What happens when what you write about becomes a political event? History does crop up in public debates, such as Niall Ferguson’s championing of empire as a positive thing. During the protests over university fees changes at Cambridge University, the comments on this news article called into question the validity and relevance of my field (African history) – incidentally through the quoting of one of my old tutors.
This week, David Starkey gets a new platform on Jamie Oliver’s Dream School programme for his misogynistic ranting about the “feminising” of history and how irrelevant women are in studying the past.
These are all things I’ve considered blogging about but haven’t; not out of a lack of frustration and things to say, but because I’m not sure I want to – or have to – respond to every public debate that touches on something I do. However, as revolutions and protests, or discussion of potential protests or why there aren’t any protests, spread across China, India, Zimbabwe and many other countries, it’s particularly tempting to give historical background to events and add your tuppence to the often frustratingly poor analysis.
I’ve been doing this with Sudan: initially about the referendum for secession, which I feel happier about commenting on because I feel I’ve done some work on it, but then with some comment on the small-scale protests and death of a student in clashes with state security in Khartoum, echoing events in Tunisia and Egypt at the time. I initially posted round-ups of links to various other news sources and the facebook pages of the organisers, but have gradually begun commenting on the analyses of the protests put about – particularly arguments about why the protests “failed”. I’ve been gradually sucked in.
With all the talk of using your blog to promote your academic interests, as an outlet for brainstorming and discussion with a wider community, should we be wary of suddenly becoming political commentators? I’m concerned that there is a danger that at some point I’ll become too strident, lose a professional tone, or more likely just not know enough about contemporary events to give a firm comment. I’ve decided that I’m going to continue writing about contemporary politics in Sudan as and when I feel I have a particular comment; the events in Sudan are massive historical moments, and I feel that if I can try to historicise and contextualise specifically Sudanese issues, I might be contributing comments from a slightly different perspective. However, I’m still considering what the boundaries of my blog topics should be, and trying to find a balance between contemporary debates and historical analysis.