17. Updates 1 & 2

1 December 2014
I am changing the way I include Updates on the blog. So as not to lose the first Update (27/9/14) in this new arrangement, I have copied it and included it below. This is why I have called this first of the new-style Updates, Update 1 & 2. From now on each Update will come out as a post. For those who want to go back over earlier Updates, they will also be accessible from the Home page.

I am also conscious that the blog does not have much visual and other media and I exploring ways of including more primary source materials in digital form on the blog – for example, maps and pictures of life in the Shire of Alberton round the time of WW1. Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some sort of gallery of such resources in the near future.

Thanks to those who are following.

27 September 2014
In terms of content, the intention to this point with the blog has been to set the background for the detailed study of the 600 – 800 men – depending on how you define ‘local’ – from the Shire of Alberton in Gippsland who served in the AIF in WW1. In fact, it was the most recent post that saw focus shift to the men.

Obviously, the Shire of Alberton was a particular rural community that had developed its own identity, one that was certainly different from that of metropolitan Melbourne. In fact, as already shown in previous posts, the Shire saw itself, and a great deal of history had been written about it, as the quintessential pioneering community. At the same time, as I have emphasised throughout, the commonality of world views between the Shire and the outside world. This commonality was based on forces such as the universal commitment to the Empire and the shared identity of being (White) British; the strength of common institutions, particularly state schooling; and the constant and widespread movement of people, particularly the working class, across the wider rural landscape and to and from Melbourne and other major centres. My basic argument has been that while the Shire of Alberton had its own particular history, it was tied inextricably to the broader Nation and Empire, to the extent that this particular study of how the Shire of Alberton responded to WW1 can be read generally as a case-study of the Nation’s response.

In terms of this commonality, certain key themes have emerged already: the pull of the Empire; the politics of White Australia and the fear of invasion; control of the narrative of the War; and class-based responses to the call to duty. Others will become more apparent in future posts: the culture of the AIF and attempts to mould this culture; the inherent conflict between the political and industrial wings of the ALP; the application of war-time controls and powers; the divisive impacts of the attempts to introduce conscription; and the solemn promise of repatriation.

It should definitely be clear by now that the blog is an exercise in social history. Social historians can accept at face value the motives people gave for their actions one hundred years ago. The motives commonly expressed at the time included the likes of loyalty to the Empire, the fight against German militarism and tyranny, and the bonds of camaraderie. We also have to acknowledge the incredible personal sacrifices made at the time and the heroism shown. However, social historians also search for the deeper ‘structural’ drivers that shaped society’s beliefs and actions, even if the people directly involved did not themselves acknowledge such drivers. It should be obvious by now that ‘class’ is one such driver that I am looking at. The social construct of ‘identity’ is another. The latter is particularly important in the context of a rural community with a high dependence on the rural working class. The transience of the rural working class often undermined its members’ ability to be recognised as ‘local’ and thus they could be written out of local history, even unintentionally. At the same time, the lack of connection to a particular location opened the possibility that their identity could be more strongly tied to a particular institution, in this case the AIF.

In terms of the technical features of the blog itself, it was good to be able to incorporate the first table, admittedly a fairly simple one, in the last post. The technique is not perfect but at least it shows the feasibility of incorporating the full array of data which is required for the quantitative analysis I need to present in relation to the large group of men.

Lastly, I would like to include photographs of the men who enlisted and served in the AIF and would definitely appreciate it if family members were prepared to forward them. Contact me at: philipcashen@gmail.com

Comments on the posts, including insights based on family history and local knowledge – and even anecdotes – would also be appreciated. It is also a good idea to become a ‘follower’ – via the Home page – because as a follower, the system will automatically email you a complete copy of each post.

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