituaries and deceased estate files to reveal the very personal experiences of a Victorian family. Hart focuses on the experiences and relationships of prominent women within the family, and uncovers the rich stories that can be found in often-dry legal documents. David Taylor accesses interactions between white Tasmanians and indigenous Australians through Benjamin Duterrau and Thomas Bock’s portrayals of Truggernana, Mannalargenna, George Augustus Robinson and their contemporaries, concluding that there is more to these artworks than meets the eye.
Eighteenth and nineteenth century United States history remains a popular topic for our contributors. Hope Williams recounts the activities of abortionist Ann Lohman, known as ‘Madame Restell’, in nineteenth-century New York City. Her career, the controversy with which it was met, and the media coverage of that controversy, are evaluated as manifestations of contemporary social issues. Peter Harney also accesses the social issues that loomed large in the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century, by examining the transformation of punishment from physical violence to architectural power and surveillance. Harney places that transformation in a broader social context of disease, secularisation and industrialisation.
History in the Making continues to publish strong works examining early modern and ancient periods. Jennifer Lord explores the portrayal of female mystics by male and female hagiographers, to identify attitudes to gender in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. She concludes that these mystics were constructed in a way that accommodated their spirituality within existing power structures. Debbie Turkilsen reaches further back, closely examining the rhetorical devices used by Julius Caesar to persuade his audience in The Civil War. She reveals that the text is indeed rhetorical, intended to communicate Caesar’s attitude towards the controversial events described in his work.
The years 1980 to 2000 in Peru have been given a special name in the Quechua language used in parts of the country: ‘sasachakuy tiempo’ or the ‘difficult times’.
During those two decades, a Maoist rebel group known as the Shining Path (or Sendero Luminoso) fought what was effectively a civil war against the Peruvian government and armed forces.
The war was bloody and protracted, with massacres and torture of combatants and civilians common, and both sides guilty of committing atrocities. By the time it ended, approximately 70,000 Peruvians had died and 500,000 people had been internally displaced.
This traumatic period in Peruvian politics has left two distinct legacies that still compete for space in the country’s modern public memory.
The first is – depending who you talk to – the unifying or infamous Alberto Fujimori, president from 1990 to 2000. Fujimori led the state’s crackdown on Sendero Luminoso while also aggressively pursuing economic reforms, leaving a profound impact on Peru’s rural areas. Though the ex-president is now imprisoned, Fujimori’s name remains ubiquitous, especially as his daughter Keiko is currently leading opinion polls for next month’s presidential election.
Keiko Fujimori is a front runner in Peru’s 2016 president election (Photo: Alan, via flickr)
The potential return of a Fujimori to power has also raised new questions over the second issue still unresolved since the conflict ended: the demand that the human rights violations of these decades – especially those committed by the State against civilians – be recognised, with justice and dignity brought to those most affected.
Remembering ‘Sasachakuy Tiempo’
The purported goal of the Shining Path was to overthrow the Peruvian political system and replace it with a communist peasant revolutionary regime. As such, its main recruiting efforts occurred in Peru’s impoverished mountainous provinces, where combat was most widespread. Civilians in these regions, many of them indigenous peoples, were among the most affected by the human rights violations of the period.
One of the poorest parts of Peru, Ayacucho is a heavily indigenous region and the site where the Civil War emerged under Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman in May 1980. Even today, many of the crimes committed in the era remain under-acknowledged.
Shining Path propaganda and the areas most affected by the conflict (Images via Wikipedia)
Attempts to preserve the memory of those who died in Ayacucho during the Civil War and advocate for the protection of those human rights which were violated during this period is a key goal of the Peruvian National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared (ANFASEP), founded by Angélica Mendoza de Ascarza Pocos in September 1983.
The ANFASEP’s Museum of Memory documents other attacks on civilians, including the killing of eight journalists in Uchuracchay in January 1983. It also describes how in December 1984, 125 women and children were killed after having been forced to dig their own graves. The group’s members also reveal details of the traumatic past.
Isabel Escalante is a current member of ANFASEP and works at its Memory Museum. Born in December 1980, the life of Escalante’s family was turned upside down during the ‘difficult times’. She told the Argentina Independent that: “three of my siblings disappeared in my community and one of them here in the city of Huamanga [Ayacucho]- he was a student of the San Cristobel of Huamanga University and was taken captive by the people who took him to the Police Investigation… to this day none of us know his whereabouts”.
Mila Segovia Roja is another ANFASEP member who also works as a nursery teacher. She grew up in Wachinga, Ayacucho, with her grandparents in what she describes as a state of ‘grandeur’, with cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and birds. She says that in 1984: “the terrorists assassinated my relatives. I wanted to die- when I found out [that my grandparents had died] I felt that I didn’t have a family, my biological mother took me to Lima, and 15 days later I returned”.
Whilst Shining Path and state killings were worst in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the culpability of government action during the Civil War was compounded by a government sterilisation program introduced in 1996.
Peru’s Health Ministry estimated in 2002 that over 260,000 women were sterilised between 1996 and 2000. Few of these women gave consent, many were indigenous, impoverished, and Quechua speakers and almost all are still seeking justice today with the support of human rights organisations.
The ANFASEP memorial museum in Ayacucho (Photo via ANFASEP)
A Country Still Divided
In the years following the ‘difficult times,’ many more stories like those of Escalante and Segovia Roja have come to light. In 2003, a Truth and Reconciliation Report (which was commissioned two years earlier) was published, aiming to move the country towards accountability, historical consciousness, and reconciliation.
This report is similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission which followed the end of Apartheid in that it aimed to give voice to those who had been silenced during the country’s conflict. The Peruvian report found that 69,280 people died during this period. At least 43 incidents of crimes committed by the government and Shining Path were identified.
In this way it formally condemned the actions of both sides and provided a context for the imprisonment of both Abimael Guzman and Alberto Fujimori. In 1993 Sendero leader Abimael Guzman was handed a life sentence for terrorism against the state, whilst in 2009 Alberto Fujimori received a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity.
However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also found that the government, media and the education system were co-opted in the perpetuation of violence. It reported that for reconciliation to be effected, there must be a institutional acknowledgement of Peru’s multiethnic composition.
It is in this area that change has been lagging, as there remains a vast power imbalance between coastal Peru, especially Lima, and the country’s other two regions: the Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest. In Ayacucho itself, in 2013 the local newspaper the Voice of Huamanga revealed that 92.5 per cent of its people don’t have potable water; 50 per cent of adults suffer from hypertension that cannot be treated due to the cost of medicine; and 9 per cent suffer from tuberculosis.
Many of the efforts to achieve reconciliation for what happened to the victims of the Civil War are impeded by these lingering divisions, and the way in which the conflict undermined community relationships.
Those who came to Lima from the Andes during the conflict were often perceived as being sympathetic to the Shining Path. Some were labelled as terrorists or subversives in Lima and ended up being targeted by both the armed forces and the Shining Path.
Moreover, these displaced victims sometimes faced further marginalisation from their own communities when they returned from where they had fled. After returning to her community of Punqui from Lima, Escalante describes how: “my parents were the ones who suffered the things that happened… when we wanted to return they didn’t want to receive us back into the community but my parents left and returned to our town in any case”.
For Segovia Roja, her grief was compounded by the excruciating search for the remains of her grandparents, and the resistance she has encountered among the villagers of Wachinga. Segovia Roja recounted to me that in her search; “the people in the village were silent about how they disappeared the body, they insulted me: at the start I was afraid but then I revealed myself [as searching for the remains] and began to call them assassins. I went forward very bravely, I said to them ‘screw it, kill me- where are my relatives you owe me’ later they began to run from me”.
Peru Moving Forward
Due to the difficulties they face as individuals searching for justice, the strength in numbers derived from ANFASEP for both Escalante and Segovia Roja has been crucial. Escalante states that: “ANFASEP is represented by fighting women that are never defeated by anything. There always have been difficulties since the organisation was initiated but they have never had their colours lowered in any way.” Like Escalante, Segovia Roja told me of the special bonds formed among ANFASEP members, “I feel like I’m amongst family with them”.
But while recognition of past crimes is key to healing the country’s wounds, a greater awareness of today’s socio-economic divisions and problems is also an essential part of finding justice.
A member of the Lima-based activist group Art for Memory, Mauricio Delgado Castillo is someone who is cognisant of the links between economic and social justice. He argues that in Peru the struggles of the ‘difficult times’ and today are very much the same, stating that: “The continuity faces the same issues (social inequality and structural racism) and suffers from the same common sentiments like contempt for others and negation of the common good”.
Addressing the hostility towards the culture of rural Peru within Lima is something Delgado Castillo emphasises as an important objective of his group. He said his group strong believes that “art allows us to open perspectives” and says the itinerance of its exhibitions around different cities is its main strength.
A temporary exhibit by Arte por la Memoria, which seeks to create more awareness of Peru’s violent past (Photo via Arte por la Memoria)
“We saw the need to go right to the centre of things, to open space to the convulsion and dynamism of the streets,” he describes. “The flexibility of a museum that could be set up in a plaza, a university or a union, allows us a lot to access more members of the public than if we had a fixed location”.
The impact of the Peruvian internal conflict remains pronounced over fifteen years since its conclusion. Many of the difficulties which the country faces today – gaping social divisions, inter-generational trauma, and a highly concentrated media – make dealing with the legacy of that time will be very hard work.
Yet, there are reasons for optimism. The Peruvian Ombudsmen’s Reports into forced sterilisations has received backing from doctors and significant media exposure, and in 2015 saw the creation of a victim’s registry. Also last year, on 17 December, the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion was inaugurated to provide more coverage of the Civil War to Limeños and international visitors.
Moreover, activists are increasingly pushing the government, demanding more. For example, critics simultaneously acknowledge the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and suggest that it may underplay the State’s role in human rights abuses during the Civil War.
And there is the visible and persistent part of civil society which is pushing for these events to be acknowledged: ANFASEP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Art for Memory are just some of those seeking a better future through reconciliation with the past.
They are realistic and determined. Escalante says that: “I don’t know if we can achieve justice and the truth for all those events, it is difficult…but I would like to see those who are responsible pay for their crimes”.
For Delgado Castillo, this is an issue wider Peruvian society must take on, though creating “a space that the relatives of the victims feel in some way is theirs and with which we accompany their struggles”.
Whether this space will be created remains to be seen. The outcome of next month’s elections will go a long way to showing us the political will Peru has for adopting these struggles.
Cameron McPhedran has traveled extensively through the Americas and lived in Buenos Aires and Berkeley. He is currently studying for a Masters of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of New South Wales, and has worked as a reviewer and editor for History in the Making.
This post originally appeared on the Argentina Independent, and we thank them for allowing us to republish it here.
In 1966, whilst condemning the use of violence in response to a racist United States, Martin Luther King Jr famously said that “a riot is the language of the unheard”. If rioting is the language of the unheard, then music is what gives this language life. Beyond the ubiquitous western obsession with Dylan, Joplin, the Beatles, or Patti Smith, equally impressive is the role Argentine rock- rock nacional- punk and heavy metal played in countering the country’s repressive political dynamics.
Whilst these genres spawned a number of artists that would influence the national music scene to this day, we focus in the contributions of three seminal artists whose responses to the 1970s and ’80s dictatorship contributed to a profound shift in Argentina’s popular culture landscape. Charly Garcia, Los Violadores, and V8 each represent the most complete examples of how rock, punk, and heavy metal respectively interacted with the mainstream culture of the time.
In March 1976, the Argentine military seized power and began a dictatorship that would mire the country’s democratic and cultural expression for the next seven years. Referred to by the military junta as ‘the process of national re-organisation’, or ‘el proceso’, this was justified by the government as a necessary response to left-wing ‘subversives’ who were allegedly undermining Argentina’s political and economic stability.
The dictatorship crushed political expression and social outreach. Beyond the military’s political opponents, the hunt for so-called ‘subversives’ also forced journalists, students, social workers, and religious charities into submission. According to the report handed down by the National Commission on the Disappeared in 1984 –Nunca Más– at least 8,960 people were ‘disappeared’ or killed by state hands during the dictatorship and a further 1,300 were detained (human rights groups estimate the true figures at around 30,000). Unofficial estimates put the total at 30,000.
Aside from its impact on broader civil society, the dictatorship also stifled the Argentine arts scene by mandating a puritanical and state-controlled Christian morality and limiting independent cultural expression through censorship and restrictions on public gatherings. Nonetheless, music’s ‘harmful’ influence still infiltrated Argentina’s youth during this time.
In an interview with the Argentina Independent, historian and journalist Sergio Pujol stated that throughout this period the folklore subgenre known as ‘Nueva Canción‘ (New Song) was implicitly associated with the guerillas and left-wing politics, and imbued with notions of protest, testimony, and complaint. Further, the rock nacionalcritique “was aimed at the bourgeois way of life from a hippie consciousness and a countercultural style: closer to [Herbert] Marcuse than Che [Guevara].”
For this reason, junta member Emilio Massera paralleled rock with Marxism and other ‘plagues’ of modernity in a famous speech at the University of El Salvador in 1977. At the same time, other means of dissent such as journalism foundered. Pujol notes that even Rodolfo Walsh’s famous ‘Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta’ was restricted in its social reception, leaving “little more than rock in those years.”
At the start of the dictatorship, rock nacional occupied a fraught political space. Leftist Argentines favoured the politically explicit nature of folk, with figures such as assassinated Chilean musician Victor Jara dominating the popular imagination of what the political struggle should entail —collectivism, greater economic equality, and liberation from foreign imperialism.
Rock, on the other hand, equaled hedonism.
In ‘Rock and Dictatorship’, an exploration of the historical evolution and role of rock nacional during this period, Pujol summarises general leftist sentiments: “The music of the people was not —could not be— progressive music. Exceptions excluded, rock musicians were seen as harmless addicts, people a little naïve who perhaps could not understand the nature of imperialism and preferred to lose themselves in the illusions of music in place of the struggle for a better world.”
At the same time, rock national was far removed from the austere cultural dynamics prescribed by the military in its search for “positive and essential” national values. Hence, it received little traction from either side of the trenches.
Charly García was one of the central figures of rock nacional during the 1970s and ’80s, whose current cultural reach remains strong. García was instrumental in the bands Sui Generis, La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, and Serú Girán and subsequently forged a successful solo career. His music was not directly rooted in the notion of political struggle but was often largely allegorical and provided an important means through which Argentines could identify with life under an unnamed repressor.
For example, his 1982 solo album ‘Yendo de la Cama al Living’ (‘Going from the Bed to the Living Room’) expressed the feelings of surveillance which many had encountered in the previous decade and which caused many rock nacional artists —including Javier Martinez from Manal, Billy Bond, and Leon Gieco— to leave Argentina to guarantee their personal safety. Acting as a counterpoint to songs about the social uncertainty caused by the Falklands/Malvinas War and the dictatorship, in ‘Collective Unconscious’ García assured the public that despite the social ‘transformer’ the dictatorship represented, the pulse of the country would emerge vibrant following these events: “Nurse your freedom, you will always carry her/Inside your heart/They can corrupt you, you can forget her/But she is always there.”
The following year, García would remember those who had fallen in the dictatorship and envision a return to democracy in his song ‘The Dinosaurs’. “The friends from the neighborhood may disappear/ The singers on the radio may disappear/ The ones who are in the newspapers may disappear/ The person who you love may disappear…/But the dinosaurs are going to disappear.”
Experts like Pujol and Dario Marchini both challenge the tendency to characterise rock nacional musicians as highly politicised due to the abstract nature of their lyrics and their distance from political dissidence. But for Pujol, as rock nacional became more popular throughout the 1970s and ’80s it also took on a political role in the way it sustained the public sphere.
In an interview with Buenos Aires daily Página 12, Pujol recognised the capacity of rock to cradle solidarity by bringing people together at concerts. “There, rock literally was physically at the forefront, with its public knowing that after jumping up and down at a full Luna Park [Buenos Aires venue], the police would be outside bringing their paddy wagons to get everyone in jail.”
With public gatherings restricted during this time, both touring and choreography became highly politicised acts in themselves. Additionally, with rock nacional not necessarily being embraced as politically explicit music during this period, its capacity to criticise the weakness and complicity of Argentine social institutions and customs with the human rights abuses of this time was, and remains, strong. In Pujol’s opinion, “the most interesting thing Argentine rock had to say, and especially García, was not so much a critique of authoritarianism of the military as the genuflection of Argentine society. Before, during, and after the dictatorship.”
In the late 1970s, punk was a scarcely recognised genre in Latin America. Beyond the reaches of Argentina, Los Saicos had emerged in Peru during the mid-1960s as possible pioneers of the genre worldwide, around a decade before punk arrived in Britain. In Argentina, Los Voladores (The Flying Ones) formed at the end of the 1970s, in 1981 changing their name to Los Violadores (The Violators).
The documentary ‘Ellos Son Los Violadores‘ (‘They are the Violators’) directed by Juan Riggarozi, explores both the band’s etymology and political impact. In a period where the creation of a distinctly ‘Argentine’ identity was mandated by the dictatorship, members of the band cite foreign artists as inspirational.
The band’s founder and guitarist, Pedro Braun, travelled to London in 1977 and says his artistic trajectory was shaped by its punk scene, whereas singer Pil Trafa visited the United States in 1978. Their first ever concert was in the affluent Belgrano area of Buenos Aires in 1978, and the following year the working class Pil Trafa wrote the defiant song ‘Represión’ —which the band started playing in 1981, when Pil Trafa joined the group— clearly delivering on Pedro Braun’s desire “to cause a shock among society and the people.”
In ‘Represión’ the band juxtaposed scenes of repression in all facets of daily life with the broken promise of economic growth and national progress under the dictatorship: “Repression behind your house/ Repression in the kiosk at the corner/ Repression in the bakery/ Repression 24 hours a day/ Long weeks sacrificed/Tough work, very little pay/ Unemployed people, it doesn’t matter/ where is, beasts, the equality we desire?”
In this way, Los Violadores were distinct from the rock nacional artists in the manner in which they drew the social battle lines and aimed to challenge what they perceived as the complicity of civil society with the dictatorship. The band’s manifesto of defiance was christened with the song “Uno, dos, ultraviolento’” formally released in 1985. This song references Anthony Burgess’ classic novella on free will ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and satirized conservative Argentine society, “The bad guys in leather/ We want to have fun/ With my Drugs/ Off to the attack we go.
Nonetheless they were not widely patronised by leftist activists, with Pedro Braun stating that “it was like we were historical aliens. The way we stayed together: it was us against the world.”
In this period, the band also collaborated with German punk band Die Toten Hosen to help them tour Buenos Aires in 1980. The German band had contemporaneously released a single entitled ‘Hier Kommt Alex’ (‘Here Comes Alex’) also referencing ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and, like Los Violadores, maintained a strong anti-fascist stance throughout their musical careers.
Resistance to the dictatorship through music was also present in the heavy metal scene.
V8, one of the most important heavy metal bands in Argentine history, emerged at the end of this period. Given the military government’s highly Christian sensitivity and the ‘hippie’ dimension of Latin folk music, the visceral and confronting nature of V8’s lyrics and performance style were designed to shock civil society.
They dressed solely in black when performing and refused to participate in a concert put on by the military government supporting Argentina in the Falklands/Malvinas War. And in a time when repression was the norm, heavy metal fans found the concerts of bands such as V8 or Riff to be release they needed. This often ended in violence.
In the documentary ‘Heavy Metal’, directed by Juan Astrain, vocalist Alberto Zamarbide stated that their music “was a shout of resistance, very particular in the ‘80s —like punk, like heavy metal… the enemy was the military government.”
“V8 was a catalyst for everything that was being brewing within the youth,” adds former drummer Gustavo Rowek. “It focused all the hate towards the hippies, as a generation that had absolutely failed with their ideas.”
Nowhere was their dissent more apparent than in the particularly explicit song ‘Destruction’: “I no longer believe in anything/ I no longer believe in you/ I do not believe in anyone/ because no one believes in me/ …but luckily I can see/ What the decision/ The final judgment/ Will be the solution, destruction.”
This rebellious atttitude was not without consequences, either for the musicians or the fans. “Walking around the street, wearing black clothes and long hair, we would end up inside [in prison], it was always the same. I was completely used to it. Sometimes I talk to younger kids and they don’t know the inside of a prison. We knew all the police stations in the City and the Greater Buenos Aires,” laughs Rowek.
As in the case of Los Violadores and Charly García with punk and rock nacional respectively, V8 inspired a new wave of Argentine heavy metal bands from the mid to late 1980s, both increasingly professional and prolific.
Argentina, Politics, and Music Today
Whilst many of its aspects have since been forgotten or cast aside, one of dictatorship’s strongest (albeit unwilling) legacies isthe music produced during that period.
Whereas prior to 1976 rock nacional was a formative genre often heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon rock, blues, jazz, and folk, today it is a source of national pride. Similarly, military attempts at censorship merely led to the emergence of punk and heavy metal in Argentina as popular sources of cultural expression during and after the dictatorship.
Today in Buenos Aires, a visit to a punk venue such as Salón Puerreydon will soon reveal Los Violadores or even V8 as old favourites. On the city’s airwaves, not a day passes by without the broadcast of Charly García and his contemporaries.
Garcia’s fabled and troublesome dinosaurs, meanwhile, faded to black long ago.
Cameron McPhedran has traveled extensively through the Americas and lived in Buenos Aires and Berkeley. He is currently studying a Masters of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of New South Wales, and had worked as a reviewer and editor for History in the Making.
This post originally appeared on the Argentina Independent, and we thank them for allowing us to republish it here.
Popular Imagination vs. Historical Reality: What does HBO’s Rome reveal about the practice of history?
The release of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in 2000 led to a revival of literary and public interest in antiquity and the historical epic that had remained dormant for thirty-six years – the last successful historical epic about ancient Rome was Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964).
While historians tend to disseminate history through scholarly literature, directors disseminate historical narratives through film and storytelling. Both may employ different techniques, methodologies, approaches and target different audiences, but their role remains the same: they interpret, revise and produce a selective history that aligns with contemporary imagination. It is this similarity that has facilitated a partial reconciliation between the two; filmmakers aim to teach history by employing historical consultants to ensure historical ‘accuracy’, while historians turn to film to view, teach, and learn about history and its representation. To analyse film as both an art and text provides insight into the popular imagination of society toward historical events.
HBO’s Rome (2005-7) and Popular Imagination
While Gladiator inspired the return of the epic both in cinema and among historians, the HBO television series Rome shook popular conceptions of ancient Rome. Bruno Heller, executive producer and writer, stated that the primary aim of the series was to ‘deliver something fresh’, namely a historically stimulating and entertaining show that did not ‘take a kind of pastiche approach’ and allowed the audience to engage.[i] Christopher Lockett, a historian of film and popular culture, argued that Rome accounted for popular conceptions of history by deviating from standard depictions to incorporate a series of ‘accidental histories’, whereby the history of Rome is determined by unintended consequences, events and circumstances, that both thematically and narratively, worked toward ‘subtle dislocations of unitary and monolithic power and historical agency’ often found within individual actors like Julius Caesar.[ii] In doing so, the series is just as much about Rome during Caesar’s rule as it is about contemporary conceptions of popular culture and history. In order to analyse this interplay of history and imagination, a comparative study of reviews on websites such as IMDB message boards is illuminative.
According to four online message boards – IMDB, Amazon, Tv.com and Metacritic – reviewers who gave the show ten out of ten stars did so primarily due to its ability to be both historically accurate and entertaining. The general public admired the series’ ability to incorporate both ‘popular and intelligent entertainment and scholarship’ by interweaving ‘historical authenticity’ and ‘quality storytelling’ appropriate for television.[iii] While many recognised that Rome failed in some respects to achieve historical accuracy, they asserted that history itself was an act of storytelling, a ‘piece of art’ that can ideally be moulded to suit the entertaining nature of television.[iv] Reviewers tended to conclude that by playing around with historical facts, the series was able to be appropriately dramatic whereupon ‘fiction helped the story flow’ enough to ‘feel at Rome during Caesar’s day’.[v] By drawing together film as a form of art with history as storytelling, the reviewers emphasise the vitality of the filmmaker’s creative freedom in order to attract and educate the audience.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the creators of Rome attempt to use their creative licence to incorporate ‘historically marginalised and historically invisible actants’ such as Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus – the former a legionary, the latter a centurion – in order to demonstrate how unintentional consequences can shape the course of Roman history.[vi] One reviewer extensively commented on the series’ unique interplay of history and fiction, stating:
What Rome does most successfully, I think, is to make the two least historical characters the most memorable. While Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo are mentioned only in passing in Caesar’s Gallic Wars, here they dominate the storyline, offering a credible backdrop for the main ‘historical’ events and characters whose exploits and fame are well known to the history books. How fitting was it that in the series finale the coldly calculating Octavian, the future Augustus and first emperor of Rome, shakes the hand of lowly plebe Titus Pullo, his only true friend in the world…[vii]
For classicist Monica S. Cyrino it is precisely this interplay that enables Rome to ‘invite the audience into the grand historical account’ and offer viewers ‘a close-up of how history is made’.[viii] By creating a personalised account of these two characters in the retelling of historical events, audiences were able to connect with the events and characters despite the boundaries of time. As one reviewer noted, by incorporating the characters of Pullo and Vorenus, the series was able to ‘remind us [the audience] that these figures were people in all the complexity of motivation that we experience in people today’ – an account that would not have been possible had the perspectives been rooted in aristocratic personalities like Caesar.[ix]
The result is a kind of history that is not driven but ridden; rather than a planned teleology devised by great men, the history of Rome is an accident, comprised of unforeseen circumstances that can be attributed to the problem of antiquity. Classicist Mary Beard’s analysis of the study of ancient history perfectly aligns with the methodology employed by the creators of Rome. Beard wrote:
At its best, the study of ancient history is as much about how we know as what we know. It involves an engagement with all the processes of selection, constructive blindness, revolutionary reinterpretation, and wilful misinterpretation that together produce the ‘facts’… out of the messy, confusing, and contradictory evidence that survives.[x]
Rome most certainly took advantage of the limitations surrounding antiquity to provide a perfect mix of historical accuracy and entertainment in an attempt to distinguish itself from its predecessors. It is precisely this deliberate restructuring of history that causes tensions between historians and filmmakers to emerge.
History in Images and History in Words
Central to the debate surrounding the tensions between history and film is historian Robert A. Rosenstone. Rosenstone highlights that academic historians who criticise film for deviating away from historical reality, fail to take into account that written history is just as much shaped by conventions of language and genre as film is by production and popular imagination, especially films representing the ancient past.[xi]
Rome attempts to connect to the audience through its unique medium of visual appeal; it has the advantage to cater to popular imaginations that no other medium can match in terms of depth and breadth of audience influence. Rome’s opening credits successfully offer a sense of familiarity by incorporating a mix of desire, spectacle and triumph with that of a tangible, believable and recognisable past that resonates with the values of the present. This mix is illustrated through the vibrant colours of graffiti written on Roman walls to present an authentic feel to the Roman lifestyle, against the backdrop of markets bustling with people from different social backgrounds.[xii] From the outset, Rome encapsulates everyday life and its peculiarities. As demonstrated in Rome’s dual aim to educate and entertain, the art of filmmaking itself cannot be subject to the standards of academic history.
The argument for historical accuracy is further muddied in relation to visual depictions of antiquity. Like filmmakers, scholars of antiquity have been known to incorporate historical reality and popular imagination in their literary works. Referred to as ‘sensational historiography’, ancient historians were convinced that historical amplification through the elaboration of historical events was a unique and distinguished practice as it generated ‘pleasing effects’ and in turn, stimulated and engaged audiences.[xiii] For example, ancient Greek historian Polybius (ca. 200 – 118 BC) comments on how Phylarchus (c. 215 BC) wrote not to present facts, but to engage his readers, writing ‘carelessly’ and never missing ‘an opportunity to emphasise the lurid details’.[xiv]
Similarly, Rome has taken on historically marginalised ancient figures like Atia Balba Caesonia (58 – 43 BC), the mother of emperor Augustus, and interwoven her in the series as Atia of the Julii. The makers of Rome took several liberties in their representation of Atia: while ancient historian Tacitus (c. 56 – 120 AD) describes her as a religiously pious and admired Roman matron, the Atia of Rome is canny, headstrong and sexually voracious.[xv] The makers of Rome willingly deviated from historical records in an attempt to appeal to popular imagination. One reviewer described Atia as a ‘voracious wonder… bad to her beautiful bones’, with others admiring her portrayal as an ‘ambitious political strategist’.[xvi] Perhaps this is why characters like Atia drew in over three million viewers per episode.[xvii]
Likewise, the inherent evidentiary problems of antiquity also bring about tensions between historical consultants and filmmakers. Without a ‘universally agreed factual basis for film’, filmmakers are left with no alternative but to succumb to imagination to tell stories of the ancient past.[xviii] If historians are consulted to provide advice on the representation of historical material, they are often called upon only after a script is written or when filming has begun. They rarely have direct involvement in historical filmmaking. Rosenstone contends that this tension primarily arises due to a lack of understanding: few filmmakers are trained historians and few historians are trained filmmakers.[xix] This relationship becomes difficult for historical consultants like Kathleen Coleman who discovered that preference for artistic innovation saw her historical advice be pushed aside in the making of Gladiator, which, for her, was an attitude indicative of the assumption that audiences take no interest in debates concerning historical authenticity in film.[xx]
Interestingly, however, for Jonathan Stamp, the historical consultant of Rome, it is the obligation of filmmakers to entertain the audience by telling stories and it is not for the historical consultant to say what did not happen, but to find ways of presenting an authentic past – to be authentic is to ‘get the details right’ through costumes, architectures, colours, movements, gestures, hairdos, and dynamism of interactions.[xxi] Only then can a historian generate debate among the audience as to the representation of history in film.[xxii] David Eldridge has observed, based on an assessment of three hundred films, that when producing an interpretation of the past, ‘the filmmaker has interacted with professional historiography, public attitudes, political utilisation of history and the conventions of the historical film genre to craft a narrative and style that convey a perspective on the past through cinematic means’.[xxiii] Both the historical consultant and filmmaker produce an interpretation of the past that aligns just enough with historical reality as it does with popular imagination. It is for this reason that Rome has proved popular, both for its appeal – storytelling, excellent writing and authentic historical detail – and repulsiveness – excessive sex, anachronism and soap opera tendencies.
The Challenge of the Visual
History and film are seldom grouped together as uniquely individual mediums of historical representation. Ken Burns, a documentary filmmaker, proclaimed that scholars tend to ‘speak only to themselves’ when they present a past that is dense with historical facts, leading to a rising disinterest toward historical studies from the public as history becomes too ‘anti-narrative’.[xxiv] On the other hand, historians like Robert Brent Toplin assert that while academic history can be ‘anti-narrative’, it exposes its readers to historiographical debates and multiple perspectives in a way that film cannot.[xxv] He thus concludes that films ‘rarely give audiences a sense of the challenges in historical representation’ as they ‘imply that the study of history is a tidy operation’.[xxvi] It is precisely this perspective of film that Rome challenges.
Rome proposes an alternative presentation of history; it attempts to challenge popular perceptions of history as being a linear sequence of events by offering an authentic retelling of Rome in which unpredictability reigns supreme. Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus are treated as agents of change; both their luck and misfortune prove crucial to the events of Roman history as depicted in Rome. In this way, Rome is able to cleverly fashion the relationship between everyday history and the history of big events, and offer a new ‘branding’ of the historical epic. According to Stamp, the past helps filmmakers and historians alike to ‘brand’ stories in a way where the audience becomes familiar with a particular storyline or plot and thus rarely anticipate the end result. Rome has attempted to shift popular imagination away from the standard historical genre to ‘offer something fresh’.[xxviii] The world of Rome is therefore ‘much more exotic, and strange, and unexpected, and slightly bizarre than the Rome we have been given all these years’.[xxix]
Indeed, while in the last episode of season one Caesar falls to his death – a historical event universally known, Rome at the same time shook preconceived notions of Caesar’s death by making it appear as an accidental historical event.[xxx] Various historical accounts and literary works explain the multiple warnings Caesar received about his death. Ancient historians Plutarch (c. 46 – 120 AD) and Suetonius (c. 69 – 122 AD), for example, recount that Caesar set off to the Senate house after heavy persuasion from Brutus, surrounded by no other but his contemporaries.[xxxi] In Rome Caesar is accompanied by Lucius Vorenus, Marc Antony and surrounded by a few others. Though instructed by Caesar not to leave his side, Vorenus was pulled aside by Atia’s slave who reported troubles at home. Vorenus’ decision to leave the procession indirectly led to Caesar’s inevitable downfall. In Rome, it is the coincidences of everyday circumstances that trigger major historical events. Through the displacement of hierarchies between fictional and historical actors, the coherence of conventional historiography is transformed to illustrate the contingency of historical action.
By intertwining the history of big events with the history of the everyday, Rome encapsulates the complexities of Roman history in an attempt to, in the eyes of Stamp, ‘go through the portal of historical detail into an authentic archetypal world that resonates with people’.[xxxii] Of course, HBO’s success with Rome lies in its ability to realistically portray historical characters in a human context, like that of Pullo and Vorenus. In fact, in an online history forum one reviewer praised Rome for taking this approach, stating that when films or shows are made about Rome, they almost always portray the ‘glory’ and ‘achievements’, rarely capturing the ‘down-and-dirty everyday urban life’ of Rome.[xxxiii] Thus, Rome was able to shift popular conceptions of history away from just politics toward an intertwining with the social.
While classicists Alastair Blanshard and Kim Shahabudin state that Rome may never have had ‘regular orgies, saluted its emperors with raised arms, or condemned gladiators to die with a downward point of the thumb’, it is film that has allowed these representations of historical events to become ‘absolute mainstays of popular conceptions about Roman culture’.[xxxiv] This observation highlights the importance of the duality of both historical reality and popular imagination, for both film and written history. Without one or the other, neither medium will deliver a comprehensive understanding of historical events.
Mirela Kadrić has just finished a Bachelor of Political, Economic and Social Sciences, with a major in History and Political Economy, at the University of Sydney. She is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History. She plans to write her honours thesis on the construction of Bosnian Muslim identity before, during and after the Bosnian War (1992-95). She is interested in historiography, theories of nationalism and national identity, and has extensively studied 19th-20th century Russian history.
[i] Cited in Gary Devore, ‘Now We are Rome: Ancient Roman Torture on Film, and Modern American Torture in the News’, The Awl, December 13, 2014, http://www.theawl.com/2014/12/now-we-are-rome, viewed 20 June 2015.
[ii] Christopher Lockett, ‘Accidental History: Mass Culture and HBO’s Rome’, Journal of Popular Film and Television 38, no. 3 (September 2010), p. 104; Andrew B. R. Elliot, ‘Rewriting European History: National and Transnational Identities in Rome’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 33, no. 4 (November 2013), p. 578.
[iii] Clemontine, ‘Quality Historical Epic’, review of Rome (HBO television series), TV.com, 25 February 2009, http://www.tv.com/m/shows/rome/reviews/, viewed 17 June 2015; R. A. Favlo, ‘History Brought Alive’, review of Rome (HBO television series), Amazon, 13 October 2010, http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/cr/rR9V9OJPQW3QIN/ref=aw_cr_i_40, viewed 17 June 2015.
[iv] Daria84, ‘A Masterpiece’, review of Rome (HBO television series), IMDB, 24 March 2012, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384766/reviews?start=30, viewed 17 June 2015.
[v] Jenny, ‘Rome Series 1: Gladiator has Met its Match’, review of Rome (HBO television series), 14 April 2007, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384766/reviews?start=10, viewed 17 June 2015; Bmoore-13, ‘Worthwhile, Fun History Lesson’, review of Rome (HBO television series), IMDB, 21 January 2007, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384766/reviews?start=150, viewed 17 June 2015.
[vi] Lockett, ‘Accidental History’, p. 111.
[vii] LordVishnu, ‘Vale Roma!’, review of Rome (HBO television series), IMDB, 26 March 2007, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384766/reviews?start=70, viewed 18 June 2015.
[viii] Monica S. Cyrino, ‘Introduction’, in Monica S. Cyrino (ed.), Rome, Season One: History Makes Television (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), p. 6; Elliot, ‘Rewriting European History’, p. 583.
[ix] NardiViews, ‘Phenomenal! Best Depiction Ever!’, review of Rome (HBO television series), Amazon, 25 November 2009, http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/cr/rR1SKFQHCM4KJ3R/ref=aw_cr_i_1, viewed 18 June 2015.
[x] Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 5.
[xi][xi] Ibid., pp. 34-5.
[xii] Holly Haynes, ‘Rome’s Opening Titles: Triumph, Spectacle and Desire’, in Monica S. Cyrino (ed.), Rome, Season One: History Makes Television (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), pp. 49-50.
[xiii] W. Jeffrey Tatum, ‘Making History in Rome: Ancient vs. Modern Perspectives’, in Monica S. Cyrino (ed.), Rome, Season One: History Makes Television (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), p. 33; Martin M. Winkler, ‘Gladiator and the Traditions of Historical Cinema’, in Martin M. Winkler (ed.), Gladiator: Film and History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 17.
[xiv] Polybius, The Histories, 2.56, trans. Robin Waterfield (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 118-9. Also see Tatum, ‘Making History in Rome’, pp. 29-41 for a comprehensive analysis on ancient and modern historiographical perspectives on the writing of Roman history.
[xv] Publius Cornelius Tacitus, A Dialogue Concerning Oratory, 28.17, vol. 8, trans. Arthur Murphy (New York: Random House, 1942), p. 92.
[xvi] John Leonard, ‘Live from Caesar’s Palace’, New York Magazine, September 8, 2005, http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/tv/reviews/12443/, viewed 23 June 2015; Christopher T. Chase, ‘“ROME”: If You Want To’, review of Rome (HBO television series), IMDB, 28 August 2005, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384766/reviews?start=0, viewed 23 June 2015.
[xvii] Cyrino, ‘Introduction’, p. 3.
[xviii] Robert Stow, ‘Popcorn and Circus: An Audience Expects’, in Andrew B. R. Elliot (ed.), The Return of the Epic Film: Genre, Aesthetics and History in the 21st Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), p. 76.
[xix] Cited in Marnie Hughes-Warrington, History Goes to the Movies (New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 16-7.
[xx] Peter Desmond, ‘The Roman Theatre of Cruelty’, Harvard Magazine 5, no. 22 (September-October 2000), http://harvardmagazine.com/2000/09/the-roman-theatre-of-cru.html, viewed 23 June 2015; Kathleen Coleman, ‘The Pedant Goes to Hollywood: The Role of the Academic Consultant’, in Martin M. Winkler (ed.), Gladiator: Film and History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), p. 48.
[xxi] Jonathan Stamp, ‘Balancing Fact and Fiction: The Ancient World of HBO’s Rome’, interview with J. Paul Getty Museum, http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/villa_council_rome.html, viewed 12 June 2015.
[xxiii] David Eldridge, Hollywood’s History Films (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006), p. 3.
[xxiv] Thomas Cripps, ‘Historical Truth: An Interview with Ken Burns’, American Historical Review 100, no. 3 (June 1995), p. 745.
[xxv] Robert Brent Toplin, ‘The Filmmaker as Historian’, The American Historical Review 93, no. 5 (December 1988), p. 1220.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 1216.
[xxviii] Stamp, ‘Balancing Fact and Fiction’, http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/villa_council_rome.html.
[xxix] Cited in Devore, ‘Now We are Rome’, http://www.theawl.com/2014/12/now-we-are-rome.
[xxx] Alan Taylor, ‘Kalends of February’, Rome (United States: Home Box Production, 2005), season 1, episode 12.
[xxxi] Plutarch, Life of Julius Caesar, trans. Thomas North (Miami: Hard Press Publishing, 2012), pp. 66-7; Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, trans. Catherine Edwards (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 38-9.
[xxxii] Stamp, ‘Balancing Fact and Fiction’, http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/villa_council_rome.html.
[xxxiii] Mandate of Heaven, ‘In Response to Ajax_Minoan’, review of Rome (HBO television series), Historium, 10 September 2012, http://historum.com/history-films-television/47238-hbo-s-rome-3.html, viewed 24 June 2015.
[xxxiv] Alastair J. L. Blanshard and Kim Shahabudin, Classics on Screen: Ancient Greece and Rome in Film (London: Bristol Capital Press, 2011), p. 1.
In the Summer-Autumn issue of History in the Making, Patrick White, a PhD candidate at James Cook University, published an article considering Australian discourses of post-war, home-front defence and the question of northern development in relation to Townsville’s Lavarack Barracks.
Here, he details the archival basis of his research project, explains how a year in the United States spurred his interest in history, and lists essential reading for those interested in northern Australia.
How did you find and access your primary sources?
For the HITM article I based my primary research on newspaper articles and editorials from the relevant period. It was a pragmatic decision, James Cook University’s Mabo Library has a very good collection of newspapers stored on microfilm and good facilities to utilise them. I also chose some letters between key politicians – for example between the Queensland Premier and the Prime Minister – because they directly discussed some of the issues I explored in the article.
What did you learn from the peer review process?
The importance of clear topic sentences! And you must establish a good literature review to help guide the reader. These are the basics but sometimes you might ‘know’ you need to do something but not really understand why or how important it is until you are peer reviewed. The process at HITM was great and I was lucky to get some very helpful feedback.
What’s your favourite history book?
Two Australian books at the moment: Geoffrey Bolton’s A Thousand Miles Away: a history of north Queensland to 1920 and Alan Powell’s Far Country: a short history of the Northern Territory. These are not glamorous offerings but as a northern Australian, they appeal to me. There are very few really good histories of the Northern Territory or north Queensland but these two certainly stand out. Bolton’s is quite old now (1960s) and is an excellent summary of north Queensland’s post-colonial settlement. The pattern of development described by Bolton remains evident today. Powell’s NT history covers a lot of ground but must be an essential early stop for anybody studying the Territory.
Why do you think the study of history is important?
I started studying political science when I was an undergrad international student in the United States. I was there during the Bush-Gore election and in the following years for 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan and the build-up to war in Iraq. Politically, this was immensely volatile and interesting period. A vast array of ideas and topics were bouncing around and I began to understand how history could be radically manipulated to substantiate politics or controversial policies. This concerned me and the importance of history – professional, objective, detailed and holistic – was clear. I quickly added history to my studies and never looked back. I’d like to see good history become more accessible and more widely appreciated as a crucial central pillar of academia by universities and the community.
How do you juggle your studies and the rest of your life?
As we all know, maintaining full-time work while studying is very difficult. Attempting to participate in the community and have a social life on top of these is occasionally impossible. Sacrifices need to be made and I am not a naturally gifted student or researcher so I need to work hard to get anywhere. Quarantining time each day is critical to achieving your goals. Two hours per day to read, take notes, edit or write is important. Just get in there and do something each day. I am lucky to have a good desk at home and a space at the university. Primary research is a whole other ball game though. That requires vast quantities of time and effort and I expect that the skills and tactics of a good research ferret are developed throughout a lifetime.
Where would you like to take your research next?
I am working on a political history of northern development. The idea of developing northern Australia has been around for a long time and it sporadically attracts interest from governments. However, little is known about its politics. I hope to make a contribution to filling this gap. I am also interested in football fan sub-cultures known as ‘Ultras’. These sub-cultures have roots in southern and eastern Europe but have spread to all corners of the globe, including Australia. I envisage doing some work in this space.
In the latest issue of History in the Making, Emily Gallagher, a fourth year undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, published an article on the neglect of atrocities in Australian historical writing about World War I.
In a short author interview, she explains the pleasures of studying history, the struggle to fairly write about the darker aspects of Australia’s wartime history, and her fascination with Australia’s official historian of World War I, C.E.W. Bean.
Why did you choose to study history?
History is humbling. An epistemology where dissatisfaction dominates your professional and private practice. For me, to study history is to rebel against inadequacy, deny the impossibility of the task, and participate in a type of story telling that never ends. This is truly an exciting, often intoxicating, cause.
What questions do you still have about the topic of your research?
Like all historical studies, my research is fundamentally unfinished. Time is not fixed and the boundaries of my published research are exponentially expanding. Of all the questions that have persisted and emerged I would like to know ‘how’, how can we teach the atrocities committed by Australian soldiers in war to overcome the glorification of the Anzacs without desecrating their memory? This is a question I intend to answer.
What advice would you give to someone considering submitting an article to the journal?
Don’t conform to the popular. There is no history or historiography more valuable than another, embrace your passion, however unconventional it may be. In the words of Raphael Samuel: ‘the contours of national past are continually changing shape. Mountains turn out to have been molehills while conversely tumuli, as they appeared at the time, may seem, on a longer view, to be foothills of a mighty peak.’
How do you juggle your studies and the rest of your life?
It is my perfectionism that supports me most powerfully to ensure I balance all the important aspects of my life. My personal best is achieved when I ensure I have an active, socially rich and political engaged lifestyle. Practically, I function incredibly well on six hours of sleep. This has certainly been a great fortune in enabling me to gain the extra time needed to pursue my academic ambitions without jeopardising my social, sporting and employment opportunities.
What’s your favourite history book?
I love books and I can faithfully say I have no favourite. But, theoretically, if I had to nominate a ‘history book,’ I am currently enthralled by Edward Said’s book, Orientalism.
You’re hosting a dinner party. Which three figures are invited?
My first guest comes to mind effortlessly, C.E.W. Bean. Australia’s official war correspondent for the First World War, Bean is a character that has left an imposing legacy on the writings of this nations official history. Bean is not a flawless historian, however his histories remain the defining character of academic, public and political Australian Anzac history. He is secretly loved by many Australian historians. Secondly, I would love to see my Grandfather again, simply because I miss him. Lastly, (excluding the issue of his thick German accent) I – like many others – think dinner with Albert Einstein would guarantee good conversation.
In the last issue of History in the Making Matt Firth, a postgraduate student at the University of New England, published an article on the changing policies of Australian colonial governments toward corporal punishment between 1788 and 1838.
Here, Matt explains how he arrived at his topic, the challenges of balancing writing and research with an active family and business life, and what he’d like to ask the Holy Roman Emperor.
How did you come to your topic for your article?
One of the things I love about history is the many tangents any inquiry can open up, and I have to say that my article was definitely tangential to my normal interests and inclinations as a medieval historian. In taking a unit at the University of New England entitled ‘Crime, Incarceration and Servitude’ I had anticipated researching Early Modern carceral ideology. I did this to an extent, tracing the evolution of the English prison system from 1550–1850, but my attention kept returning to the colonies. This opened the opportunity to work with the delightful staff in the history room at the State Library of Tasmania (I am Hobart based), and pore over their collection of convict memoirs and British Parliamentary papers, and an article on flogging in Colonial Australia was born.
How did you find and access your primary sources?
I usually find that my initial leads come from secondary sources. Searching a university database will normally locate relevant journal articles and the footnotes are invaluable. In this case, from there I went to the State Library and spoke with the historians there who provided access to the sources I had located, and they made further suggestions. Naturally as my research developed, new sources were found, old ones discarded and many trips to the Tasmanian State Archives were made.
How do you juggle your studies and the rest of your life?
This is not easy. Communication and commitment are the key. I came to my postgraduate degree later than many—ten years after attaining my BA—and am married, have a little girl and run a small business. I study part-time. However, I am doing both a Graduate Certificate in Classical Languages and a Master of History, so part-time is a matter of opinion! Sacrifices need to be made at all levels and flexibility is a must: study, work and family all require no less than 100% commitment. I schedule every hour of my weekdays from 6am to midnight and ensure I allot time to both family and study alongside work. I remain flexible on the weekends to ensure my family comes first, however the hard conversations have been had and they know I need blocks of time to study on the weekends.
What advice would you give to someone considering submitting an article to the journal?
Firstly, don’t simply submit the essay that was submitted for marking. Edit in line with your marker’s comments and edit it to ensure it reads as a stand-alone article as opposed to simply answering a question Secondly, pay attention to the journal style guide and make sure you stick to it – I say that as both an author and reviewer!
You’re hosting a dinner party. Which three historical figures are invited?
Raising deceased historical figures from the dead is way more likely than me hosting a dinner party. We will have to go down the pub.
I would take Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry V of England and Louis XIV of France. Men who committed their lives, resources and people to establishing pan-European autocracies. I would like their opinions on the EU.
What do you plan to read next?
I have returned to my medieval studies and am working on a research paper looking at the political uses of torture in late Anglo-Saxon England (so not entirely removed from convict flogging). I am reading Larissa Tracy’s Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature as an accompaniment to this.
In the last issue of History in the Making Elizabeth Morgan published an article delving into Australian memorialisation traditions since the mid-ninteenth century through her examination of local cemeteries in Albury, New South Wales.
Here, in the first in a new series of author in focus interviews, Elizabeth explains how she came to her topic, her experiences of peer review as a first-time author, and her personal fascination with history, community and identity.
How did you come to the topic for your article?
My topic of cemeteries and death culture came from a fabulously named subject at the University of New England: Waking the Dead, which of course generates much interest. I can’t think of many history students who don’t profess a love of cemeteries, gravestones, and memorials. The cemetery research I completed was for the research component of ‘Waking the Dead’, but it was incredibly fun to complete. Who could say no to several days wandering cemeteries in the name of actually studying? In the course of researching the article I learned a great deal about the town I grew up in, the way in which death is treated in Australia (and worldwide) and, excitingly, the way things are changing even now. It’s lovely to take the study of history and relate it to the present day.
What did you learn from the peer review process?
When I first started thinking about the peer review process I was sagely advised to “leave my ego at the door”, meaning that my work was likely to be shredded and I shouldn’t take it personally. Thankfully, for both my writing and my ego, the peer review process was fairly painless. All the comments I received were less intimidating than those received on the original assignment I submitted for university.
The main point that came through the peer review process was that, although I thought I had adjusted writing from ‘uni assignment’ to ‘article’, I still had included a lot of assumed knowledge and things I’d mentioned in passing because I had a good grasp on the topic. This totally overlooked the fact that my audience may have never heard of some things I assumed were common knowledge. The peer reviewers helped me identify these gaps in my writing, which I was able to fill in and expand on during the editing process.
The only difference between peer review and comments from your university markers is that you aren’t being given a grade by the peer reviewers, and they haven’t read a hundred essays on the same topic before they’ve gotten to yours. They still want your work to be as good as you can make it, and they are looking for the potential for your work to be polished to a publication standard. It is very rare for an article to be accepted without revisions, even for your academic lecturers! My article is definitely stronger for having gone through the peer review process.
What questions do you still have about the topic of your research?
I suspect I could spend a good chunk of a research career on this one topic. My immediate questions about cemetery were ones I raised in the conclusion of my article: what will I find by correlating the small plaque grave markers that are common today with the obituaries in the local newspaper, and how has that changed over time as grave markers have become smaller in both the size and the sentiments expressed on them. Death is a concept that western society is gradually reacquainting itself with in the 21st century and the way this new trend is expressing itself is fascinating in light of how it was almost taboo in the 20th century. ‘Natural’ shroud burials and no burials at all are becoming more popular, and it will be interesting to see how unmarked graves will be considered in the future when there is no marker to indicate to the viewer who is buried in front of them and why they should care.
Any research can be a rabbit-hole of possibility if you want it to be!
What do you plan to do when you finish your studies?
This question assumes I plan to finish studying! Given enough time and money, I’d love to learn all of the things. Alas, I have been restricted to finishing my undergraduate degree before I move on to another. In my immediate plans are honours, PhD, and studies in Theology and more languages: just a few things to be going on with!
Ultimately I’d love to research and teach, but for now I study history because I really enjoy it, not for an ultimate career goal.
Why did you choose to study history?
I came to university as a mature-aged student, while I was at home with babies. I thought the best idea would be to study something that interested me rather than looking ahead towards a career. Although my road through my undergraduate degree has been long and bumpy—life happens! I still hold to this principle.
Studying history helps me put the world in context. Finding a sense of ‘identity’ or ‘community’ was something I struggled with as a young adult, but history helps me see that I am part of a broader community. It helps me understand how things today have come about, by looking backwards at the threads that have woven together to create the events of today. I find it fascinating to see the pieces of various ‘puzzles’ come together to create different effects over time.
What historical period would you like to visit?
I really enjoy having antibiotics, running water, electricity, enough food, and the Internet. I would really like to stay here in the future, rather than visit any historical period!