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November 23, 2006


As promised after our discussion of race and Kramer last night, here are a couple of links. The first is from Stuart Hall lecturing on the topic of "Race: The Floating Signifier." The popping bass music and intro from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing dates it as sometime around the early 1990s. Hall is from Jamaica (a British possession since the era of Cromwell with a slave-labor regime until the 1850s), and we will talk more about him (and read something from him) when we get back from the holiday.

Here is a much longer version of the Stuart Hall video than the one I originally posted. It has most of the lecture as well as an interview with Hall.

The second video is Michael Richards (better known as Seinfeld's Kramer) apologizing on the David Letterman show for his racist tirade at the Laugh Factory comedy club in LA. If you want to see his tirade, it's easy enough to find. In this clip, after the really uncomfortable moments at the beginning, Richards tries to explain racism from his personal vantage point.

We'll be talking a lot more about race, racism, and multiculturalism over the next few weeks, so any comments here are appreciated. What is Race and racism for Hall? What about Richards?

November 22, 2006

World War II and "England Your England"

As we discussed last week, if you're not able to make class tonight because of Thanksgiving travel plans you can get class credit by participating in this blog assignment.

First of all, before you begin make sure you have a good hour to spend, assuming, of course, that you've already read Orwell's "England Your England," Why I Write," and the Beveridge Report highlights. Below I have listed a few web sites related to World War II, and you should choose one to thoroughly explore and comment upon.

Here are the sites I would like you to examine. If you want to look at more than one or hunt for others on the web, feel free.





What I would like you all to consider with these few sites is how the Second World War is being remembered through them. How do these sights give meaning to the war? Some of the interpretations may be subtle and others more direct. What do you think the target audiences are? Do you see a political purpose in the way your site presents its history? Finally, do you think the memorialization in the website you've chosen affirms or challenges Orwell's view of the British people in "England Your England"? Explain why or why not?

Also, below are some thoughts on the topics of interwar cooperation, "national unity" (a topic of interest to Orwell in "England Your England"), and popular memory of the war.

I spoke last week about the "spirit of cooperation" of the interwar years and how an emphasis on cooperation can be found in a variety of social, cultural, and governmental venues. In the domestic politics of the interwar period, economic depression seemed to recommend a pulling together of the disparate interests for national recovery, and yet the period saw a spike in labour/management/government conflict over issues of pay, work hours, and dilution culminating in a General Strike in 1926. . . . .

The government responded to the strike by calling it a "threat to the constitution" and by mobilizing its police forces. In international relations, the necessity of cooperation between nations was the guiding principle of the League of Nations, and Woodrow Wilson's "14 Points" had recognized the right of every people to a nation of their own in a world of peaceful nations that would have no use for war. Of course, Wilson never really meant everyone had a right to full national self-determination - certainly not the indigenous people of his America. When British subjects in Africa called the bluff and started talking about national independence in places like Kenya or Uganda, administrators tried to clarify what cooperation was really about. Here's what the former director of education in Nigeria under Lord Lugard had to say in 1934 about African nationalism: "Whatever some people may think of the importance of ‘national sovereignty,’ it can hardly be disputed that for the benefit of the world at large and of the Africans themselves it is most desirable that the peoples of Africa should be brought to look on interdependence as the keynote of their relations with each other and with non-African nations. They have everything to gain by co-operating with western nations, provided we pursue an enlightened and liberal policy in regard to them. They have everything to lose if they become imbued with a spirit of hatred and non-co-operative nationalism." Reading the words of imperialists who get excited about the possibility of the future of cooperation in the Commonwealth, it is easy to see the ideal of cooperation as little more than a rose-colored lens that hides from view the inequities and routine acts of domination that were everyday occurrences in the material, cultural, and psychic dimensions of empire.

The popular story of the Second World War is also commonly told as a tale of national unity. As the story goes, first Britain displays reluctance if not outright cowardice in appeasing Hitler in Austria, the Sudentenland, and Czechoslovakia. But this is really just the old story of the sleeping giant wanting to remain content in his slumber rather than face the hard challenges of the day. Leadership change soon brings a change in the nation's commitment to preserving itself and Europe and its social and political institutions against the fascist threat. Churchill emerges as the heroic great leader who, according to Orwell, "was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting" (though let's remember that it was Churchill who Australians remember as the official who sent their countrymen to certain death at Gallipoli for nothing but a diversion for an English invading force). The story continues that everyone comes together all over the nation, the empire and Commonwealth (the post-imperial/colonial nations of the world that still were under the crown - e.g. the white dominions like Canada, Australia, Union of South Africa) in a huge groundswell of cooperation. Cooperation during the war leads to a transformation in the way Britons treat each other after the war when a broad social consensus establishes a complex system of social insurance that recognizes that citizens have a social responsibility in addition to their private interests (see the Beveridge Report).

Now I'm not suggesting that this story is wrong. Certainly the experience of the war did help to unify people and smooth over differences. People who would never have spoken to each other on the street met in the London Underground as they tried to avoid the German blitz in 1940-41. The war saw unprecedented amounts of volunteerism on the home front, and many workers voluntarily worked longer hours while scions of old money mused about the need for reform in recognition of workers' sacrifice. But cleavages in society were still evident and can't fit in the story of cooperation and patriotism as easily. In Britain, about 60,000 people refused to fight because they were "conscientious objectors." Some joined up in auxiliary forces where they did not have to kill, but others who objected to helping the war effort at all were often arrested and imprisoned (nearly 6,000 women and men were imprisoned on charges related to conscientious objection). Additionally, the Republic of Ireland, a separate nation from the UK with ties still to the Commonwealth since 1921, remained famously neutral during the war.

November 18, 2006

The Disciplinary Society

I've been obsessed with YouTube lately, and I came across these audio/still photo clips of Foucault lecturing on "the Disciplinary Society." In the second part, he explains the difference between real "Disciplinary Institutions" and "Disciplinary Rationalities" (which for him are more important than the real "total institutions). This helps to explain why he can see Bentham's never-really-realized dream of a Panopticon Prison as significant even when it was rarely employed as a true "institution" with real brick walls and cells, backlighting, and all-seeing-eyeballs etc.

Part 1

Part 2

November 15, 2006

Document Analysis: The Disinherited Family

Historians love to draw big conclusions from documents that themselves were intended for relatively narrow purposes. Patrick Joyce, for instance, might derive significance from the mundane and probably rather boring reports from municipal administrators in London and Manchester. What looks like plans to lay sewage pipes can hold all sorts of other, unintended meanings concerning liberalism; private property and privacy, individualism, or the importance of a notion of "freedom" and circulation to people's understandings of themselves, the city, the nation. I think a good verb for this practice is "to glean." Today, we tend to think of gleaning as a mental practice (e.g. "I gleaned something from their presentation"), but I like the older definitions. If you have some time, you should plug your favorite words into the Oxford English Dictionary (linked through the "indexes" page of our library's site) and see where they've travelled in the universe of variable and contingent meanings over the past millenium or so. "Gleaning" used to be something the rural poor in England did to survive. During the harvest season, gleaners would walk through the fields picking up wasted corn or fruit that the reapers had missed, discarded, or accidentally dropped. Depending on the harvest, families could survive off what was gleaned.
With this idea of gleaning in mind, let's practice gleaning with a document like Rathbone's "Disinherited Family." What kinds of meanings can we pick up from what Rathbone accidently leaves behind. For this exercise, let's forget about the political debate on family allowances (her motivation for writing) and just focus on the stuff she drops unintentionally. What can we say about the interwar period from her writing. Look at the little things - references to the world outside - that might appear insignificant to her overall argument. What historical claims can we make by avoiding her actual point? Is there someting in her style, the form, the things she takes for granted, the kinds of authorities she marshals, that tell us something about the period? Take a shot - no right answers to be found on this one.

November 1, 2006

George Orwell

Since we're talking about Orwell (and writing about him) over the next few weeks, I wanted to give you a place to post comments as you read. So here it is.
So, what do you think of Orwell? Let's start with these pieces on imperialism. What is his purpose in writing "Shooting an Elephant"? What insights does his discussion of Rudyard Kipling provide for our understanding of empire and the British public? Any questions and coments are welcome.