About the header image, about me

One of the fun and, well, confronting things about starting a blog – at least for me – is that it’s not just about the writing. A blog needs a ‘Theme’. ‘Widgets’. And… a header image.

When I published my first post last week, I had no idea what the header image for Milstorical should be. Then I remembered @perkinsy‘s at her blog Stumbling Through the Past, looked around my study, and realised I had several cool things to photograph. The resulting image, below, also says quite a bit about why I’m interested in the things I’m interested in.

cropped-milstorical-header.jpg

“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts,” advised E.H. Carr.[1] Well, here’s a rather personal look at this (aspiring) historian, through some objects.

First, the books: some essential First World War volumes from my library. Visible are The Anzac Book, From the Australian Front 1917, Anzac to Amiens by C.E.W. Bean, and the Passchendaele volume of the British official history.

The bottom layer of the image consists of two maps souvenired on the battlefield tours I was incredibly privileged to undertake while still at high school. The map on the right, of the Anzac area at Gallipoli, comes from a trip to Turkey as the 2003 New South Wales winner of the Simpson Prize. The Simpson Prize, named for stretcher-bearer Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, “The man with the donkey”, is an annual history essay competition for Australian students in Years 9 and 10. State and territory winners travel to Gallipoli for Anzac Day; in recent years they’ve blogged about it. In her co-edited volume What’s Wrong With Anzac? (2010), Marilyn Lake situates the Simpson Prize in a “militarisation” of Australian history (teaching) carried out by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and references “One mother [who] told me that her son ‘did military history last year in school and was asked to submit an essay for the Simpson Prize’… Her son found it all pretty ‘gagging’.”[2] For me, my Simpson Prize essay and trip – astutely guided by Stewart Mitchell of the Australian War Memorial – were not ‘gagging’ but what transformed my interest in Australian history in general and war history in particular into a passion. Hence my decision to include the Simpson Prize letterhead in the header image. I couldn’t believe it when I won a second battlefield tour, to the Western Front, as the 2004 New South Wales Army Cadet of the Year. The map on the left, of Thiepval Wood, was collected on this trip.

The slouch hat is mine from these Army Cadet days. Just visible on the front of the hat is the badge of my school unit, the Hurlstone Agricultural High School Army Cadet Unit. Hurlstone, established in 1911, has a proud military tradition, including laying claim to the first Australian Victorian Cross recipient of the Second World War, John Edmondson. Attending the unveiling of a post-1945 conflicts roll of honour while I was a student at Hurlstone was something else that encouraged my passion for war history.

The silver Lighthorseman figurine was a gift from Belgian Ivan Sinnaeve to my Army Cadet tour when we paraded at the Menin Gate. Sinnaeve makes the figurines from shells found around Ieper as “soldiers of peace”. I call mine “Shrapnel Charlie”, after Sinnaeve’s own nickname. The bronze badge is my Defence Family Pin, with the words “Providing Comfort and Support at Home” surrounding the Royal Australian Air Force crest. It was issued following my husband Andrew’s two deployments to the Middle East and for me recalls the Female Relative Badges of the First and Second World Wars. My own experience of these deployments has strengthened my interest in the interconnections between the battle and home fronts in previous conflicts. The poppy earrings I bought at the Imperial War Museum as a souvenir of my PhD research trip to the UK and Western Front in 2012. Consider them a small, feminine comment on the ways in which military history is still dominated by men. Finally, the Lewis gunner figurine was a very thoughtful gift from a fellow PhD candidate, Lewis Frederickson. He (Lewis the gunner, not Lewis the person) sits on my laptop as I write and keeps me company.

I’m curious: What kind of objects do you surround yourself with in your office? Your home? What do they say about your story and your interests?

Notes

[1] E.H. Carr, What is History? Second Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1987, p. 23. Based on the George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures, University of Cambridge, January – March 1961.

[2] Marilyn Lake, “How do schoolchildren learn about the spirit of Anzac?”, in Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds (eds.), What’s Wrong With Anzac?, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 144-145. It’s worth pointing out that the Simpson Prize is run by the History Teachers’ Association of Australia and funded by the Department of Education, not the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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4 thoughts on “About the header image, about me

  1. A really wonderful post, and I hadn’t really thought of studying the historian before the facts, though now that you’ve articulated this thought I can say that I do follow this (often) in my own field of literature. I suppose it helps us all with the sometimes prickly question of context and bias. Anyway, just wanted to say that your blog is off to a cracking start and I look forward to more posts.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Hannah. I think Carr overdoes it a bit but I still like the sentiment. We (historians and otherwise) all write from a particular perspective and it’s important for readers to take that into account. It’s even more important for us to articulate that perspective for ourselves.

  2. Did you know Ash, that Ivan passed away some time in 2012… 😦

    I still have my Shrapnel Charlie on the Mantlepiece.. He overlooks his new home.

    Fantastic blog by the way..

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