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History in the Making Author in Focus: Matt Firth

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.

History in the Making Author in Focus: Elizabeth Morgan

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!

Call for Papers, History in the Making Vol. 4, No. 2

Did you write a great essay and would you like to see it published in a journal?

Do you want to gain experience of the peer review process?

History in the Making is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students currently enrolled at an Australian university.

We are currently inviting students to submit articles for publication – you can submit at any time, but if you submit by Friday, 5 June 2015, you will be considered for the next issue, to be launched in Semester 2, 2015.

Find out more at: https://journal.historyitm.org/how-to-submit

A Reflection on Fifty Years of Independent Australian First World War Scholarship

In early August 2014 many European nations commemorated the beginning of the Great War, the supposed war to end all wars, which claimed the lives of millions and whose consequences paved the way for a second, even more deadly conflict barely twenty years later. In Australia, some of these overseas events made the news, while at home, Albany (WA) held a ceremony for the centenary of the first Anzac departure from the commonwealth’s shores. However, on the whole, it has been all quiet on the commemorative front. And so it remained until April, when Australia’s commemorations began in earnest. On Anzac Day, thousands gathered around memorials or on beaches to commemorate the sacrifice of the first Australians to land at Gallipoli as well as to celebrate the birth of a nation. Many historians were watching, analysing, and perhaps even participating in the unfolding rituals.

Taken at face value, academic interest in Australia’s First World War involvement and its enduring repercussions is unsurprising. After all, the Anzac legend has come to occupy an increasingly central position in contemporary popular and political discourse about Australian history. Nonetheless, this interest is a fairly recent phenomenon. During the interwar period, Australians wishing to learn more about their country’s role in World War I beyond their own lived experience could really only turn to C.E.W Bean’s Official History, a twelve-volume behemoth, published between 1921 and 1942. After World War II, nothing changed for another two decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, academic circles still snubbed Australian war history as a topic worthy of study. Around the same time, the pageantry and ritual of 25 April was suddenly struggling to attract widespread popular attention and, for a moment, Anzac appeared destined to become an obscure reference in Australia’s past, forgotten by scholar and public alike. However, from the mid-1960s onwards, a combination of circumstances, including the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, the opening of sealed archives, the Vietnam War and ensuing debates concerning conscription, saw World War I become a relevant, even pressing issue in Australian society again.

Leading the initial charge of academic interest was Ken Inglis, who was soon followed by many others, such as Lloyd Robson and Bill Gammage. Their pioneering work went beyond analysing the conflict’s purely military aspects and considered the social and cultural implications of Australia’s Great War involvement. These initial studies, which cover issues such as the Anzac tradition’s roots, the ‘civil’ religious aspects of commemoration and the social history of the first Australian Imperial Force, have remained hugely influential. This influence is reflected in the central themes and debates that make up Australian Great War historiography today, which include: the Gallipoli campaign; Bean’s role in the propagation of the Anzac legend; the validity of the Anzac legend’s claims; conscription; bereavement and mourning; memorialisation and commemoration; and the dominant position of Anzac in contemporary Australian history. Nevertheless, as broad as this list appears, there are also significant gaps in Australian First World War studies. For example, the predominance of Gallipoli in the public’s understanding of the war is reflected in the historiography, and there are few detailed analyses of other major campaigns in which the Anzacs fought. Australian war art and literature has also received relatively little attention, especially when considering the amount of scholarship available on British, French and German works. Recent publications suggest that historians are beginning to explore these areas and others, but so far the surface has only been scratched.

For those who find the First World War fascinating, confronting, intriguing, or perhaps a combination of these sentiments, it is an exciting if somewhat overwhelming time to undertake research in this domain. Approximately half a century ago, Ken Inglis looked back at Australia’s Great War history and, apart from Bean’s government sponsored magnum opus, he found very little. Five decades later and we can now turn to an increasingly rich historiography to inform and challenge our approaches to the study of an event popularly conceived as having given birth to the Australian nation. For the greater public, 2015 may be the centenary of the Anzac Landings, but for historians it also marks fifty years of independent Australian First World War scholarship.

– Matt Haultain-Gall (PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales)

[Note: A version of this blog post first appeared as the guest editorial in History in the Making 4, no. 1, 2015]

​​​Launch of History in the Making Vol. 4, No. 1

History in the Making Vol. 4, No. 1 was launched today. Our latest issue features six articles by undergraduate and postgraduate history students from across the country. Released on the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign, this issue includes a special themed section on war and memorialisation. Jackie Lobban unpacks the complex depictions of the Anzac legend in children’s literature, while Emily Gallagher examines representations of wartime atrocities during the First World War. Closer to home, Patrick White explores discourses of post-war, home-front defence in relation to Townsville’s military base. Meanwhile, as part of a wider examination of Australian memorialisation trends since the mid-nineteenth century, Elizabeth Morgan reflects on the impact of war on cemetery structures in Albury, NSW.

The remaining two articles published in this issue of History in the Making reflect the dynamic and disparate fields of academic history studied by Australian tertiary students. Matthew Firth discusses the practice of convict flogging in early colonial Australia, while Melissa Laughton investigates the portrayal of history in film.

We hope you enjoy this edition of History in the Making.

Call for Papers Submissions are currently open for the next issue of our journal, which will be launched in Semester 2, 2015. We welcome submissions from all undergraduate and postgraduate students currently enrolled at an Australian university. The deadline for the next edition is Monday, 5 June 2015.

Get Involved! History students at all levels can get involved with the production of our journal:

  • Write for our blog: any history student may submit entries to our blog. Blog posts must be between 200 and 500 words long and deal with any aspect of history or historical research. Potential topics include: book reviews, conference summaries, research tips, stories from the archives or historical anecdotes. To make a submission or find out more, email blog@historyitm.org
  • Join the editorial collective: if you are interested in helping to run the journal, email editors@historyitm.org

Remembering Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam’s death reminds us of a period in Australian politics which continues to divide. From the social reforms his government introduced to the events that led to the dismissal, the Whitlam period is controversial. One theme that has run through much of the media coverage and commentary is that modern Australian politics is less passionate, increasingly driven by focus groups and polls, and intellectually shallow.254481-gough-whitlam

When I was born, Whitlam had been out of power for 10 years. When I was old enough to begin to understand Australian politics, Howard was in power. Politics felt petty, and it seemed like governments were trying to make themselves smaller. From the perspective of a high school student, public debate about economics and trade seemed to be missing the point. Where was the vision about social justice, about the shape of our society, about addressing historical disadvantage and deprivation?

In contrast, Whitlam seemed to represent a period where politics were about big questions and important social problems. What remained of that time were powerful speeches, large personalities and controversial decisions. It was hard to imagine any politician introducing any one reform on the scale of those that Whitlam achieved, let alone all of them.

The tributes captured the feeling that perhaps today’s politics are just a shadow of what they once were. Philip Ruddock said ‘I’m not sure there are many Gough Whitlams in the Parliament today.’ His point was – perhaps ironically – underscored by a hint of insult on a day when most were united in mourning. That is not to say that politicians didn’t insult each other in the 1970s – but we would rather remember it as a time when they didn’t.

Of course, part of the legend was the way it ended. My parents spoke of the dismissal as an outrage, as the theft of a long-awaited chance to govern and to change. There was a family friend who (gasp) thought that Fraser had done the right thing, that Whitlam was too radical, too dangerous.

In some ways the dismissal overshadowed the achievements of the Whitlam government. In Year 12 I wrote a ‘major work’ for one of my history subjects. The topic was the Whitlam dismissal, specifically “the reasons for the timing of Sir John Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam Government”. The underlying implication was that the decision was flawed, that it was a desparate attempt to steal power and undo the progressive reforms of the Whitlam government.

The decision itself was a complex one. When I was 18 I concluded that happened because Kerr honestly, but incorrectly, believed that the Governor-General’s reserve powers extended that far, that the Governor-General’s standing was under threat from a government that did not respect the Governor-General’s position, and that time was running out if the election was to be held before Christmas. Underlying all those beliefs is one that would not hold water in contemporary Australian political or constitutional theory: that the Governor-General’s role extended to resolving political stalemate.

The essay, of course, missed the point. A narrow, almost legalistic analysis, it failed to acknowledge the political significance of the event. To many on the Left it was proof that the Right was a sore loser, that the establishment would stand in the way of inevitable social reform. To many on the Right, it was proof that the conservatives were the only adults in the room, and the only ones who could be trusted to govern responsibly and deliver economic stability. The sweeping social reforms that Whitlam introduced are, of course, part of his legacy. The crash-through-or-crash approach and his eventual crash are also part of that legacy: they shaped the way that the Left and Right saw each other, and created a sense of a political golden age to which our contemporary leaders – by their own admission – fail to meet.

– Matthew Varley

Copyright and History in the Making

As editors, we often find ourselves scrambling to solve copyright problems just before we publish each issue. When the dust settles, we often think that the problems could have been avoided if we had thought about copyright earlier on. This post is about some of the copyright issues we and our authors might have to consider.

Copyright is the right to do certain things with creative material. For example, the copyright owner might be the only person with the right to copy, adapt or reproduce a creative work. Although copyright is a form of property (or ‘intellectual property’), it’s not the same as owning an object. For example, it is very common for one person to own a book, but another person to own the copyright in the book: this is what happens when you own your textbooks, but the authors own the copyright in those textbooks.

To make matters more complicated, copyright rules vary between different types of work: so photographs, musical works, literary works, and published editions can all be dealt with differently in different circumstances. These differences make it very important to carefully consider the specific rules for the material you’re working with.

We often encounter copyright issues in relation to images and photographs. The photograph in question may have been shared widely: it may be found in archives, newspapers, or the subject’s descendant’s records. While a written document will often be dated and the author identified by name, there may be no easy way to identify a photographer from their photographs alone. And most importantly, owning a copy of the photograph is not always the same as owning the copyright in the photograph. If the person who owns the photograph does not own the copyright in the photograph, he or she cannot authorise the editors to publish it. Photographs are probably the most problematic type of copyrighted material that the editors encounter.

If you want to use an image in your article, consider the copyright issues early on. If the image is a key piece of evidence, it can be very difficult to re-write the article to omit that evidence if we cannot publish the image. You should think about who created the image or took the photograph, the year it was published, the publication in which it appeared, and the terms on which you were given access to the image. If you found the image in an archive, you also need to think about what the archive has permitted you to do with the image.

If the worst happens, and we cannot publish the image, there may be other options. Because our journal is published online, it is easy to link to the image if it is freely available on the internet. While readers of print journals may not always type a URL into their browser, readers of History in the Making can easily follow links in the footnotes.

Remember, there are free online resources to help you through your copyright problems. The Australian Copyright Council has a wide range of comprehensive factsheets (http://www.copyright.org.au/find-an-answer), as does the Arts Law Centre of Australia (http://www.artslaw.com.au/legal).

– Matthew Varley (Treasurer, History In The Making)

Call For Papers – Vol. 4, No. 1

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Undergraduate and Postgraduate History Students:

Did you write a great essay and would you like to see it published in a journal?  

Do you want to gain experience of the peer review process?

The journal is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students currently enrolled at an Australian university.  We are currently inviting all students to submit articles for publication – you can submit at any time, but if you submit by 7th November 2014 you will be considered for the next issue of History In The Making (Vol. 4 No. 1).

If you are an honours or postgraduate student, you can apply to become a reviewer. To find out more please go to http://www.historyitm.org/hitmJoin.html.

To find out more, visit our website (www.historyitm.org), join us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/historyitm), follow us on Twitter (@HITMJournal), or email us at contact@historyitm.org.

Lawrence W. Nichols, ‘The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne’

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Lawrence W. Nichols 2013, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne, Davaco Publishers, Doornspijk, 464 pp., with colour plates. ISBN 978-90-7028-828-1.

 

The resurrection of an artistic career can take years, decades, or even longer. An artist lost to history is an artist who therefore may as well have never existed. But what if that artist existed in a limbo, where purposeful acknowledgement and exhibition met with little to no published research? We take for granted the abundance of catalogues, monographs and spotlights cast upon the great and good of art history. In Dutch art history, this inevitably and invariably contains Rembrandt (he is a veritable magnet for art historians seeking to immerse themselves in that enigma), and maybe a handful of other ‘must haves.’ The spotlight has recently, and thankfully, turned to previously neglected artists, of which Hendrick Goltzius was one. Lawrence W. Nichols has exhaustively covered all the ground in Goltzius’ painting career in search of a complete awareness of Goltzius paintings. The result is a book that connoisseurs and collectors can treasure and consume with delight.

To save the reader the next unavoidable question, Goltzius lived and worked in the Netherlands at the dawn of the Golden Age. In a changing world, Goltzius’ own world was not untouched. Injured early in life in an accident that left his right arm severely burnt, Goltzius nevertheless persisted with an art career, establishing himself as an engraver of prints of prime importance and collectable value. His trajectory seemed clear, destiny beckoning him to leave behind an oeuvre consisting of high quality history engravings. But for reasons unknown, Goltzius, at age fourty-two, gave up engraving and took up painting. One reviewer has suggested that his ailing hand found a brush easier to manage and handle,[1] an assertion that is well-founded in documentary evidence of Goltzius’ sketchy history of intermittent illness.

The catalogue proceeds logically but by no means predictably, and with the last known catalogue of the works of Goltzius dating from 1916, there is much ground to cover. Goltzius is given reverent treatment, his life meticulously detailed by Nichols, who makes a strong chapter-long argument fleshing-out the conversion of Goltzius from burin to brush. What the book effectively gives us is a rounded, yet detailed, picture of Goltzius the man and the artist, without leaning too heavily on connoisseurship alone. Naturally, the bulk of the catalogue is dedicated to paintings seen in person by the author, and paintings known from descriptions. Prior to that, however, we are given with a thorough analysis of Goltzius’ life, motivations, and experiences, not omitting a contextualisation of his works in line with the events of his life. What emerges is a blend of narrative and detail, scooped lovingly in small ladlefuls of gorgeous text from Nichols. The narrative and catalogue entries could be aided by the addition of interpretations of pieces such as the marvellous Hercules and Cacus in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, which offer the opportunity for an investigation into what exactly, as Nadine M. Orenstein notes, caused a prominent citizen to have himself depicted fully nude as a mythological figure.[2] Some deeper insights into the links between Goltzius and Rubens, for example, could be added, but these points take away from the glorious detail of Goltzius and his work, provided by Nichols.

The full page, high-resolution colour plates prior to the text, and the well-distributed high-resolution figures following the text are both helpfully and thoughtfully arranged. The catalogue of accepted and rejected works proceeds more or less according to the standard layout for catalogue raisonnés of this type. What art-lovers of all persuasions – collectors, connoisseurs, curators, dealers and in this case, art historians – will find most appealing is the remarkable collection of documents from and relating to Goltzius’ life and beyond, from 1571 to 1855. Scraps of the artist’s life bring him to life, and provide a rich context to his oeuvre. Enticingly, catalogue raisonnés such as this are still finding gaping holes in the literature on these types of artists, and with the ever-changing terrain of attributions shifting with new technologies, they will continue to be required.

This book is essential for any reader hoping to gain an insight not only into Hendrick Goltzius, one of the greatest painters of the early Dutch Golden Age, but also for readers, students and historians hoping to make a valuable contribution to the historiography of this time, and the artists who participated in it. Catalogues such as these bring to life dormant elements of our culture that we take for granted, and for even the novice of art history, using this book as a guide to the discipline will cause no harm.

– David Taylor

 

[1]Christian Tico Seifert, Review of Lawrence W. Nichols 2013, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne, Davaco Publishers, Doornspijk, at http://arthist.net/reviews/6661, accessed 27 May 2014.

[2] Nadine M. Orenstein, Review of Lawrence W. Nichols 2013, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne, Davaco Publishers, Doornspijk, at http://www.hnanews.org/hna/bookreview/current/nl_goltzius0114.html, accessed 27 May 2014.

Tony Judt’s Postwar – A Reflection

Berlin Checkpoint Charlie Standoff

Image: US and Soviet tanks face one another at Checkpoint Charlie, October 1961 (source: http://diplomacy.state.gov/berlinwall/www/archive/IMG022.html)

 

The time is vivid in my memory when 1989 was not a subject of ‘history’. Born though I may have been just days after the Berlin Wall fell, in the television, newspapers and overheard conversations of my youth ‘the Cold War’ forever felt and sounded like the very foundation of the adult world I would inhabit. So entrenched such an impression can be, it takes nothing less than a revolution in perspective to remove it from the realm of memory and transfer it into that of ‘history proper’. Perhaps this is why reading Tony Judt’s 2005 tome Postwar was at once an eye-opening and a disorienting experience.

The book, naturally enough, opens with the uncompromising defeat of Nazi Germany. Never have I read a more distressing or overwhelming account of the forced people movements of the late 1940s, of the rape and thievery of the conquering soldiers, and of the arbitrary incarceration and disappearance of so many thousands of political ‘undesirables’. In terms of consequence, Judt claims, the chief European legacy of Hitler is not one of memory, but of demography. Between the Führer and his opposite number in Moscow, the Europe of 1939-1950 witnessed an unprecedented series of mass resettlements across its many lands, generating an incomparable system of national ethnic homogeneity. And it is as a collective of nations that the Europe of Postwar begins its post-1945 trajectory. What follows is a sweeping chronicle, documenting every landmark (Marshall Plan, Iron Curtain, Brezhnev Doctrine, 1956, 1968, 1989, Messina, Maastricht, Kosovo…) from above and from below.

Being so ambitious in scope, the book necessarily sacrifices detail. However, owing for the most part to Judt’s mastery of events, this is often unproblematic. Post-war educational reform and the emergence of intricate eastern police states are two developments which could have warranted individual sections, but this is not of tremendous consequence. And indeed despite Postwar’s scope, it is by no means devoid of characters, from the Neronian megalomaniac Ceausescu to the frustratingly anachronistic Iberian dictators Franco and Salazar, and from the inflexible Mrs. Thatcher to the chillingly disconnected apparatchik Walter Ulbricht. No seminal figure passes by unremarked; likewise none outstays his or her welcome. Methodologically, Judt avows no ‘Olympian detachment’ from that which he documents, and yet rarely does this translate into naked moralising. Similarly, his professed renunciation of any ‘all-embracing story’ for Europe is impeccably translated into practice. We know what comes next, of course, but (and this is the secret of truly exceptional history writing) not once does it seem inevitable. Given that the entire context of Postwar is backgrounded by a bipolar ideological struggle of which there would ultimately be but one winner, this is a truly astonishing accomplishment. An equally remarkable accomplishment is Judt’s effortless ability to thematise his subject matter. Leaping from Baltic to Balkans and Madrid to Moscow, Judt finds his threads and follows them, drawing parallels and contrasts between states and societies which, superficially viewed, share absolutely nothing in common save a desperate unwillingness to look back into the past.

By the time you reach Postwar’s end (a chilling but apposite appendiced essay entitled ‘From the House of the Dead’), the history you thought you know seems very strange and alien indeed. And this is not an impression gleaned merely from the words on the page. Going back to the television and newspapers of the time (as I immediately did), it becomes ever more transparent that the world has since shifted sufficiently for the demise of the Cold War to look and feel like a bygone age. Captured in pictures, as no seismic event before it, we see Ceausescu face his resentful crowd, recoiling in confusion, then anger, then fear; we see John Paul II greeting Lech Wałęsa; we see Yeltsin, Havel, Reagan, Thatcher, Mitterrand and Kohl seizing (or, at least, pretending to seize) their moments; and, of course, we see thousands of Germans rejoicing at the Brandenburg Gate, tempered by their surprisingly but characteristically prosaic orderliness.

Yet while we may recognise post-war Europe as a series of moments, it remains difficult in Postwar not to find oneself traversing traditional narratives; principally the decline of communism and the rise of Europe. The period succeeds in waves of generations, each epoch engendering its own dynamic. In politics, we see the failure of communism set in early, delayed only by a gerontocracy of Stalinists and apparatchiks, like their Moscow forebears at the corpse of their celebrated Leader, too petrified to look closer. The reformers succeed the Stalinists, the hardliners the reformers, and the new reformers the hardliners. Meanwhile, the west witnesses its Keynesian consensus self-destruct and dissipate in the face of the Friedmanian radicals. On each side of the Iron Curtain we observe the emergence of a youth culture, replaced in turn by youth cultures and (even if Judt enters only into minimal detail) subcultures. Meanwhile, the discredited Old Left departs for the elusive and soon-effete ‘New Left’, leaving behind a vacant intelligentsia disgraced initially by its former Stalinist obduracy and finally by its own pretensions. By the book’s end, the free-market consensus stands monolithic, Judt lamenting the desolation of originality in contemporary European politics. However, in one critical respect it is the passing of ideology for the idea of ‘Europe’ that provides Judt with his ultimate optimism. For, if there was ever any doubt that communism’s downfall and Europe’s rise are the stories undergirding his narrative, their seamless convergence in 1989 makes everything clear. ‘The opposite of Communism was not ‘capitalism’’, writes Judt, ‘but ‘Europe’’.

‘Europe’ had emerged from 1945 not as a geographic space or even an economic unit, but as an idea. That it was the longing for this idea underpinning the protest culture of eastern Europe is certainly a novel view, and one by no means conventional in the historical eyes of the West. But as Europe today remains inveterately fixed in another phase of disenchantment, it is striking that the most vociferous and articulate defenders of ‘Europe’ remain either the spokesmen of generations past or citizens of the former East. The future of Europe, it seems, remains inextricably linked to its past. Populism and nationalism may resurface in ugly spurts, but optimism and a shared sense of duty remain the necessary bulwarks against ‘Europe’ simply becoming a byword for decadence and retrogressive bureaucratism. Postwar, then, conveys above all a sense of urgency; an urgency made incarnate by the author’s untimely death in 2010. A quick survey of Europe today gives the sobering impression that the generation of 1989 has all but passed (Václav Havel – the closest Postwar comes to a conventional narrative hero – died just 16 months after Judt), and with them the decisive hopefulness they embodied. As a lived experience now receding into a bygone, analogue age, the Cold War in Europe will need its chroniclers. The greatest challenge they may initially face, however, is to escape from the shadow of this magisterial work.

– Marcus Colla