2018 AHA Conference, CBE Building Foyer, Day 3. Source : #OzHA2018, Twitter.
Small is Big …
at the Australian Historical Association Conference on 3-4 July 2018 at the Australian National University, Acton, Canberra
Dr Buch presented a paper called, “Small is Big: Scaling the Map for Brisbane Persons and Institutions 1823-2000” at the AHA Conference on 4 July 2018.
The Mapping Brisbane History Project is a new website tool for historians wishing to undertake geographic-oriented investigations, across 64 local study areas within the city’s present-day boundaries, from the colonial period to the present day. It was launched in June 2018 with over 1,000 sites marked with entries by epochs and local areas, with further expansion planned. A related project on ‘Brisbane Thinkers and Local Researching, Educating, and Informing Institutions’ is now taking shape, extending the idea of how institutions can be mapped as sites in the landscape to how institutions of formative thinkers can be mapped through conceptual networking. In both projects, the work is performed on the local scale yet important national and global dimensions came to the fore.
Using these digital projects, this paper reflects on balancing the demands of scale in avoiding provincial outlooks without imposing a false and bland globalist perspective. The approach fits with the attention given to intersecting local, regional and global networks by historians in recent years, as in Niall Ferguson’s The Square and Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power.
A PDF copy of the business report on the ‘Small is Big’ presentation, and analysis on the value of the history consultancy business in relation to papers presented at the AHA Conference, can be found here.
A PDF copy of the PowerPoint Notes Pages for the ‘Small is Big’ presentation can be found here.
In John Armstrong’s short book, “Life Lessons From Nietzsche”, extracts from the nineteenth century philosopher are used to provide honest consolation. Today, I found a strong sense of honest consolation in the chapter which looked at Nietzsche’s essay, “Use & Abuse of History”. The importance of the essay is how it addresses the need to balance three …“methods for history, to the extent that one may make the distinctions, a monumental method, an antiquarian method, and a critical method”. It does well in explaining why historians disagree with different views in the use of history. Nietzsche points to a conflict of purpose, but offers a purposeful hope that we can bring the three perspectives together.
Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History
I was encouraged on this day when I found myself in an unpleasant disputation over history management. I was given comfort in the words of Nietzsche on the monumental method, which I suggest, is about valuing history for the sake of ‘history’, highlighting the importance of history for living humanity as a whole, rather than history for the sake of preserving the past in all its actual details (an antiquarian method), or history for the sake of changing the past into a new future (a critical method). The following passage is a translation from Ian C. Johnston and a text amended in part by The Nietzsche Channel (Nietzsche, Use & Abuse of History, p. 7). The translation in the John Armstrong’s short book reads easier but I cannot vouch for the translation; it is not identified in the Macmillan paperback, and possibly Armstrong’s paraphrase. Remember that Nietzsche is here talking about the historian, or one who seeks history, as a ‘man of action’ and the reference to ‘active and powerful man’ should not be confused with any idea of a ‘strong man of history’ (e.g. Bismarck in the case of Nietzsche’s opposition to such militarism, Hitler in the case of Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth, and her fascist distortions of such passages, or perhaps, the political rhetoric we find in Tump’s ‘twits’). Please overlook the masculine tone in the language, the message still stands well, albeit from the un-feminist Nietzsche. The passage:
“History belongs, above all, to the active and powerful man, the man who fights one great battle, who needs the exemplary men, teachers, and comforters and cannot find them among his contemporary companions. Thus, history belongs to Schiller: for our age is so bad, said Goethe, that the poet no longer encounters any useful nature in the human life surrounding him. Looking back to the active men, Polybius calls political history an example of the right preparation for ruling a state and the most outstanding teacher, something which, through the memory of other people’s accidents, advises us to bear with resolution the changes in our happiness. Anyone who has learned to recognize the sense of history in this way must get annoyed to see inquisitive travelers or painstaking micrologists climbing all over the pyramids of the great things of the past. There, in the place where he finds the stimulation to breath deeply and to make things better, he does not wish to come across an idler who strolls around, greedy for distraction or stimulation, as among the accumulated art treasures of a gallery. In order not to despair and feel disgust in the midst of weak and hopeless idlers, surrounded by apparently active, but really only agitated and fidgeting companions, the active man looks behind him and interrupts the path to his goal to take a momentary deep breath. His purpose is some happiness or other, perhaps not his own, often that of a people or of humanity collectively. He runs back away from resignation and uses history as a way of fighting resignation. For the most part, no reward beckons him on, other than fame, that is, becoming a candidate for an honored place in the temple of history, where he himself can be, in his turn, a teacher, consoler, and advisor for those who come later. For his orders state: whatever once was able to expand the idea of ‘Human being’ and to define it more beautifully must constantly be present in order that it always keeps its potential.”
From this translation, and John Armstrong’s treatment of the passage, what I gain is the best approach for a historian, or another seeker of history, is that, notwithstanding the important balance between the three methods of history, is action for historical purpose. History, for the good of humanity, cannot be seen as an idle interest in the past – history as entertainment, gossip, curiosity, everything that may give colour to life but there is nothing of the serious love and passionate embrace for finding meaning in our humanity. At a time when history is reduced to war commemoration, novels, films, and other subjectivist mirrors, we need to understand that what is momentum is what makes us human, and this includes what is the ‘ordinary’ struggle to life – the extraordinariness of ordinary life looked backwards.
The accumulation of the three methods comes in this following passage (Nietzsche, Use & Abuse of History, pp. 13- 14):
“These are the services which history can carry out for living. Every person and every people, according to its goals, forces, and needs, uses a certain knowledge of the past, sometimes as monumental history, sometimes as antiquarian history, and sometimes as critical history, but not as a crowd of pure thinkers only watching life closely, not as people eager for knowledge, individuals only satisfied by knowledge, for whom an increase of understanding is the only goal, but always only for the purpose of living and, in addition, under the command and the highest guidance of this life. This is the natural relationship to history of an age, a culture, and a people: summoned up by hunger, regulated by the degree of the need, held to limits by the plastic power within, the understanding of the past is desired at all times to serve the future and the present, not to weaken the present, not to uproot a forceful living future. That all is simple, as the truth is simple, and is also immediately convincing for anyone who does not begin by letting himself be guided by historical proof.”
“And now for a quick look at our time! We are frightened and run back. Where is all the clarity, all the naturalness and purity of that connection between life and history? How confusedly, excessively, and anxiously this problem now streams before our eyes! Does the fault lie with us, the observers? Or has the constellation of life and history altered, because a powerful and hostile star has interposed itself between them? Other people might point out that we have seen things incorrectly, but we want to state what we think we see. In any case, such a star has come in between, an illuminating and beautiful star. The constellation has truly changed through science, through the demand that history is to be a science. Now not only does life no longer rule and control knowledge about the past, but also all the border markings have been ripped up, and everything that used to exist has come crashing down onto people. As far back as there has been a coming into being, far back into the endless depths, all perspectives have also shifted. No generation ever saw such an immense spectacle as is shown now by the science of universal becoming, by history. Of course, history even shows this with the dangerous boldness of its motto: Fiat veritas, pereat vita [let the truth be done and let life perish].”
Although it is not apparent from the philosophical subject matter, this essay is a plea for historians to find the compatibility, for the writing of public history, of the personal and the social. More fashionable historiographies of memoir, oral history, biography, are driving the conversation of history into solipsistic direction. It is the opposite extreme to the absolutist historiography we had at the beginning of the last century.
Different fields of philosophy and the humanities investigate the same ideas. The purpose of this chart is demonstrate the interrelation of ideas on consciousness and reality across three fields, and to show that the interrelation rejects the extreme positioning, one which articulates too simplistic dichotomies, and the other to reduce everything to the one idea or thing. What has been brought together here is the acknowledgement of several working assumptions of philosophers. One is that we can, and ought to, talk of existence, and thus reality. What is spoken of, or referenced, has the possibility of existing or not, of being real or an illusion. Modern philosophy begins with Descartes’ idea that ‘I exist’. There are philosophers who continue to argue that the idea of self, personal identity, or ego, is an illusion. My concern, which seems to have gone unnoticed in the literature, is what it is to have an illusion. ‘I’ believe that the talk of ontological illusion is confused. What is understood as ‘illusion’ is a trick to prevent a reality being perceived. A magician’s illusion is only understood when the trick is revealed against the background of reality. The magician had temporally been successful to elude our view of what she is really doing. When the trick is revealed we see that we have fallen for an illusion because there was something really happening which we were not perceiving. Hence, I cannot see how self, personal identity, or ego, is an illusion in any ordinary meaning. How is it possible to perceive that I do not exist, that I only have an illusion of existing, when it is ‘I’ that is the thinking thing which is doing the perceiving? There are three possible counter-arguments here. One is to say that it is ‘God’, nirvana, or some ‘Other’ from where the perception lies and ‘I’ am merely the dream or the idea of that perception. The second and third possible manoeuvres are to point to the misapprehension in language. The human species developed language within a cosmology which is fundamentally flawed. One option is to then to dismiss all metaphysics as unworthy of any serious comment. We accept mysteries as mysteries and speak not of them. The other option, and the third manoeuvre, is to conclude that the logic of language does not reveal what is happening, and so we must abandon ‘logicentrism’. Thus we find the post-structuralist ‘postmodernist’. The first manoeuvre is that of traditional religion. The second manoeuvre is a pragmatic or Wittgenstein’s idea of a language game that merely works but does not reveal anything universally. The third manoeuvre is to reject any need to reason and merely assert what is ‘willed’. However, what it is to ‘understand’ rebels against these manoeuvres. If there is surrender to fate, predestination, or to the void, understandably it is something that acts which is not just fate, predestination, or nothingness. Secondly, although what is ‘I’ is certainly contextualised, having particulars temporarily (that is, passing into nothingness) does not make it less real. Satire’s view of consciousness as ‘nothingness’ appears to accept that temporal reality of past-future and future-past, where the present is elusive but still a moment in a process that happens, and that happening or action is understandably ‘some-one’. Finally, one might choose to assert all types of illogicalness as evidence of not being fooled by rational language, but what we have is not merely the ‘power of will’, the cosmic force of the universe, not if there is understanding. So, in understanding, I exist. There is consciousness. From that central idea, flows the interrelation of other ideas which form the ‘common sense’ worldview, the worldview that is referred to as modernity. It may sound strange to the modern mind (‘I’) but solipsism and immaterialism were once taken as serious options; the former concluding that only ‘I exist’ and the latter that only the idea exist and there is no material substance. In the modern world these anti-realist options have become no more than epistemological exercises; thus, in common usage, no sane person will deny that other persons exist, or that we live in a hard material world, but there are still serious questions of the knowledge of such perceptions. Explaining reality is a little harder, and non-realist options remain. The modern anti-realist, however, has to conclude universality in non-reality. If the class ‘other persons’, or ‘inanimate objects’, do not exist in total, than neither do ‘I’. There are connections which flow from acknowledging consciousness. In pushing out, in time-space, there is action upon something else, or someone else. As well as being described as temporal movement, consciousness (‘I’) understands. It also seeks understanding from others. If I believe that I have understanding from others, there is direct evidence that other persons exist, since what it is to be a ‘person’ involves, not only the capacity to perceive, but the capacity to understand. In that we can also say other non-human species also share a capacity for understanding, but the quality and degree of understanding is different according to cognitive structures. Equally, we are individually conscious of objects where we discern no understanding, nor the capacity. I do not expect that the chair I am sitting on understand what it is I am doing right now. There are material objects, and persons are not material objects in the same way as basic material objects. The difference is consciousness, but it is not to re-introduce ‘the ghost in the machine’ as we have in Cartesian dualism. Consciousness is not a thing; it is the processes of the functioning brain. If we choose not to recognise consciousness, even as a substantially nothingness, as in a process of temporal movement, which is to say it is an existence, then it is difficult to understand how it is to understand anything else. From an argument of interrelation of ideas inherited on consciousness and reality, it is difficult to see how one cannot but reason a conclusion of an order which recognise self, others, and a material world. One can try package the lot as a complete illusion, dream, or the misapprehension of language, but the order still stands as reality. The impregnability of the total illusion, dream, or language means that the interrelated order is unmoved. What changes, even chaos, is managed within that order. To argue otherwise, is to abandon logic, to abandon reason, and to abandon understanding. And that seems impossible to do.
Introducing the Mapping Brisbane History Project for the 2016 Professional Historians Australia Conference, Melbourne, Australia
Google Maps and Google Earth in 2005 revived a sub-discipline that had been badly neglected in the previous couple of decades, historical geography.
Online historical mapping was generated on a number of different platforms and spurred a plethora of webpages devoted to promoting historical sites.
Unfortunately the methodologies utilized often fail to capture the historical character, the sense of place and the sense of change in society and individual lives, as it appeared on the landscape.
The basic problem is that the local history mapping sites are not aimed at historical themes and narratives.
The well-funded Queensland Historical Atlas is a wonderful collection of images and essays, but there is no actual online mapping program. We are still not getting the comprehensive view that we once recognised as historical geography.
The Mapping Brisbane History Project is a long-term scheme which currently resides in The Mapping Brisbane Southside History (MBSH) Project, under the auspices of the Brisbane Southside History Network (BSHN) and managed by four professional historians. The idea is that we map the Brisbane Southside first and, at any time, other teams can form to map the Brisbane Northside using our methods. The history of Brisbane has traditionally been this divide of the Brisbane River.
There are different elements to the project. These elements coordinate to produce the history.
As is common with Google mapping and History Pin, we are marking sites. The difference is that we include extensive and well-structured descriptions as data fields. This is particularly true for the site’s significance where a description is summarize within 200 words.
The main element of the project is the five stages of research, covering 41 study areas. The approach of the project is not to consider historical sites singularly but as integrated parts of the changing landscape. The idea of boundaries is unpopular and yet the truth is that boundaries are always popularly generated, both as a matter of formation and breaking them down. Boundaries are fluid and people do continually crossover them, but these factors means boundaries exist historically.
Understanding what is occurring over time within distinctive suburban areas means we can understand historical themes much better – the relationship with the indigenous population and the land, culture, education, industry and commerce, transportation, and government.
The last, and the most ambitious, element of the project is to reproduce different sections of the landscape at various points in time, to be able to map its changing features. While the focus here is urbanisation, we are also looking at the way the shifting environment reflects the mutable ways of life.
How far would you take the concept of race in writing a social history?
The problem is that the concept sits much on appearance, and, in the twist of discussing the idea of race, it is too easy to have the appearance of being racist, the stance where the racial category has more importance than it really deserves.
Intellectual appearance can be as confusing as physical human attributes, and the first thing one must say, that in this focus on "white history", there are no white supremacists in sight. These are enterprises where the examination of a "race", sits on a presumption for equity across the human species.
The problem is that historians are starting with a very misconstrued category. And yet it ought not to be ignored when the idea has played a significant role in how people thought in the past. The issue is that any history around appearance will only be skin-deep. The historian has to dig deeper, and hence, we have a difficult question in any social history, of how important is the concept of race as the historical force we apply to the past.
I think that the Portland Community College project is slightly misconstrued in arguing that "whiteness does not simply refer to skin color, but an ideology based on beliefs, values, behaviors, habits and attitudes", which I take as an argument that appearance becomes the whole ideology. However, where then are other important ideological categories where significant discrimination has arisen -- class, religion, politics, gender, and the appearance of physical disability? It is probably not the intention of the advocates to overlook these factors. I am sure that they would recognize these other categories in a broader social history. Nevertheless, some differences in the historical grouping of one "racial identity" have to be taken into account. It is undoubtedly true that white supremacists of the past uniformly worked from an ideology of whiteness, however, that is not true of every person who could be included into a single racial grouping. Nell Painter referred to those who felt discriminated, in the past, as Catholics and Jews. We clearly have here categories which are far more important than the physical appearance of the person.
There is a presumption of whiteness when thinking about these religious or cultural identifications; however, we know that the presumption is not necessarily true. Whiteness does have something to do with the discriminatory response. There is much made of "Europeanization" in third-world colonialism, however, what is missed is the line between Northern and Southern Europe, where the northern end sat on the idea of a purer whiteness, in contrast to darker hair and skin tone of the Mediterranean peoples. And yet the Spanish and Italians account for a larger part of the history in europeanising the globe. Physical appearance does not go deeper enough for a fuller understanding in social history.
Furthermore, while the idea of mirroring back upon the perpetrators of discrimination has merit, we can get confused about what is being reflected back. There is a human tendency to notice different physical appearances when it is not common to the community we inhabit. Indeed, the same is true for foreign cultural habits the particular persons are not use to encountering. However, the history we are reflecting upon is changing and diverse. Cultural habits changes in both directions, even if it happens unevenly between groupings. Hence, the historian has to be careful about what is being reflected back in the contemplation of the past. Is it the fears or the concerns of the historian's own idea or practice of "race”? There was (and perhaps still is) a construction of race in the minds of many. The problem is that it is a misconstrued concept if we start with a larger framework of what it is to be human. And this is a matter of taking the radical postmodernist argument and placing it on its head. The radical postmodernist took the wrong turn in denying the category of human, and played hard in the world of fragmentation. However, for fairness to all living things (including that which is not human), what is the most important category in history -- race or what it is to be human? That was the question of the European Enlightenment, and for having its historical origins there (and that's debatable in its originality), it can be not be characterized by the appearance of a presumed whiteness.