Perpetuating the myths

An excellent post about science and comic books.

The Renaissance Mathematicus

Since the re-emergence of science in Europe in the High Middle Ages down to the present the relationship between science and religion has been a very complex and multifaceted one that cannot be reduced to a simple formula or a handful of clichés. Many of the practitioners, who produced that science, were themselves active servants of their respective churches and many of their colleagues, whilst not clerics, were devoted believers and deeply religious. On they other had there were those within the various church communities, who were deeply suspicious of or even openly hostile to the newly won scientific knowledge that they saw as a threat to their beliefs. Over the centuries positions changed constantly and oft radically and any historian, who wishes to investigate and understand that relationship at any particular time or in any given period needs to tread very carefully and above all not to approach their…

View original post 1,496 more words

Radical Librarians Unite!

Radicalism at the library is about more than just speaking loudly!

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to get involved with a Radical Collections conference at the University of London. It was called “Radical Voices.” In the “post-truth,” “fake news,” “24-hour news cycle” epoch, it’s absolutely vital to examine the way information – all the materials in archives and libraries – are administered. Librarians and archivists control the data, and so their opinions, their political beliefs matter. Big time. The funders of libraries and archives (and special collections therein) matter. Big time. Ultimately, these individuals and organizations are the gatekeepers, determine access to and consumption of information, and help knowledge-creation.

 

Here’s a retrospective from James Hobbs.

“Radicalism and the drive for change can take on many forms in the world of libraries and archives, and the packed room for the Radical Collections: Radicalism and Libraries and Archives conference, which took place at the Institute of Historical Research at Senate House Library on 3 March, heard arguments that covered some ground.

Across four panels, the themes tackled included how collections are being developed, catalogued and organised, and who works in them and uses them. These were interspersed with not one, but two fire alarms to keep us on our toes, which led to impromptu networking sessions on the street outside, resumed at the end of the day with wine and nibbles in the Institute of Historical Research common room.

Starting out, Wendy Russell from the British Film Institute archive explored the barriers faced by the director Ken Loach in the 1980s when his TV series for the new Channel 4 about trade unionism, Questions of Leadership, was commissioned and then scrapped, and considered the archive’s significance beyond the fields of TV and film. Lisa Redlinski and John Wrighton of the University of Brighton spoke about the remit of HE libraries with particular relation to the library’s digitisation of Brighton’s rich history of underground and alternative press. And historian Lucas Richert (University of Strathclyde), in his paper about radical psychiatry, LSD and MDMA, raised issues (among others) about how funding from private and public sources can affect the consumption and “selling” of archives.

Panel 1: Chair Richard Espley, Lucas Richert, Lisa Redlinski, John Wrighton and Wendy Russell

After a lunch interrupted by the fire alarm, Mairéad Mooney (University College Cork) looked at British imperialist influences on libraries in the early days of the Irish Free State, and Amy Todman (National Library of Scotland) spoke about the archiving of Engender, the Scottish feminist organisation, since the 1990s. Siobhan Britton (University of Brighton) explored issues surrounding the collection, preservation and accessibility of zines in libraries. (My thanks to her about a lightbulb moment I had midway through her talk when I had an idea regarding my own dissertation.)

Tamsin Bookey (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives), who navigated the rude interruption mid-presentation by the second fire alarm, described moves in Tower Hamlets to widen participation and attract hard-to-reach potential users (respect people who are hostile, use marketing, get non-gender specific toilets). Katherine Quinn (University of Warwick) spoke about the challenge of radical librarianship in the HE context (the audit culture, and how LIS is drawing on management culture), and, finally, Kirsty Fife (National Media Museum) and Hannah Henthorn (University of Dundee) described the issues they, as marginalised people, faced as they negotiated their way into the archive sector and how the expense of qualifications restrict diversification.

Just how radical some of the ideas discussed really are is debatable. In a point raised by our own Thomas Ash, the non-discriminatory nature of classification terminology, for instance, is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It’s simply how things should be. A theme running through the day, it seems to me, was that obstacles put in the way of opening up access and information to all – and that really does mean people who currently wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a library or archive – need dismantling, and that means they won’t be the quiet, safe places they are generally perceived to be now. White western patriarchy has had its day. That change seems more sensible and representative of the UK as it is than radical. But the conference provided a great variety of voices that asked questions and offered solutions that deserve deeper and longer consideration – and action.

Julio Cazzasa talked about the problems faced by the Senate House Library’s collection (the Heisler collection of 50,000 items tracing labour and progressive political movements, for instance, is a mixed library and archive collection). Alycia Sellie (CUNY) raised questions of the whiteness of librarians and how collection practices should strive to be radical in relation to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s newspaper and periodicals collection. And the discriminative nature of library classifications (it took the Library of Congress 18 years to remove the subject heading “yellow peril”) and the need for a focus on critical theory in LIS studies were just some of the issues picked up by Gregory Toth of the Senate House Library.”

**

I’m glad that Hobbs chronicled the event so well.

Thanks to all the organizers (Jordan Landes, Richard Espley, and so many others) for giving me a chance to speak about my research on radical psychiatry and MDMA. And if you want a play-by-play from the event, vist this excellent -tweet based – overview of the conference at Storify at https://storify.com/onslies/radical-voices

 

‘Street Portraits’ by Morgan Scott

I’m delighted that professional photographer Morgan Scott shares his images and ideas. Most of the time he works in London as a Business Development Manager for Bijou Commerce. But photography, as he puts it, has been a long-standing ‘passion.’

His exciting portfolio can be found here: http://morganportraits.com/portfolio

**

Street Portraits by Morgan Scott

In a multicultural city such as London, you will, for sure, encounter a plethora of amazing faces, fashions, cultures and personalities. It’s a candy shop of choice when it comes to portrait photography opportunities. It’s a great place to immortalize elements of the body.

There are two main types of street portrait photography styles. The first is when your subject is unaware of their photo being taken (at first at least) and the photographer is using a hide-and-seek approach. A good example is Vivian Maier, who used a Rolleiflex film camera in the 50s and 60s and which you would shoot from the navel. The subjects were unaware of the camera as it was not held up at eye level. Vivian’s photos gave the subject a very grand feeling as the portrait was taken at an angle looking up at them, even if the subject themselves were not a grand figure in stature or being.

morgan-2

Maier only became famous post mortem, when a lot of film was purchased at auction by John Maloof. Maloof discovered that Maier was arguably one of the most significant street photographers of the twentieth centary and made the fantastic documentary ‘Finding Vivian Maier’, as well as curating her work. Finding Maier’s undeveloped films, hundreds of them, was the photography equivalent of discovering buried treasure.

She did also take portraits where the subject was fully aware a photo was being taken, although many were very natural, unforced forced poses. Perhaps she was lightning quick and somewhat unthreatening as a woman with a camera or perhaps it was simply not the norm to be photographed like in our camera-phone, Instagram world today.

morgan-1

This takes us to the second type of street portrait: the ‘aware’ subject. This is a style I quite enjoy myself. The way I go about this is to wander/wonder about the streets looking for people with interesting styles and faces. I generally go by gut feeling – instinct, I suppose – about whether I want to take a portrait of someone or not. It’s usually based on a fleeting glance. So the first challenge is to find a subject, which is not too hard to do in London. The second challenge is approaching that person and asking permission to take their portrait. It’s all to do with the approach and manner you adopt. Because I seek out slightly ‘alternative’ looking people to take portraits of, they are generally more likely to say yes as there is an element of how they look that they want to be noticed in most cases. Why have purple hair if no one sees it, right?

When I approach the person I do it calmly, with a genuine smile, and say: “Excuse me, I’m doing a personal photography project on London Style (I point to my camera around my neck) and I love your look. If you don’t mind I would love to take your portrait. I’ll give you my website and you can save the photo and use it however you want for free.” The majority of the time a subject will say yes because s/he are flattered. If someone says no, I figure out if it’s just a shy no; some people are a little embarrassed at first and I’ll say ‘Oh go on you look great’, and they will. You can just tell when someone really is not interested and in this case I don’t push it and say ‘Ok no worries, cheers.’ Remember there’s always another opportunity right up the street. I also don’t want to look at a photo with a reluctant pose as it’s a little bit negative – meaning I won’t have the portrait I desire.

I was inspired by the ‘Humans of New York’ series by Brandon Stanton. His photos feature an eclectic bunch of people, and the portraits are aimed at revealing relatable, human stories. These portraits highlight human whole, from head to toe, displaying the subject in all his/her glory and interesting fashions. These are also posed portraits, considering they are also telling their story to Stanton and have been made into a series of books.

morgan-3

For me, taking portraits is a passion. Faces tell a story and the eyes really are a window to the soul. It’s exciting for me to stop strangers, take their portrait and make a friend. Art is literally walking by us everyday, the art of the human, the art of human expression. What we see in the cities of the world is really an expression of the zeitgeist – a particular mindset, politics, and art – and it will never happen again; photography can freeze the essence of present time for future generations to enjoy and say “Look what they used to wear!”

**

Instagram: MorganScottUK

Twitter: MorganScottUK

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW DR. MATTHEW DZIENNIK

A friend and colleague was recently interviewed about Scotland and Scottish History; and I’m pleased to republish the transcript here.

Interview with Matthew Dziennik
Originally posted on December 18, 2016 at GaelicUSA
…on Scottish Highland military history, engagement with empire, stereotypes of natives, and more …
Matthew Dziennik was raised in the village of Kingussie in Badenoch in the Scottish Highlands. He was awarded a Ph.D. in History at the University of Edinburgh and is the author of The Fatal Land: War, Empire and the Highland Soldier in British America (Yale University Press, 2015). He is currently assistant professor of British and British Imperial History at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis.

(1) We might start by first of all acknowledging the significant military role that Scottish Highlanders had in the history of North America that have had real political and territorial consequences, from the French and Indian War down to the U.S. Civil War. How would you characterize the nature of that involvement and how has it influenced the image of the Highlander as a military figure? What new information has your own research contributed to the understanding of this history?

Gaels were critical to the expansion of the British Empire in North America before 1775 and the subsequent defense of Canada in the 19th century. Highlanders were deployed to Georgia as a bulwark against the Spanish in the 1730s and there were major settlements of Highlanders in North Carolina, New York, Quebec, and Nova Scotia by the American Revolution.
Some of these settlers were former soldiers who had taken the opportunity of land grants in North America following service in the Seven Years’ War. Scots – of which a disproportionate number were Highlanders – comprised almost a third of officers and enlisted men of the British Army in North America in the late 1750s. During the American Revolution, Highlanders may have made up approximately 10% of Loyalist soldiers despite comprising of less than 1% of the American population. The subsequent settlement of these Loyalists in Nova Scotia was important to subsequent Canadian development as part of the British Empire.

It is easy to characterize these military contributions as evidence of defeatism, passivity, or the oppression of the Gàidhealtachd. Many commentators have suggested that with the defeat of Jacobitism and the savage repression of the Highlands that followed in 1746, Gaels were exploited and co-opted to serve as cannon fodder for Britain’s imperial wars. I think, however, that we also have to look at Gaels as proactive agents of imperial expansion.

I’d like to think that if my work has contributed anything to understandings of the Gael in the Americas, it has demonstrated that many young men willingly embraced an imperial system that could individually reward as well as collectively punish. It was obvious to many Highlanders that military service offered an opportunity to escape socio-economic stagnation in the Highlands and secure intellectual and material benefits from the British state. While many Gaels suffered as a result of their enlistment, I think it does a disservice to them to dismiss their choices and interests as the product of powerlessness or ignorance – a common refrain in Anglo-historiography.

(2) On the other hand, the emphasis on military history and the co-option by empire has certainly distorted a holistic and complete understanding of Gaelic culture and society. What strikes you as some of the more important counter-currents to that imperial narrative in your research? What do people misunderstand or misrepresent due to the over-emphasis on the one-dimensional stereotypes of the Highlander as loyal imperial stormtrooper?

I am the wrong person to answer that question! While my historical training may help me collect and interpret evidence with a reasonable degree of sophistication, I chose to write on the role of Gaels in the British military, thereby implicitly reinforcing this one-dimensional view. In a sense, having grown up in the region and having spent so much of my youth absorbing the imagery of the Highlander as an imperial warrior (in regimental museums or army recruiting centres), my work is a product of the colonization of the Highland mind by a self-serving imperial narrative.

This is a major problem and it is a problem shared by other so-called martial peoples throughout the British Empire – Pathans, Sikhs, and Gurkhas as well as Highlanders. The needs of the imperial metropolis came to dominate not only the popular imagery of so-called martial peoples but also peoples’ views of themselves. And the effects of this can be seen long after the British Empire’s authority receded.

There are, however, aspects of the imperial narrative that can be challenged. I try to do so in my work by explaining how young Gaels joined the army for material reasons, not because of a love of militarism; how Gaels frequently and sometimes violently opposed their military and social superiors; how poorer Gaels were quick to abandon their emigration leaders if opportunities arose for better opportunities elsewhere; how most young Highland soldiers were, at least initially, far from the hardened warriors promoted by imperial mythology; and how Gaelic writers used the success of the Highland regiments to inject new confidence and vigor into the communities that they served.

In a wider sense, there are a couple of broader approaches that might help us arrive at a better understanding of Gaelic North American history. The first is to re-focus our energies on the Gaelic language. Language is the essence of a people’s experience and, while there is certainly evidence of the internalization of the imperial narrative in Gaelic sources, there are also numerous challenges to it. Focusing on making these sources available to a new generation of scholars – either through translation or, preferably, Gaelic language training – would do much to advance Gaelic studies.

Second, we need to embrace the lessons of postcolonialism. Highlanders have typically been reluctant to cast themselves as an Indigenous people in the manner typically understood by historians. As a result, scholars from out with the Highlands – Eric Richards, Colin Calloway, and Silke Stroh, to name a few – have written some of the best studies of the effects on colonization on the region.

But, if we accept that various forms of colonization did occur, we can use postcolonialism (the study of how knowledge and information is used to construct political or cultural power) to challenge Anglocentric views of the Gàidhealtachd. We can read against the grain when dealing with archives and sources and we can think of English-language documents as only one method among many that contribute to a better understanding of the Highlands and its people.

(3) To what degree has Highland military history been integrated into the study of North American history? Do you think that Gaels have been recognized and analyzed as a people unto themselves in the academic activity in North America, with their own characteristics and cultural contexts and primary sources, or have they simply been lumped together with all Britons and seen through anglophone documentary evidence? What have the consequences been of the standard approach to this historical study? What is missing or incomplete in our historical representation as a result?

Yes and no. It is difficult to strike the right balance.

On the one hand, the repeated use of “England” as shorthand for the British Empire obscures the extent to which non-English speakers drove the colonization process in North America, often for reasons that did not align with interests in the imperial metropole. Similarly, we might think of the rise of Canada and the United States in terms of grand national narratives but, in reality, settler colonialism was a remarkably varied, chaotic, and unfinished experiment in political order. It derived its strength not from the political, economic, or cultural superiority of English-speaking peoples – an argument best made by Winston Churchill – but by the diversity of skills, objectives, and cultures it was able to tolerate. Ignoring this diversity – ignoring the ways in which Gaels experienced North America in specific terms – runs the risk of oversimplification.

On the other hand, there is the risk of ethnic exceptionalism. Some studies of Gaelic settlement in North America make the case that the Gaelic experience was unique; that Gaels were exceptionally qualified to expand British hegemony in the wilds of Canada; or that Gaels, for reasons of historic experiences, engaged with Indigenous peoples on a more sympathetic level. My research, particularly with regard to this last point, suggests that this was not the case.

I am not sure that there is a clear answer to this question. It is certainly the case, however, that too few historians have the necessary skills or training to explore the autonomous Gaelic experience of settlement in the Americas.

(4) Do you find the lack of support for Scottish Gaelic Studies in N America (inc Canada) surprising? Do you think that it could or should be improved? How would scholarship about imperial history, immigrant history, indigenous relations, etc., be made more complete or nuanced by developing the North American dimensions of Scottish Gaelic scholarship?

I do not find the lack of support for Scottish Gaelic studies in North America surprising. Support for Gaelic in Scotland is a relatively recent phenomenon – the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act was only passed in 2005 – and the Gaelic community has been exceptionally proactive in creating a partnership with the Scottish Government that counters historic injustices and emphasizes the importance of Gaelic language provision.

But, while I am not surprised by the lack of support in North America, I do find it surprising that so much has been written on Gaels in the Americas without a firmer grasp of the socio-economic, linguistic, or historic contexts of the Scottish Highlands. As I said, there are not enough researchers with the necessary skills or interests in Gaelic to be able to more fully explore the history of Gaels in the Americas. This should change.

What such a change would do is a more difficult question to answer. I am reluctant to suggest what such support might change in terms of our understandings. One of the primary merits of modern historiography is the sheer variety of topics and approaches that can be pursued. Historical skills and linguistic competence should always be emphasized but what scholars then do with those skills is as varied as the scholars themselves. That is part of the reason why history is such a fascinating part of the humanities.

I would, however, like to see much less written on English views of Gaels and much more written on Gaelic views of themselves and their hopes and aspirations when they arrived in the Americas. That would be a good start.

(5) What are your current and future research plans, and how do they relate to these issues?

The focus of my current research is the recruitment of colonial peoples into the British army in the 18th and 19th centuries. It places the military recruitment of Gaels in the context of wider efforts to bring Indigenous peoples into the British military in the century prior to 1850. This research can help contextualize the Gaelic experience as well as pointing out where the Gaelic experience was different or unique.

I am also thinking a lot about views of colonial peoples in Gaelic writings, particularly in the early nineteenth century when British views more generally became less sympathetic to Indigenous cultures and experiences. How we view others often tells us a lot about how we view ourselves.

**