In the Griffith Review Great Reads newsletter this week I give my hearty endorsement to a piece by historian Paul Kramer in the The Chronicle of Higher Education.
What use is history at a time like this? In this beautifully written and tightly argued piece, Paul Kramer of Vanderbilt University reveals that history is not only in political discourse and accounts of causation, but also in the ways individuals narrate their own lives. Kramer outlines what historians are especially good at: showing how current distributions of power emerge from past alignments, helping identify alternative paths, and cultivating empathy for others both past and present. However, talking about the ‘lessons of history’ is elitist and technocratic, so Kramer encourages historians to carry out their work in public and in collaboration with all kinds of citizens.
Neoliberalism works by disconnecting us from our past, from the natural world that sustains us and from each other. History can and should do the opposite. That’s why it matters so much at the moment. In the face of disconnection, it traces lines of connection and forges bonds of solidarity.
The Chronicle piece is behind a pay wall but here’s an open access link to it on Kramer’s own blog.
Episodically collected historians in the world. If historians don’t think temporally, who will?
- Glen O’Hara (@gsoh31) – ‘Brexit: an early audit’ on his always-worth-reading Public Policy and the Past blog.
- Anna Clark – ‘On listening to new national storytellers’, The Conversation, 1 Sept, 2016
- Tim Jones – ‘Marriage has very little to do with religion and vice versa’, The Conversation, 14 Sept, 2016
- Anne Rees – ‘How women historians smashed the glass ceiling’, Women’s Agenda, 19 Oct 2016
- Benjamin Wilkie () – ‘This continent of smoke’, Meanjin, 3 Nov 2015
And this because it is genius:
Please send in any contributions.
Daisy in Shanghai, late 1920s (Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her survival with pride and dignity, Better Link Press, New York, 2010)
Over the last couple of months I’ve been making a radio documentary for ABC Radio National’s Earshot series. It’s about Daisy Kwok – an amazing woman who was born in Sydney at the end of the 19th century to wealthy Chinese merchant parents. Moving to Shanghai with her family, Daisy became the toast of interwar cosmopolitan Shanghai only to suffer terribly during China’s cultural revolution.
Yet that’s by no means the end of Daisy’s story. Her life is remarkable on its own, but it also sheds light on the history of Australian-Chinese relations, and on the fabulous history of Shanghai itself. As the little blurb on the RN wesbite puts it, this is a story of riches to rags to redemption, set during one of the 20th century’s most turbulent eras.
Making the programme has been a great experience and many thanks to David Rutledge at the ABC for showing me the production ropes. Here too a big a shout-out must go to the brilliant Sophie Loy-Wilson, whose own encounter with Daisy Kwok is a must read and who has been a fantastic co-producer. I clearly remember the wide-eyed revelation that came upon us both in the studio one afternoon, when we realised exactly what we were doing: “no footnotes!” we whispered to each other, in wonder.
Shanghai Princess aired on ABC RN’s Earshot programme on Wednesday 21 September 2016 and is available now for download or podcast.
with acknowledgements to Bobby Fu, Paul and Maunie Kwok and Kate Bagnall
Daisy as she appears in Australian immigration files in 1917. Source: National Archives of Australia, SP244/2, N1950/2/3885.
Kwok Family Home 1912-1917 17 Croydon St Petersham (previously 2 Croydon St) Source: google maps, 2014
Daisy in Shanghai in the late 1920s. Source: Source: Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her Survival with Pride and Dignity (New York: Better Link Press, 2010)
Kwok Family, Shanghai c1925. Daisy Kwok is on the far left. Source: Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her Survival with Pride and Dignity (New York: Better Link Press, 2010)
Daisy Kwok in Shanghai c1930 Source: Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her Survival with Pride and Dignity (New York: Better Link Press, 2010)
The Kwok Family in Shanghai 1931. Clockwise from left is Edith Kwok, Elsie Kwok, Daisy Kwok, Pearlie Kwok and Darling Kwok. Source: Private Collection of Bobby Fu
Daisy and her husband, YH Woo, at their engagement party in 1931 Source: Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her Survival with Pride and Dignity (New York: Better Link Press, 2010)
Daisy Kwok in Shanghai, 1964 Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her Survival with Pride and Dignity (New York: Better Link Press, 2010)
Daisy Kwok (seated at back), Pearlie and Bobby Fu (Pearlie’s grandson) in Shanghai, summer of 1967 Source: Private collection of Bobby Fu
Daisy Kwok teaching English in Shanghai 1982 Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her Survival with Pride and Dignity (New York: Better Link Press, 2010)
The Kwok family home in Shanghai in 2015. Source: Sophie Loy-Wilson, 2015