Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are"

Where are all the 19th century Europeanists? A painful question that I am not alone in pondering. The blogosphere seems rife for discussions about gender history, American history, early modern and medieval history, even print history, but modern Europe (outside of Victorian literature and the endless discussions about appeasement) seems to have fallen through the cracks. Even though I research the nineteenth century (to be precise, I feel comfortable in the period starting with the Late Enlightenment and I avoid the Third Reich like the plague) I gave up blogging about history pre-1900.

AIR at Air Pollution, a graduate student of the history of modern France and Sexuality (and to a lesser extent, Germany and Britain), does not like this state of affairs, and I agree with him. So much history has been positioned with regard to the world the nineteenth century made that it ought not be ignored. Nation, industry, empire, global commerce, other -- even if they have roots in earlier periods, the 19th century made them familiarly modern. (Something tells me that the fault lies with Americans who won't meet the graduate school requirements to become Europeanists.)

Unfortunately, the blogosphere is not a continuous cyberspace. Bloggers amalgamate around topics and other blogs. It cannot perfectly reflect what goes on in the academic world. Subsequently, the 19th century, overrepresented in our libraries, can be digitally underrepresented.

The cybervoids (if they could be called that) can also separate nations and languages. Francis Pisani has already cynically inverted his question about multilingualism in the blogosphere (about which I write here): should blogs be limited to nations? Should bloggers in France care about what Belgians, Moroccans, Senegalese, Swiss, or Quebecoises say, think, or feel? Hell, why should Americans care about the thoughts of Brits, Australians or Canadians? Perhaps there are some nations that don't care to participate in this type of forum, as appears to be the case with Germany. The blogosphere can be an undeveloped landscapes: beautiful land, but no roads to cross it.


At 11:30 AM, Blogger air said...

"Subsequently, the 19th century, overrepresented in our libraries, can be digitally underrepresented."

What about among faculty? In my experience it seems that 19th century Europe is underrepresented in history departments in general. Those that do focus on it tend to stick to the latter part, something I've done myself.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger Brdgt said...

Yours is one of the few history blogs I read. It's not a reflection of the quality or type of history on history blogs - I simply do not care for the blog format. I also think that for academic purposes it is a limited format - people do not want to share unpublished work on a public forum where their intellectual property can be stolen, they can get burned by flippant comments that the format engenders, and I think the networking potentials are limited.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...

AIR, it is true that the number of European modernists seems to be shrinking, and there is not much interest in the early period. More new hires are specialists in the mid-20th century or people who can deal with late Imperialism. However, I think the problem is that the new hires tend to be limited in the curiosity about and ability to teach earlier periods. A good modernist should be able to advise a graduate student on any topic post-1750 in her/his main area of study, 1848-1945 in his secondary, and should be prepared to deal with any transnational topics. With undergrads a good modernist should be an open book: Early Modern and Modern, and a good chunk of time with somewhere outside Europe. Such capable scholars are fewer and fewer.

Brdgt, blogging may be "intellectually limiting." I have held back a lot, being vague where I have not wanted to be, sometime specific because I know that no one would be able to reference the info I have. Perhaps there are ways of expanding the its appeal by focusing more on how a topic or era is taught.

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