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March 5, 2010

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» History Cinema: "Waltz with Bashir"

The Israeli "Apocalypse Now"

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Introduction and Screening: Tuesday 9th March

In 1982, Israel launched "Operation Peace for Galilee" and invaded the Lebanon. There followed one of the worst atrocities of the Arab-Israeli conflict: the massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men, women and children at the Shateela Refugee Camp.

How did the massacre happen? Who should be blamed? For historians, these are difficult, controversial questions about a event with continuing repercussions, and still in living memory. For Israeli soldiers who fought in the Lebanon, finding answers must surely be more straightforward? Ari Folman, director of "Waltz with Bashir", suggests not. He uses powerfully animated sequences of nightmares and fantasies, amnesia and confusion, to reconstruct his and his generation's experience of a campaign fought and forgotten.

Sharif Gemie, Glamorgan's expert on refugee history and the history of the Middle East, invites all students and staff to a screening of "Waltz with Bashir" on Tuesday 9th March 2010, 4.30-6.30, Room H126. Contact sgemie@glam.ac.uk for further details.

March 20, 2009

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» News from the Classroom ... Trip to St Fagans

Second Year Module: 'Approaches to History'

<image title="Students at St Fagans" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/3/20/stfaganscomphor.jpg" alt="Students at St Fagans">

Throughout the academic year the level two History students have been studying different approaches to history. This is partly in preparation for their final year dissertations, and partly to increase their understanding of the intellectual roots of their own discipline.

As part of this process, students are invited to consider the role of public history. Is it just history-lite? Is the heritage industry there just to provide us with a good day out? Can heritage be both scholarly and accessible? If so, how?

To help answer some of these questions, and to provoke many others, we all went on a day trip to St Fagans National History Museum. Beth Thomas, a curator at the museum, spoke to the students and highlighted some of the many political issues associated with creating a museum of Welsh life: What best represents Welsh life? Who decides what is Welsh? Where does history end and the contemporary world begin? Is there a decidedly Welsh experience in a global capitalist world?

The students then spent the afternoon looking around the site…and a good time was had by all as these pictures testify.

Fiona Reid

February 26, 2009

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» News from the Classroom ... out and about at the Tate Modern



<image title="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/26/tate3.jpg" alt="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern">

Third Year Option: 'From the Second Reich to the Nazis:
Culture, Art and Politics in Germany, 1890-1933'

<image class="left" title="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/26/tateside.jpg" alt="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern">

The years immediately after the First World War are often shrouded in gloom and depression: war was followed by economic strife, deep misery, the rise of the radical right and then more war. There is some truth in this miserable chronology but, like all chronologies, it obscures another truth. For artists, sculptors, architects, film-makers and designers of all sorts, the 1920s were most exhilarating and productive. Revolution in Russia and Germany had been accompanied by great artistic innovation, and the new regimes encouraged artistic experiment.

Many artists were eager to help shape the new world. After the horrors of the First World War and the trauma of revolution many were deeply committed to making a world that was completely different to anything that had ever existed before. Alexander Rodchenko, and Liubov Popova were two of the most influential and prominent members of the Russian avant-garde. Rodchenko was a painter, photographer, sculptor and designer; Popova was an artist and designer. They both rejected the idea that art was the simple representation of reality and – like many artists of the time – saw their work as intrinsic to their politics.

Last week, final year history students on Fiona Reid's 'Culture, Art and Politics' module went to the Tate modern to see an exhibition of Rodchenko and Popova’s work. There were fantastic examples of early abstract compositions: pure colour and pure line. We also had a glimpse into the everyday life of early Soviet Russia. Popova produced designs for peasant women’s headscarves, Rodchenko designed the poster for Eisentein’s famous Battleship Potemkin. Given their political commitment, the artists had no qualms about producing adverts for the new Soviet state. So we saw pictures of Moscow department stores during the New Economic Policy and we saw how Soviet citizens were encouraged to eat ‘Red October cookies’. We could even sit in the chairs that Rodchenko created for his ‘Workers’ club’, one of the Soviet exhibits at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in the summer of 1925.

Powerpoint is brilliant but there is really no substitute for seeing actual works of art. Only then can you gauge size, texture, colour and depth –as well as the indefinable thrill of seeing the original work.

This trip was only possible because the university agreed to subsidise it to a great extent. We would like to thank those responsible.

Thanks also go to John Arnold (Final year History student) for taking the photographs.

Dr Fiona Reid




February 20, 2009

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» News from the Classroom ... When did Nationalism start?

First Year Option: Nations and Empires

<image class="right" title="Philipp Veit, Germania, 1848" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/20/PhilippVeitGermania1848.jpg" height="305" alt="Philipp Veit, Germania, 1848" width="200" />

When did nationalism start? Does it carry specific political values? This module debates nationalism in a series of different contexts. While many people believe that nationalism is something inherent and natural, almost inscribed in the DNA, students taking the Nations and Empires first-year module have been discovering that nationalism has a history. In reality, nationalism did not become a force in mass politics until the late eighteenth century: it was created within the political struggles of the French Revolution.

This module, taught by Sharif Gemie and Fiona Reid discusses three aspects of nationalism and nation-building: it introduces the experiences of the French Revolution; it considers the difficult and often bloody history of European nationalisms and Arab counter-nationalisms; and it analyses the experiences of the loser and the victims during the struggles between nations during the Second World War.




February 16, 2009

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» News from the Classroom: Violence in America

Third Year Option: Violence in America

<image class="left" title="National Rifle Association Logo" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/16/NRA.jpg" alt="National Rifle Association Logo" />

The United States of America is a violent country. On any average day in the U.S. there are 81 gun-related deaths. The murder rate for American men aged between 15 and 24 is 37 per 100,000 — 60 times that of England and Wales. In 25 years of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, 3,000 people died. However, even this horrendous death toll pales in comparison to the murder rate of just one large American city. In New York, over 2,000 people were murdered every year from 1987 to 1994. The response of American law enforcement is to fight violence with violence: according to Amnesty International, in 2002 a total of 71 prisoners were executed in the United States — more than in Syria, North Korea Saudi Arabia and Libya combined.

The United States also exports violence abroad. Even in peacetime, it spends more on its defence budget than the next dozen countries combined. From the Berlin Blockade until just prior the World Trade Center attacks, there were over 200 American military incursions in other countries. No wonder that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Noam Chomsky reminded Americans that they should “recognize that in much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist state”.

Using examples from American literature, television, cinema, comic books, and popular music, the students on Brian Ireland's second-year module, Violence in America, are investigating America’s culture of violence. Why is the United States so violent? Some argue that the entertainment industry is to blame. Through watching contact sports, Hollywood movies, music videos, computer games and television shows, Americans unarguably are exposed to many violence images. For example, one survey has estimated that the average American child sees 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18, and witnesses 16,000 murders. Yet American culture is exported around the world, with no corresponding increase in levels of violence in those countries that are the most eager consumers of violent American entertainment. Some argue that America’s brutal past acts as a paradigm for today’s violent society. Perhaps the seeds of violence sown during the frontier wars against Native Americans, or during the African slave trade, are now being reaped? The United States is, however, not exceptional in having a violent history. Germany and Japan were responsible for two world wars, yet now have much lower levels of violent crime than the United States. Maybe it is the high level of gun ownership that leads to violence? The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that citizens have the “right to bear arms”, and this is one right that Americans are not slow to exercise: the FBI estimates, for example, that there are over 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States. Nevertheless, gun owners claim that their weapons make them safer: the influential National Rifle Association promotes firearm ownership, claiming that citizens need to be armed to safeguard their political liberties. Indeed, they might argue, if it were not for well-armed citizen militias, the U.S. might still be part of the British Empire!

February 6, 2009

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» News from the classroom ... What was the Black Death?

History Foundation Module: What was the Black Death

St Roch with marks of the plague

What was the Black Death? The answer – as every schoolchild knows – is simple: the Black Death was the bubonic plague (or Yersinia Pestis to give it its scientific name). It’s a belief not confined to school children. Lots of websites – and lots of serious history books – confidently tell us that the disease which spread through Europe in the late 1340s and early 1350s was none other than Y. Pestis. How could it be anything else? The painful buboes – or gavoccioli (swellings in the groin and neck) – that were mentioned so frequently by observers in the mid-fourteenth century are surely some of the strongest indicators we have that bubonic plague was responsible for the worst catastrophe in human history.

However, students on Andy Croll’s foundation history module, ‘The Black Death: A Medieval Disaster’, have been looking afresh at some of the primary evidence from the mid-fourteenth century as well as considering some of the latest research by scientists and historians of medicine. Whilst many chroniclers mentioned buboes and painful swellings, we’ve seen how many didn’t. Likewise, we’ve seen how the Black Death spread far more quickly than Y. Pestis spread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and how top scientists from Oxford failed to find DNA evidence of Yersinia in the teeth and bones of Black Death victims exhumed from five mass graves. The death rate of the fourteenth-century disease was also much higher than the modern form of bubonic plague.

So, just what was the Black Death? Experts put forward a number of possibilities ranging from anthrax through to haemorrhagic plague. It could be that the Black Death was an earlier, more deadly, form of bubonic plague that has since mutated. Or it could be that whatever was responsible for millions of deaths in the medieval period has itself died out. Whatever the answer, it’s clear that we have to read our primary sources with much more care than was hitherto the case. One gavocciolo does not make a bubonic plague epidemic.

January 28, 2009

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» News from the classroom ... Lenin's Successor in Soviet Russia

Third Year Option: ‘The Soviet Union and Stalin, 1917-1953’

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/1/27/Stalin-Lenin-Kalinin-1919crop1.jpg" height="248px" alt="Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin, 1919" width="720px">

One popular option among students studying modern European history at Glamorgan is Norry LaPorte’s third year module on ‘The Russian Revolutions and the Soviet Union, 1917-1953’. A typical class deals with the rise of Stalin to absolute power during the 1920s.

Many leading personalities in history have been more than historical actors. By writing memoirs and other accounts of the events they were involved in, they aim to frame the subsequent historical debate. Trotsky was famously one such figure. His eloquent writings on the power struggle to succeed Lenin, after his death in 1924, were influential in prompting generations of scholars to dismiss Stalin as a power-hungry thug with no understanding of Marxism. One man, not the new Soviet system, could be blamed for the degeneration of the evolution, from bright new dawn of the ‘red October’ to the dungeons of the secret police’s torture chambers. Then the fall of the Berlin Wall opened the way to new research which used newly available documentary sources to question seeming certainties. Historians became familiar with previously unknown aspects of Stalin, the Georgian poet and intellectual whose appeal to ‘workers from the bench’ with radical polices were as important as his manipulation of the party machine in becoming Soviet Russia’s bloody, undisputed leader. Trotsky – the writer of history – was shown to have been as politically incompetent as he was intellectually gifted.

Students studying this topic engage with contemporary accounts of how Stalin came to power, questioning them in the light of the new findings and interpretations of new literature – such as Dimitri Volkoganov’s monumental biographies of Stalin and Trotsky. There is only one problem with studying the fall of the Russian Empire and the rise of the Soviet Union – how do you put the books down or walk out of the seminar room?