Holding course

Looking back at the original post, where I define our objective as understanding more about the unspoken history of our Grandfather’s role in the War, we seem to have strayed a rather long way off topic.

To use a flying analogy (sorry), I’d like to think that we are circling over the target rather than veering hopelessly off course.

Before I could start to really think about Grandpa, we needed to gather more context. How could we understand his circumstances without first gaining a broader understanding of the wider picture?

The Battle of Britain marks the first major air-engagement for England and was a logical starting point. As previously noted, to gather the widest view, we’ve been looking at histories, biographies, visiting airfields etc.

This early effort has started to build up the knowledge base, but it then opened up a new question: how does one record history?

If I was a history academic, this question would have been exposed and dealt with during an undergraduate degree (thanks to all those post-modernists), but as an amateur, it’s a troubling matter.

How do you get to the core meaning of any event? Surely facts alone can’t tell a story (look, for example at Westhampnett at War. It gives a list of Squadrons who were based there, but the meaning of the book comes from the long letter of a veteran written many decades later).

This tension is well-represented by Park and Leigh-Mallory. Park, unrecorded in the official history of the Battle, had a bronze statue unveiled in his honour 70 years later. Leigh-Mallory, celebrated and promoted in his short life-time now stands as a political climber who misplayed his hand.

The challenge will come in both interpreting the information we find and in transcribing the facts into our own history.

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2 responses to “Holding course

  • Amy Scott

    As an amateur theorist of history, I have thought a great deal about how we record history. Shakespeare, I suggested in my dissertation (shameless plug!), indicates that we should treat the people of the past as we would treat a dead loved-one that we mourn. We should invite and maintain an emotional, ethical bond that does not detract from fact, but rather enhances our feeling for the facts we have. Paul Ricoeur writes that when it comes to certain events of the past, neutrality is not possible or desirable. He writes that we cannot remain ethically neutral when writing about Auschwitz. In one of the most affecting moments in Time and Narrative (Vol 3), Ricoeur writes that we can either count the dead of the past, or tell their stories. This belief, in the value of “historical imagination” as good old Ricoeur calls it, was the foundation for my own work with Shakespeare’s histories.

    Hadyn White (see my previous post!) quotes Peter Gay: “Historical narration without analysis is trivial, historical analysis without narration is incomplete” ( 5).

    There is no clear formula for how to write history. But I do know that a history that does justice to the past is one that affects the reader emotionally and imaginatively. Because that reader will do as you have done, and continue on writing, asking, questioning. We must not deviate from facts, or fabricate them. But we surely must not simply count the dead.

  • Amy Scott

    p.s. I love the idea of circling the target. I am certain we have not deviated from the course at all! Dad would be immensely proud of the work that you are doing and that is hitting the target enough, in my view.

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