The great stoush

[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

The 15th Military History Carnival has been posted at Cardinal Wolsey's This Day In History. This time around, I'd like to contrast two styles of blog conversation. The first is at Crooked Timber, on the differing memories of the Great War in America and Europe, and the bearing this may have on attitudes to war and peace: not only the post itself but the 170-comment long discussion thread, which features regular Airminded commenter Chris Williams. (See also the cross-post at John Quiggin's own blog, and some comments at Trench Fever.) It's a good example of somebody posting some interesting ideas which resulted in a thorough discussion (though not without its frustrations, and it's a shame that Crooked Timber threads seem to close after such a short time). But while intense, it's pretty localised in time and blog-space.

Compare this with the reaction to a post (which had nothing to do with military history and so wasn't in the Carnival) at Mercurius Rusticus attacking the role and influence of women in the history profession, and gender history in general. The post has now been taken down (Ralph Luker quotes some of it), apparently permanently, though it was up and down a couple of times before that, and for a while the whole blog was closed to all but invited readers. (Another post, quite innocuous as far as I could see, was taken down after being mentioned in a comment at Cliopatria.) Mercurius Rusticus himself (and presumably he's a he) seems uninterested in discussing or defending what he's said in any sensible way: his comments on the matter to date have all been written in the style of a 17th-century scholar, or so I take it. Which is amusing enough but, unless this is an accepted style of discourse amongst early modern historians, seems pretty disrespectful to his interlocutors. As is his most recent post.

But the thing is that this hostility to debate doesn't matter too much, because there are plenty of other places for people to respond, comment, point and laugh. The ones that have come across my feed reader include: Cliopatria (here, here and here), Tenured Radical (here and here), Historiann, Early Modern Notes, Investigations of a Dog, Europe Endless, and Progressive Historians. Mercurius Rusticus isn't doing himself any favours with his evasiveness, but in any event the historioblogosphere is doing a good job of analysing the issue without his further input.

My own attitude is pretty much the same as it was in a somewhat-different context two years ago:

I would have thought that anything that happened in the past is a ‘worthwhile’ subject for study by historians. Anything!

If gender history isn't your thing (and I've already confessed that it's not an approach that I often adopt myself) then just don't do it. I simply don't get why any historian would be offended by the fact that other historians choose to do things differently to themselves -- let alone feel the need to attack them for it. History is such a vast subject that we need to illuminate it from as many angles as possible in order to approach a true understanding of it.

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15 thoughts on “The great stoush

  1. Airminded commentator Chris Williams

    I can understand it. Money. Promotions. Posts. Research Grants. Resources are finite and one way to get more for one’s own brand of research is to rule some potential competing groups out of order.

    Even more, sometimes these essentially Trollopian motives get harnessed to wider political conflicts: I’m sat here with a copy of Macintyre and Clark’s _The History Wars_ on the desk next to mine. Not read it yet, but I’ve asked one of my PhD students to, which is the next best thing.

  2. Ian Evans

    Interesting title – I take it “stoush” is Strine for the Scots “stushie”. What have you done with the (often) sequentially related “stramash”?

  3. Post author

    Chris:

    Yes, I can understand MR’s attack from that point of view: and that was a pretty clear subtext of his post. It’s sadly petty and mean-spirited, but I’ve been around academia long enough to know what it’s like :)

    (By the way, your official ‘Airminded commentator’ badge should be in the mail — apologies for the delay.)

    Ian:

    Not sure, I haven’t heard those words before! Do they mean ‘fight/argument/brawl’ too?

    The ‘Great Stoush’ was apparently an Australian term for the Great War (though I only heard this the other day), so it seemed sort of appropriate here, since John Quiggin is an Australian academic.

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  5. Ian Evans

    Stushie is vigorous debate/argument/shouting match. Stramash goes a bit further and definitely implies a brawl.
    In fitba’ if there are six or more players in the goal area contesting energetically for the ball, Scots commentators refer to a stramash.

  6. My default position tends to agree: no kind of history is more important than any other kind and we need as many different kinds as possible. If everyone accepted that there’d be no problem. When I start making big claims about how important gender is, it’s usually in response to people who insist that gender is somehow less important than whatever they assume is “proper” history.

  7. Post author

    Ian:

    Ok, stoush can mean either of those, then, depending on the context. Somewhere between a blue and a flogging.

    (I had another look and the name for the Great War was the ‘big stoush’, not great stoush … so my post title is not as clever as I thought! Oh well.)

    Gavin:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong in pushing back when you’ve been pushed! Many a fine stoush has started that way :) More seriously, a lot of the resistance comes from those who seem to think that only women have a gender, and/or that gender history equates to neglecting whatever interests them in favour of minor 19th century suffragists or something like that. It should be sufficient to point out that in military history, for example, men and women have had a vastly different experience of war, because it’s men who’ve done the fighting; but that doesn’t mean that war hasn’t affected women or that women haven’t affected war. Gender is needed in military history as much as anywhere else, if not more so … no matter what some old fogeys on WWI-L think!

  8. Ian Evans

    Nearly like buses, you wait decades and two arrive in the same month. The BBC website’s Australian blogger used “stoush” in a mode immediately recognisible in a Scots context. Apparently, in a list of the world’s most liveable-in cities there are six Australian ones in the top 35 and the ranking order “could unleash the most uncivil of civil stouches”.

  9. Post author

    Oh yes, I read Nick Bryant too! Obviously Melbourne > Sydney, I mean nobody in their right mind could question that, but I agree with him that it’s surprising that Hobart isn’t ranked very highly. I’d certainly rather live there than Brisbane …

  10. Ian Evans

    I’m not qualified to comment, but I think my enthusiasm might be easily contained if my home town placed high in a list in which Swiss cities took the top two places!

  11. Ian … that’s probably not so much like waiting for a bus as the fact your awareness (of the term) has now been raised. Rather like the numerous whatever-car-it-is-you-drive you see all over the place. Some call this the reticular activating system. It’s a useful trait for getting stuff done BTW; set your sights on something (a holiday in Tahiti) and wonder as over ensuing days/weeks you encounter lots and lots of options – that you never knew were there! Tom Peters and his BHAGs live in the same world view.

  12. Oh come on – if the A in the original BHAG stands for ‘audacious’ then I can’t tell my audacious from my elbow! That’s surely the point of including the ‘Hairy’ there at all.

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