Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wanderings - history, politics and institutional fragility

This post is both a round-up and the Monday Forum even if its coming out on Tuesday!. As always, go in whatever direction you want.

I have been on something of a roll on the history side in the almost two weeks since I wrote Bogged down in writing.

I have now bought up a consolidated post on the first part of the series on the early days of higher education in New England. After eight parts, I felt that readers deserved a break!

Hels from Art and Architecture, Mainly  commented on the male dominance in photos. In response, I pointed to this photo of the pioneer group at the Armidale Teachers' College in 1928 with 33 women and 30 men.

Hels is right in a general sense of course, although primary teaching was one field which provided a career path for women. Hels also commented on the difference between sex segregation in NSW and Victoria, suggesting that NSW was more highly sex segregated in things such as single sex schools. Hadn't though of that.

New African discoveries about the deep past of homo sapiens keep rolling out. Yesterday's history post, Paleoanthropologists having fun - Almost Human, new discoveries from Jebel Irhoud, outlines details of the latest results. If you follow the links through, you will get a quick Cooks tour of the evolution of African prehistory. This stuff is actually important, because the research coming out now is invalidating certain preconceptions deeply embedded in elements of Western thinking. One example is the progressive discrediting of the simple linear view of the evolution of homo sapiens.

Having finished the first series on the early days of higher education in New England, my Express focus has shifted to the mystery of the  Anaiwan or Nganjaywana language spoken on the New England Tablelands. This link will take you through to the latest column.

The Express has taken to re-posting most of my columns on their Facebook page. This one got 24 likes. That's unusual, so I was rather pleased. They have also changed the layout a little so that the story includes links back to past posts in the series. That also pleased me.

 Staying with history, I want to link two apparently unrelated posts by two of my favourite bloggers.

I have already mentioned hels. This year is 150 years since the Queen Victoria signed the British North America Act, thus allowing the creation of Canadian Confederation. Hel's Let's celebrate Canada's 150 years since Confederation provides an overview.The second post comes from the Resident Judge of Port Phillip, Surviving Peace: A Political Memoir’ by Olivera Simic, a book review that deals with the sense of loss that followed the break-up of the old Yugoslavia.

The linkage between the two, and it is only a linkage in my mind, lies in the fragility of human institutions and the loss we can experience when the familiar and accepted is taken away. This can be hard to recognise in circumstances where subsequent perceptions are so strongly set by the victors.   .

The American Revolution, the first North American civil war, is a case in point. In the glorification attached to the Revolution it is easy to forget that there were losing sides. One losing side was the various Indian nations, for one of the proximate causes of the conflict lay in concerns that the Government in London would inhibit westward expansion.

The second losing side were the Loyalists who according to Wikipedia were barred from public office, forbidden from practising medicine and law, forced to pay increased taxes, barred from executing wills or becoming guardians to orphans.Congress enabled states to confiscate Loyalist property to fund the war, and offered them a choice between swearing loyalty to the republic, or either face exile, or forfeit the right to protection. Quakers, who remained neutral, had their property confiscated. States later prevented Loyalists from collecting any debts they were owed. Tens of thousands escaped to what would become Canada including former slaves who had fought for Britain in return for the promise of freedom.  .

As Hels column draws out, the processes involved in the creation of what we now call Canada were slow. She starts her story with the British North America Act. However, the period from the end of the Revolutionary War with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and 1867 when the Act was proclaimed involved a variety of change processes including the War of 1812, the failed attempt by the US to invade the Canadian colonies.

While Canada today is seen as having a distinct identity, the evolving sense of Canadian identity was fragile and often fractious involving different colonies with different histories, including the large French speaking presence. This remains true today.

The Yugoslavia case also demonstrates institutional fragility, as well as the sense of loss that come from change. Formed in 1918 following the end of the First World War (the name Yugoslavia itself was adopted in 1929), Yugoslavia had a turbulent history including the Second World Way, the creation of a communist state and then break-up during the Balkan or Yugoslav Wars. The break-up left those who did not identify with particular groups with a profound sense of loss.

I accept that I have wandered. There are, in fact, two quite different issues in my mind. The first is the need to break through the barriers created by the winning side to understand the sense of loss on the other side, the second question of institutional fragility.

Without going into details at this point, if we look at the UK the decision first by Prime Minister Cameron to go for a Brexit referendum and then Prime Minister May's decision to go to an early election has graphically revealed UK fault lines that leave the very survival of the United Kingdom at risk.         


Anonymous said...

I hope somewhere in your NE writings you pay some regard to the role, now diminishing, of the various service clubs - Rotary, Lions, Quota, Apex, CWA, etc.

Just finished a sad conversation with a lady from Mittagong, member of Quota, who I'd been supporting in their efforts in reading to 'backward' children (apologies for non-PC) - i.e. disadvantaged, migrant, or simply struggling, for whatever reason.

She rang to say that she, and the only other surviving member of their Quota branch, had had to call it quits - she's 81, the other lady is 10 years her senior.

We've lost a lot of good, make that magnificent, local voluntary organisations over the years - which is not to underplay the Rural Firies, and such - but it's just sad that such a proud and effective part of community life now seems lost and I hope a tiny part of your NE history touches upon their contributions.


Jim Belshaw said...

That is indeed sad, kvd. I have written about the decline in volunteering and service clubs before. Their loss is sad.

I don't actually have a specific section or thread on voluntary organisations including service clubs at the moment. They are there, but as part of the texture. I need to look at that, for the decline is part of the social change at the end of my period.