Taking Liberties

November 11, 2008

I went to the British Library’s Taking Liberties exhibition on Saturday. it was incredible to see all those hugely important documents in one room. And so many of them were huge physically as well as politically/symbolically. These massive scrolls and sheets of vellum really show how our relationship with the written word has changed. They are imposing objects, not just working documents. My personal favourites were The Agreement of the People and Charles I’s death warrant. Also some of the suffragette material was amazing to see – particularly Emily Davison’s purse and return train ticket to London. 

All in all though (and bearing in mind the theme of this blog) I was surprised that I didn’t feel The Shiver. I stared and stared at them, trying to imagine the documents being touched, signed and sealed or the purse being dropped, but somehow it didn’t happen. Perhaps I tried too hard. They are all So Significant and presented in such numbers that in a way it’s hard to feel a connection in the way that you might seeing each individually.


Certainly deserving a second (and third) view though! 

It’s done!

November 5, 2008

I have very little to add to the vast amounts of commentary but felt I couldn’t let it pass without a note. The references to ‘making history’ and to ‘historic change’ are everywhere. There is an undeniable sense of laying history to rest – of overcoming its legacy. But at the heart of the celebrations is a strong element of commemoration. We don’t set past suffering and brutality aside, we carry it forward as a foil against which later achievements make sense.

Returning to The Uncanny

November 4, 2008

Having begun this blog with the discovery of The Uncanny on my doorstep (still no explanation btw), it’s time to return to it here….


The Uncanny – or ‘unheimlich’ / ‘unhomely’ – is associated with the repression of something which was once familiar. It manifests itself in strange returns, reappearances, doublings and hauntings. (Freud also connects it with the fear of castration and losing one’s eyes and with severed limbs but I’ve not processed the implications of that yet!)


It seems to me that there might be something uncanny about our interest in the past. Read the rest of this entry »

Progressive Nostalgia

November 3, 2008

A friend just sent an email raising the idea of ‘progressive nostalgia’. I thought I’d comment on it here.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Historical Shiver

November 3, 2008

It seems to be fairly standard to draw a dividing line between memory and history on the grounds that the former is affective and sensory and the latter critical and dispassionate. Even theorists who propose a ‘reconciliation’ between the two continue to see them as sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum on this matter.[1]


I accept that history and memory represent different ways of approaching the past. However, I am struggling with the idea of history as fundamentally non-affective and non-sensory. Conversations with colleagues suggest that I am not the only one to experience a shiver at opening an untouched box of archives.

  Read the rest of this entry »

Comments on Waltz with Bashir and Hunger (some spoilers)….

Read the rest of this entry »

Big Question

October 26, 2008

In a 1972 article Eric Hobsbawm noted that ‘Clearly the sense of belonging to an age-old tradition of rebellion provides emotional satisfaction, but how and why?’ That is the big question I am struggling with at the moment.

[I haven’t worked out how to do footnotes yet, but the article was ‘The Social Functions of the Past: Some Questions’, Past and Present 55 (1972), pp. 3-17]


October 26, 2008

I’ve recently been reading Freud’s The Uncanny, and wondering whether it is relevant to my work. I keep meaning to buy myself a copy but so far have been using one in the library. I arrived home last night, and found a copy on my doorstep in an unmarked envelope, no note. No emails to explain it either. I’ve been struggling to think who I’ve talked to about this who also knows where I live. A blank. Of all the books for this to happen with…!