- The latest Military History Carnival is up at Wig-Wags.
- The Institute of Historical Research is carrying out a survey to find out what people think about the possibility of podcasting/vidcasting research seminars. Go and tell them what you think. Their digital seminars project also has its own blog.
- Ross Mahoney linked to a UK National Archives project which involves post blogging the Second World War on Twitter using cabinet papers: @ukwarcabinet
- Meanwhile, the National Archives wiki Your Archives is starting a project to create a glossary of historical terms. See the current list of wanted terms, sign up and add what you know.
This week I have been mostly reading Keith Jenkins and 6 years worth of Scary Go Round. I’m also looking after a coal fire, which means breathing in an unusual amount of hot ash and carbon monoxide. Therefore if I post any really mad ideas in the next few days it’s probably best to ignore them.
The other thing I read was an article by Brian Rejack about Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 (the WW2 computer game that I posted about ages ago). First thought: if only I’d known you could get published in Rethinking History just by writing about how BiA isn’t as realistic as it claims to be. He didn’t even have to cite Derrida (although there is a bit of Barthes). Second thought: if only I’d bothered to look at the extras in BiA. I ignored them on the grounds that I already know quite a lot about WW2 and that I have the research skills to find out even more whenever I want. Do I need to be patronized by pop history factoids? Well, it turns out there’s a lot more to it than that.
One of the central points of the article is that extras can change the way a game (or DVD, where this idea started) is perceived and interpreted. The photos in the BiA extras are a major part of the game’s claims to realism. They include composites of original photos of WW2 mashed up with screenshots taken in-game, with only the change from black and white to colour showing where one begins and the other ends. (I’ve also just noticed that one of the composite shots is on the back of the box, but I don’t think I ever looked at the back of the box. So much for close reading…) With this attention to historical detail, surely Gearbox can say “This is How It Really Was”. But it doesn’t really work. When I wrote about the game I was mostly interested in tactical realism, which I think it ultimately fails at, despite being an improvement over MOHAA and CoD. They might have based the levels on maps and photos of the real Normandy, but does the real Normandy have those strange earth banks in the middle of fields with convenient dips in them that you can shoot over when you’re in the right position? If so who put them there and what are they supposed to be for?
Rejack takes a different approach, pointing out that the characters in the game are not emotionally engaging and don’t react to anything like real people. Even the death of Baker’s best friend in a cut scene isn’t particularly moving. Another weakness is that the game “presents a view of history as a straightforward sequence of events, with no sense of competing interpretations or multiple viewpoints”, although the sequel Earned in Blood does attempt something like that (as I mentioned here).
As a comparison, Rejack offers Facade, which involves more sophisticated interaction with NPCs and much less shooting. I’m not sure how excited I can get about a dinner party simulator, but I’ll report back after I’ve tried it. [Edit: I never did try it.]
War in the Mediterranean is a new blog by Mike Ingram, covering the Mediterranean campaigns in World War II. It should be worth following, although it means that Brett’s latest post on the state of the military historioblogosphere is already out of date.
Michael Howard, Liberation Or Catastrophe? Reflections on the History of the Twentieth Century, (London, Hambledon Continuum, 2007; ISBN: 9781847251596).
Before I start this review I have to point out a couple of things. This is the first time that I’ve been sent a review copy of a book rather than reviewing something that I’ve bought myself. For some bloggers this situation is an ethical dilemma, but I’ve had enough experience of PR from the other side (the thankless task of sending CDs to fanzines who ignore you or slag you off) that I wouldn’t hesitate to kick the author and publisher in the teeth if I thought that the book was a load of rubbish. I know that I’m doing them a favour even by mentioning the book on a highly Google ranked blog, and that no review is ever so bad that you can’t get a good selective quote out of it.
Second, this book is by Michael Howard the eminent military historian and founder of the War Studies department at Kings College London, not Michael Howard the former Tory leader.
I’m trying to get some “proper” English Civil War related work done this week, but at the weekend I did some more First World War stuff. In April I posted about World War I on Flickr, when I uploaded my great-grandfather’s photos from Cottbus PoW camp. Now I’ve added his letters, and another photo which I got from ebay. Although he isn’t on it, it was taken in the theatre at Cottbus and one of the men has the same “Bing Bong Boys” navy outfit:
I’ve now put each letter/postcard in its own set to make the link between the front and back of the same document more explicit. The sets are then arranged into collections. Some people on the Great War Forum were able to help me locate Cottbus Camp No. I, so now most of the photos have been placed on the map.
I also discovered that another Wenham brother might have died in the Great War. I don’t know why I hadn’t ever looked for Wenhams on CWGC before, but I found a Charles Wenham who could well be one of William’s brothers. Some of the evidence is circumstantial and I need to do more digging to be sure, but the epistemic probabilities are quite high. So far it looks like he joined 10th Lincolnshire Regt (Grimsby Chums), served overseas, was wounded and sent back to England but died of his wounds. Unlike the soldiers who died overseas, his body was brought home and buried in Cleethorpes cemetery. Again the Great War Forum has been a great help, and you can see more details on this thread.
And with regard to the other World War, I played some more of Brothers In Arms: Earned In Blood. I was still a bit curious about the post-Hill 30 storyline, but so far it’s been quite boring, and I gave up when I got into a silly tank level that’s suspiciously similar to the silly tank level in Road To Hill 30 that I complained about before. But there are more trees this time…