“Remember, Remember the fifth of November.” I have to admit, I don’t generally remember Guy Fawkes night until I see my friends posting about it on Facebook on the morning of the fifth. I know the basics of what Guy Fawkes day/night commemorates, but not a lot pas that. So, needless to say, this post is not going to be about that.
But what is this post going to be about? Well dear reader…that is a good question.
Have I mentioned that I am a historian? I think I may have mentioned that I (very) recently graduated with an M.A. in History. As of yet, I have not had any history related posts on this blog, not really anyways. Am I planning on including history related posts here? I’d like to. So why haven’t I? Well, in part at least, it’s because I have been so focused on writing history related material for the last year that I’ve been itching to write something different. My “non-academic” written voice is so rusty, musty, and dusty that I’ve needed to work on airing it out and making sure it still exists. You could say that for the last couple months I’ve been enjoying stretching some less used writing muscles while letting some other overused muscles rest.
“Okay. So this post is going to be history related then? That, dear reader…is a good question.
This morning my brain is in history mode. Why is that, you may ask? Maybe it’s because I’ve been gradually editing a paper that may end up published in the local history report/journal. But I don’t think that’s it. “Okay, then what do you think it is?” Well, remember how I mentioned Guy Fawkes night? “Yes, but you said you don’t really know much about it.” You’re right. I don’t. But I do know the phrase “Remember, Remember, the fifth of November.” “Yeah, you mentioned that already. But what does that have to do with anything?” Well, let me ask you this. Have I ever mentioned that one of the historical topics I study relates to memory and commemoration? Ah, there it is.
“Remember, Remember…” What does it mean to remember? As I discovered while writing my Major Research Paper this past year, writing about memory can be like trying to catch a handful of smoke or fog. Just when you think you’ve succeeded, you realize it’s all seeped out of your tightly clenched fist. “Okay, now you’re beginning to sound crazy. You can’t ‘catch’ fog or smoke.” Well, I admit, it’s tricky. And it’s not so much about catching it as it is about watching the swirls and movement and capturing as much of the essence and body as you can. I still sound crazy don’t I? Don’t worry, that’s just you catching a glimpse of the difficulties a historian who studies memory faces. And can I tell you a secret? I love it.
“Okay, so this post is going to be about history and memory then?” Well, I guess in a way it has become that way but only because I started out writing this post thinking, what about today? What am I going to write about today? What’s that? You’re confused? I’m sorry – that’s because there’s still another part of my thought process from this morning. Let’s go back to the story at hand, shall we?
“Remember, Remember…” Now that you know that one of the historical topics I study is memory you may have another question. The memory of what, exactly? Well, one of the other topics I study (and probably the topic that really got me into studying history), is military history. In particular Canadian military history. “Oh, so you’re one of those historians that glorifies war and battle then.” No, I most certainly am not. “Okay, then you must be the one who studies boring tactics and weapons and numbers.” No, no, I’m not that either. Don’t get me wrong, my studies often include a knowledge of tactics and weapons and numbers (and all of them have a place in military history), but that’s not all of it. Not even close. I’ve always had an interest in the battles themselves – how they were fought, who won etc. But more than that, I’ve always been interested in the people. I’m most interested in the soldiers. Why did they fight? What kept them in one piece? What happened when they broke mentally and emotionally? What did they do to keep up their morale? What exactly was, the soldier’s culture that developed. I like to refer to myself as a cultural military historian. I study battles and tactics yes, but also topics that aren’t traditional. Like morale, and entertainment. And memory.
“Remember, Remember…” November 11, at least in Canada and some other parts of the world, is Remembrance Day. The day that we collectively remember the war that officially ended November 11, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. We remember that war, the war that was to “end all wars.” We also remember the wars that followed it. Because it didn’t end all wars. November 11, 1918 did not usher in an era of peace. Far from it in fact. So that, dear readers, is what I have been thinking about today. I have been thinking about the post I am going to publish on Remembrance Day. I have to admit I started an outline and some basic writing on it today. I hesitated, because I am trying to start my posts with as little “pre-written” as possible for each day in November. But the ideas were there this morning, and I’m enough of a writer to know that if I didn’t get them down, they would be like smoke and fog next Monday when I sat down to write. Maybe on Monday, when you read my post you’ll think it was worth it. Maybe you’ll think I should have just waited to start the post on Monday. Whatever the case, I’m okay with that. Because, as a historian who studies war and memory, I think a post written on a day set aside to remember, should be given some thought and care. And as of right now, I don’t know what my schedule will be like on Monday.
So, dear reader, that is why my post today is entitled “What about today?” Because when I sat down to write I was thinking about war, and memory and people from a century ago who did not know how much change one year would bring to their lives. And all I could think was, “okay, there’s a post for Monday. But what am I going to write about today?”
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Marcel Proust
(Crossposted to BlogHer)