Soundtracks: Songs that Defined History

When does history begin? raised questions about when modern events like 9/11 move from news to historical event.

My prompt for this was, in part, an engaging new documentary series on SBS, Soundtracks: Songs that Defined History. Eight key events in recent American history are explored through the popular music that influenced the event and defined the collective memory of that time.

SBS kicked off the series with the episode exploring 9/11. The use of music to understand 9/11 and its aftermath seemed to work brilliantly. Gold star viewing!

The show started with songs like The Rising by Bruce Springsteen that calmed and comforted people dealing with overwhelming shock and grief. It highlighted how classics like New York State of Mind by Billy Joel and We are family by Sister Sledge, played at Benefit concerts were reborn as anthems of strength and solidarity.

Later when shock and grief turned to anger country music caught the national mood, with Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue one of the angriest songs. Against this trend Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks, just before the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq, made a throw-away comment, that she was ashamed of President Bush a fellow Texan. Conservative Americans were outraged. Three years later The Dixie Chicks  told a polarised America they were Not ready to make nice.

The show also featured the songs of commemoration. The segment on the ten-year anniversary and Paul Simon singing The Sound of Silence made me cry. The 2009 Empire State of Mind by Jay Z and Alicia Keys a song representing a renewed and resilient New York gave the story of 9/11 an upbeat ending, a story of survival.

I think this is a great series to watch if you are interested in popular music and recent American history. Also a great example of how we can make history that is entertaining, informative and important!

What are the soundtracks that have defined Australian history? Suggestions?



When does history begin?

Monday was the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11. The events of that day were so shocking that for many people they are unforgettable. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the United States by terrorists who hijacked jets and crashed them into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania.

To me 9/11 doesn’t seem that long ago. I cannot imagine how close it feels to those directly affected. With modern events like 9/11, I wonder when does history begin? Do we need some distance from an event before it can be seen from a historical perspective? Is it ever too soon to start writing about the history of an event? When did historians start thinking about 9/11 in historical terms?

When do you think history begins or should begin?

What do you have to do to be a buff?

History spark by another name provided ideas on how you might describe your passion for history.  It reminded me of this sweet Seinfeld exchange.

GEORGE: Wow, Keith Hernandez. He’s such a great player.

JERRY: Yeah, he’s a real smart guy too. He’s a Civil War buff.

GEORGE: I’d love to be a Civil War buff. … What do you have to do to be a buff

JERRY: So Biff wants to be a buff? … Well sleeping less than 18 hours a day
would be a start.

—writers, Larry David and Larry Levin

Note, if you are a Seinfeld fan or buff,  I found the transcript for this Seinfeld episode at Seinfeld Scripts. 

History spark by another name

I am reading Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler. The book tells the story of the Byzantium empire and Constantinople, its radiant city. Anchoring the narrative, is Richard’s travels with his teenage son, Jo, to find what they can of the Byzantium world in modern-day Turkey.

From the start of the book, Richard describes himself as more a history enthusiast than an historian. That made me smile. I think that is me, a history enthusiast.

My partner, however, a history enthusiast has coined his own descriptor, recreational historian.

This had me thinking about how others with the history spark may want to describe themselves. Here are some suggestions for you:

  1. History enthusiast
  2. Recreational historian
  3. Amateur historian
  4. History buff
  5. History nut
  6. History fancier
  7. History hobbyist
  8. History sideliner
  9. History bug
  10. History devotee

Do you like any of these? How do you describe your passion for history?

Ghost empire

Ghost Empire


Project1917, Telling the Russian revolution

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution.

project1917 is an amazing resource if you want to know more about the Russian revolution.  The idea is to let users experience Russia in 1917 by sharing the thoughts and actions of people whose lives were caught up in the events of that year.  This involves daily postings on social media of writings by some 300 historical figures as they witnessed and participated in the making of history.

I have a fondness for the Russian revolution. In my final years at high school my favourite subject was modern history. The particular stream we studied was Revolutions. The Russian revolution was a key aspect of the course. I hope to follow project1917, more closely, in the lead-up to the centenary of the October revolution (or November, in today’s calendar) and reignite my interest in this momentous period in Russian history.

Let me know what you think of project2017? Do you like these interactive/collaborative/digital history projects? Or do you prefer more traditional formats?


World War One patriotic postcard, featuring woman in traditional Russian costume