I currently have a part-time contract at the University of Melbourne in a non-academic, communications role. I feel that my work is valued and that I am supported by my unit and my managers. Nevertheless, I'm on strike. Why?...continue reading
On 14 October, Australians will be voting in a referendum on the following question:
A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Do you approve this proposed alteration?
The proposed alteration is:
Chapter IX Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
129 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice
In recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia:
- there shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice;
- the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to the Parliament and the Executive Government of the Commonwealth on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, including its composition, functions, powers and procedures.
I'll be voting yes. Here's why....continue reading
'In the future, every historian will be relevant for 15 minutes', as somebody once said. Here's my 15 minutes, an interview with journalist Connor Echols for Responsible Statecraft on the parallels between the 1913 phantom airship panic and the 2023 spy balloon panic. As I've been busy with other things and have had to watch take after hot take flash by (most interestingly from my point of view was Jeff Sparrow in the Guardian invoking another interest of mine, balloon riots), I appreciated the opportunity to think about what I do think (if that makes sense!)...continue reading
Last night I had my first full-on anxiety dream about nuclear war since the 1980s. As ICBM trails arced across the blue sky overhead, I ran for the safety of a nearby shelter -- and confirmed that the Third World War had started by getting out my phone to check my social media feeds.
Of course, I'm quite safe here in Australia. It's not my home town which is being shelled by Russian artillery, not my family which is being killed in Putin's unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. The risk of escalation is not non-zero, but would be increased dramatically if the calls from some quarters for a no-fly zone -- in some ways, an ad hoc kind of international air force -- were heeded. But, despite the dreams of liberal militarists, airpower is not a bloodless panacea; air war always has been real war. It's not a cheap way to avoid fighting. Fortunately everybody with a direct say in the matter seems to be well aware that a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine would be a very bad idea indeed. So, I probably should be able to sleep easier than I am. But there's a very interwar kind of trauma involved in reliving an existential fear all over again. We've all been here before, again....continue reading
Exactly six months ago today, I posted about some aerial theatre in the time of coronavirus. That was the first time I mentioned the pandemic on Airminded, and it is, of course, still here (Victoria is -- hopefully -- nearing the end of its second wave, with 42 new cases reported today, down from a peak of 686 on 4 August, and a total of 737 deaths), but so is the aerial theatre. The Aircraft Restoration Company's NHS Spitfire Project evolved out of the Clap For Our Carers social media movement to support NHS health workers. That ended back in May, but the NHS Spitfire is still flying around the UK (and is still looking for sponsors).
On Wednesday, 27 May 2020, I was privileged to give a seminar to the Contemporary Histories Research Group at Deakin University on my aerial theatre research -- via Zoom, as is the current fashion. I really enjoyed giving it, and I think it was a great success (and thanks to everyone who listened in and especially those to took the time to ask questions). Because the seminar pulls together some of the different things I've been working on in some kind of coherent way, I wanted to make it available to a wider audience, and so yesterday I post-tweeted my own seminar. And to make it less (?) ephemeral, now I'm embedding the entire 51-tweet thread here in a blog post. It is of course very much a condensed version of what I said, but it's always surprising how much of the essence gets through in tweet form. (Well, I understand what I'm trying to say, but then I would, wouldn't I?)
The seminar title is 'History from below, looking up: aerial theatre, emotion and modernity'. The abstract is:
In the early 20th century, the aeroplane was the symbol of modernity par excellence. Technological change is an essential part of this sense of modernity, and few technological changes have been as dramatic or as unmistakable as the conquest of the air. For the first few decades of the twentieth century, flying was the object of intense popular fascination, and yet few people actually flew themselves, even as passengers, before the tremendous expansion of aviation during and after the Second World War. Even so, their experience of flight was often intensely exciting, since one of the most common ways to encounter flight was through seeing it, as an aviation spectacle in the form of aerial theatre such as air displays and air races. People flocked to aerodromes in their cumulative millions to watch aircraft in flight, performing aerobatics or fighting mock battles. This was a mass form of popular culture, which explicitly and implicitly made claims about the present and -- even more so -- future ability of technology to change the world, for better or for worse. In this talk I will sketch out an emotional history of aerial theatre, focusing on how it helped to construct popular ideas about modernity, primarily in Britain and Australia.
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In the previous post I looked at Nigel Biggar's use of the Berlin Airlift and Richard Hillary in his paean to the RAF. Now I will look at his other argument in Providence, that 'In the past 100 years then, the Royal Air Force has made a vital contribution to the military defense of the West'. By this he means the Battle of Britain, of course:
The early phases of the battle saw mere handfuls of fighters throw themselves against hundreds of German bombers. Without their victory, Hitler's military would have probably overwhelmed Britain's resistance, and America’s subsequent struggle would have been immeasurably more difficult. Fighting for Europe from England proved hazardous enough in 1944; trying to retake it from the far side of the Atlantic would have been almost impossible. Hence Winston Churchill's famous remark, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
Again, it's easy to quibble (Fighter Command was hardly down to 'mere handfuls' of aircraft, for example, and whether Britain could have been successfull invaded is extremely doubtful), but I absolutely agree that the British victory was a Good Thing.
Kim Wagner pointed out an article in Providence ('A journal of Christianity & American foreign policy') by Nigel Biggar, entitled 'Thank God for the Royal Air Force!'. Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, has attained some notoriety for his 'Ethics and Empire' research project, which seeks
- to trawl the history of ethical critiques of ‘empire’;
- to test the critiques against the historical facts of empire; and thereby
- to garner possible ethical resources for contemporary deployment
- to develop a nuanced and historically intelligent Christian ethic of empire;
- and so to enable a morally sophisticated negotiation of contemporary issues such as military intervention for humanitarian purposes in culturally foreign states, the cohesion of multicultural societies, and settling imperial pasts
That's according to Biggar's website. According to his critics (i.e. scholars of empire and colonialism), this
'balance sheet' approach to empire is rooted in the self-serving justifications of imperial administrators, attempting to balance out the violence committed in the name of empire with its supposed benefits. It has long since lost its scholarly legitimacy, as research has instead moved to trace the actions which occurred in the name of empire in their complexity through time.
Since last I posted, COVID-19 has continued its spread: the Guardian is currently reporting 378,000 cases worldwide, 16,500 deaths, and 101,000 recoveries. (I post these figures not so much for the information of anyone reading at the present time, but more as context for future readers.) Like most people, I think, I'm coping: healthy, but anxious. Reading and writing history can be a distraction, but not always. In fact, given my historical line, it's hard not to draw comparisons between the present crisis and the world wars.
[With apologies to Gabriel García Márquez and Ben Wilkie.]
It's not that long ago that I was posting about the Australian bushfires; now it's the turn of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, and it's worldwide. Social media is an essential tool in such times of crisis, but it also can be a misleading one. Here's a fairly trivial example relevant to my own interests.
Kathleen tweeted this on 13 March:
The Italian airforce gives a big emotional lift to their nation with Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma (let no one sleep)and where lyrics say venceremos(we will overcome)they have their planes dramatically facing and overpowering the single plane (virus) with their National Flag!
As of 16 March, the attached video has been viewed 10.6 million times. And why not? The display is beautiful, the music inspirational, and it fits in with other videos we've all seen of quarantined Italians singing together from their balconies. Unity and culture will defeat the pandemic! Viva Italia!