Yesterday (12 October) was the centenary of the First Battle for Passchendaele. This was the last major Australian engagement in the Third Ypres campaign on the Western Front. Australian, New Zealand and British forces unsuccessfully attempted to take the Passchendaele heights from the defending Germans.
For Australians, Passchendaele became shorthand for the slaughter and suffering of the Western Front. The fighting was ferocious, in heavy rain and on an endless pool of mud. The battle left seven thousand ANZACs dead or injured. Below is one of the many reports that appeared in Australian newspapers in the immediate aftermath of the First Battle for Passchendaele. This one was published on 16 October 1917 in The Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW : 1873 – 1954).
Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I’m still waiting
— Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, Emily Robison, and Dan Wilson
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?
Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line.
— Bruce Springsteen
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?
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
Today, marks the centenary of the Great Strike of 1917. According to Joan Beaumont in Broken Nation the Australian eastern states erupted into industrial warfare in August 1917.
The catalyst was a dispute in the New South Wales Government Tramways Workshops in Randwick, Sydney. The railway management eager to cut costs introduced a new card system designed to measure the cost and performance of each worker. In response about 6,000 railway and tramway men stopped work on 2 August.
Within five weeks, almost 70,000 workers, across three states and numerous industries had joined the industrial action. Despite this initial energy, by September and October strikes at individual workplaces were broken and the union movement were left significantly diminished.
As Joan explains, the historical importance of the Great Strike of 1917 has largely been forgotten, overshadowed by the stronger story of the Anzac legend. Its centenary today is a good reminder that the search for historical truth is not always found in the headlines of history.
Do you think other events have been overshadowed by the story of the Anzac legend? How would you describe the Anzac legend?
Victorian Government railway engineering works, 1879