Someone recently bought our

students are currently browsing our notes.

X

Sources For The Self Notes

History Notes > Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes

This is an extract of our Sources For The Self document, which we sell as part of our Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Oxford students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

!
!

!
!

!

Sources for the Self
Autobiographies, Letters, Memoirs and other kinds of autobiographical material are all
relevant to this topic
Some scholars claim that the current interest in issues of historical subjectivity and
emotions is reflective of the age of neo--liberalism more broadly, with the ascendance of
the individual over more collective ways of organizing and experiencing social life. For
some time now, although in very different ways, historians have taken up the task of
evaluating interiority, self--understanding, and notions of the self. How has the cultural
turn aided in this process? How do these approaches to everyday experience and self--
perception sit against Joan Scott's comments in "Evidence of Experience" from Week 1?

Discussion questions
! Are there any differences between identity and subjectivity?

!
!
!
!
!
!

!

Why have historians become preoccupied with questions of identity in the past decade?
How far is it possible to think of subjectivity as a historical formation?
Are psychoanalytic approaches useful or appropriate ways of thinking of selOood in the
past?

!

Subjectivity Class

!
!

Subjectivity -- experiences and the position of the individual in society
Fulbrook -- one should read ego--documents in order to understand subjectivity

!

Linguistic turn => language and discourse
~ Subjectivity v. merely 'authentic' voice
~ Importance of ego--documents
Cultural turn => cultural is now the focus
~ Social processes in the world

!

!

!
!

!

Discourses -- issue of change and psychology
~ Need to look at meaning and emotions

Why have historians become preoccupied with questions of identity in the past decade?
! Move towards a focus on individual identity in the last generation
! Had been a history of great men
! History from below movement in the 20th century
! Move from the 1960s towards a more individually and discourse based theory

~ Popular on the Left in the 60s and 70s

~ Interest in the voices of the 'lowly' e.g. Roper -- go beyond rationality in ideas

such as witchcraft
! Crane -- history became personalised

~ Recollections of the Holocaust
! Partly the result of failure of 'collectivist' identities
! Response to a postmodernist view of history

~ Look at individual texts in the context of the wider discourse

!

How far is it possible to think of subjectivity as a historical formation?
! Emotional v. physical experience
! Subjectivity is historically contingent
! Must understand people and culture in their historical situation
! Subjectivity is a historical formation -- must look at all factors
! Need to have a 'period eye' view to the body and the self
! After wars, there is a desire to hear from the people involved -- desire for truth and
authenticity

~ Do not trust military leaders
Michael Roper -- soldiers' letters from
WWI
!

~ Reads them against and across a discursive and social set of norms to see how

war experience disrupts them
! Truth, witnessing and authenticity are all post--WWI moral and social imperatives

~ Driven in the public sphere by the historical traumas of the 20th century

!

Are psychoanalytic approaches useful or appropriate ways of thinking of selAood in the
past?
! Identity is given by association and membership in a discourse
! Cannot make subjectivity and identity the same

!
!


!
!
!
!

!
!
!
!
!

!
!

!
!

!

!
!



!

!
!

!
!
!

!

~ May be unconscious influences -- not part of identity
New sources beyond language
What do these new sources mean? E.g. children's art
~ Freudian 'slips'
~ Ruptures in narrative (pictures of 'home')
~ Should avoid interpreting out of context
Children are often passive observers -- less built up structural norms and less discourses
Look for things that do not fit a particular discourse
Imagined the home space as intact yet they are outside the home -- in a portrait or
rubbed out
Street collages -- kaleidoscopic
~ Not so possible in texts
~ Show a process of adaptation
Psychoanalysis of sources such as artwork -- does this allow a greater influence for the
historian's subjectivity?
Will not be able to answer many questions -- yet should not foreclose the past => leave
openness
Pattern of telling life stories -- less authentic
Arrogance of those who choose to speak for their subjects
Controls in interpreting subjectivity -- 'testable' claims
~ Is 'trauma' imputed or verifiable?
~ Notions of adaptation to an extreme situation
Question of whether the person keeps on changing or if some experiences are 'fixed' or
enduring
Language as a discourse -- limited to texts
Oral history -- people's stories change dependent upon the situation in which they speak
~ Yet some things remain fixed
Some parts of subjectivity are fixed whereas others are less so
Postcards from WWI with tickboxes
~ Will always tick that they are well
~ Not supposed to write around the boxes
~ Communicated meaning -- can be systems with certain ticks => can be compared
with diaries
Comparison of war letters with diaries
~ Kept back some details -- how they represented themselves and wanted the war
to be perceived
Diary as a self--reflective space to resolve doubts
Origins in the 17th century -- Protestants used diaries to resolves moral crises
~ Replaces the Catholic confessional -- resolution of doubt
Private space and a way of adopting/trying out different roles
Diaries are non--immediate to events -- always after
Diaries are seen as innermost thought -- yet there are instances of lies by soldiers => idea
that someone will read it
~ Even reading it yourself -- pride

!
!
!
!
!

!
!

German girl's WWI diary -- playing the role of a nurse yet her patient dies
'Going through the gate' and 'gas chamber' games -- non--innocent but has the limits of
imaginative role--play
Edith Thompson -- fictional roles
Michael Roper talks of 'writing as a social activity and working through a psychological
problem'
Important role of these forums in shaping the process of developing a sense of self
~ Now we use facebook, blogs and tweets

What is left for the individual within subjectivity?
~ Anxiety

!
!

Roper -- splitting => using writing to someone else to reveal anxieties
Diaries are not immediate accounts -- must have the time to write them

!
!
!
!
!

!
!

!
!

Weakness of psychoanalysis -- requires knowledge of the historical context
References to popular literary works in soldiers' letters
~ Borrow phrases -- need context
~ Quote Wordsworth like it is their own
Psychoanalysis -- arbitrary usage of different theories
Klein -- death instinct => as important as sexual drives
~ About aggression
Not universal frameworks of subjectivity
Psychoanalytical theories only have currency in a particular historical moment
~ Historically specific
~ Models are not universal

!
!

!
!
!

!
!
!

!
!
!
!

!
!

Are there any differences between identity and subjectivity?
Regenia Gagnier -- subjectivity can mean many thing simultaneously => 'First, the
subject is a subject to itself, an 'I', however difficult or even impossible it may be for
others to understand this 'I' from its own viewpoint, within its own experience.
Simultaneously, the subject is a subject to, and of, others; in fact, it is often an 'Other' to
others, which also affects its sense of its own subjectivity . . . Third, the subject is also a
subject of knowledge, most familiarly perhaps of the discourse of social institutions that
circumscribe its terms of being. Fourth, the subject is a body that is separate (except in
the case of pregnant women) from other human bodies; and the body, and therefore
the subject, is closely dependent upon its physical environment'
Fulbrook -- subjectivity emerges from connection rather than detachment
Subjectivity includes our sense of self
~ Involves our conscious and unconscious thought and emotions
We experience our subjectivity in a social context where language and culture give
meaning to our experience of ourselves
Althusser -- interpellation => explains the way in which subjects are recruited into
subject--positions through recognising themselves
Creating Subjectivities -- 'Subjectivity is seen as an active agent that shapes and is shaped
by prevailing social, cultural and political spaces'
The positions which we take up and identify with constitute our identities
Subjectivity and identity are both always unfinished
Essentialist idea of the ego as the inner self => this is where identity is to be found

'Identity is perhaps best understood as a limited and temporary fixing for the individual
of a particular mode of subjectivity as apparently what one is'
! One of the key ideological roles of identity is to curtail the plural possibilities of
subjectivity -- gives individuals a singular sense of who they are and where they belong

~ This process involves recruiting subjects to the specific meanings and values
constituted within a particular discourse -- encourage identification
! 'While it is possible to be a subject without identification, identity presupposes some
degree of self--recognition on the part of the subject, often defined in relation to what
one believes one is not'

~ e.g. female and not male
! 'Identity in all its forms, even national identity, is never singular but is plural, fractured
and reconfigured by gender, ethnic and class relations'

~ Constructions of identity are always historically specific
Identity is central to the desire to be a 'knowing subject' -- in control of meaning
!

!

The Victimhood Narrative in Postwar German Writing
Dr Hugo Service

! Heinz Esser -- Hell in Lamsdorf: Documentation about a Polish Extermination Camp (1949)
!

!

!

!
!
!

!

*> West German book about a transit camp for Germans being expelled from
Poland 1945--6
One of a number of books from this period
*> Germans as one of the main victims of the Second World War
*> Dominant narrative framework in West Germany 1640s--60s
*> German victimhood and suffering
Clashes with overwhelming emphasis on Jewish victimhood -- firmly embedded in
history
*> Approximately 6 million Jews were murdered
*> Gassings in Poland
*> Mass shootings in Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States
Not as a result of ignorance about genocide of Jews
*> Knew in broad terms what was going on
*> Millions of men fighting in Wehrmacht etc.
Early postwar period -- German society was barraged with information about
extermination sites, camps and mass killings
*> Press reports of Allied trials against war criminals 1945--9
Yet the main way that most Western Germans thought about WW2 in the 1940s--1960s
was through the prism of German victimhood
Mass flight and expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe at the end of the war
*> 12 million Germans fled or were expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the
rest of Eastern Europe 1944--9
*> Suffering and death

German victimhood
! Narrative expressed mainly in 2 forms
*> Non--fiction popular writing about flight and expulsion -- popular history,
memoirs, collections of first hand testimony
*> Novels dealing with flight and expulsion
! Large number published and sold
*> Heinz Esser -- Hell in Lamsdorf (1949)
- 6 new editions by 1981
- Claims it was an extermination camp
*> Jurgen Thorwald -- 2 volume history -- It began at the Vistula and The End at the
Elbe (1950)
- 30k copies of the first volume sold in 1950 alone
*> Johannes Kaps -- The Tragedy of Silesia

!

Jurgen Thorwold
! Very readable style
*> Stuctured around a single linear narrative
*> Written in an empathetical, emotive tone

*> At times reads like a novel but author declares 'This is no novel, but a report on
the historical events -- even when it takes on the form of a story. It is historical
truth . . . based on around 2,000 documents'
! Talks about suffering and misery of ordinary German civilians as the Red Army arrived
*> Individual cases to bring suffering to life
! No effort to place this suffering in the context of German responsibility for the war and
for the severe suffering of Jews, Poles, Russians and others
! Example of expulsion from Czechoslovakia
*> Talks of torture and death

!

! Most of these works had 3 key ideas
*> Lost Heimat (homeland) was wonderful, beautiful and idyllic
*> That Germans suffered hugely at the hands of Soviets, Poles, Czechs and other
Eastern Europeans 1944--9
*> That there was no reason for this suffering => by ignoring German
responsibility for WW2 and for suffering of Russians, Poles, Czechs and other
Eastern Europeans
- If fate of the Jews is mentioned, it is to create a victim collective involving
both the Germans and the Jews together -- equal victims
! Most of these works did not explicitly claim that the fate of Germans at the end of WW2
was comparable with Jews in the Holocaust in the manner of Heinz Esser's Hell in
Lamsdorf (1949)
*> Yet this is strongly implied

!

Flight and expulsion novels
! Most authors had experienced displacement from East--Central Europe
*> Gunter Grass
*> Siegfried Lenz
*> Ernst Wiechert
! Make flight and expulsion the pivotal element of a plot covering decades of life
! Same 3 key ideas of popular non--fiction
*> Lost homeland, German suffering and do not address responsibility
! 4th key idea
*> Nazi German atrocities, Jewish victimhood and German victimhood in WW2 are
part of a universal existential (religious) story of unending human sin and
punishment
*> Suggest that the Holocaust was no worse a 'sin' than had occurred during
previous cycles of conflict and killing long into the human past
- Relativising the Holocaust

!

Gunter Grass -- The Tin Drum (1959)
! Expulsion novel not following this pattern
! Lost homeland of Danzig
! Covers key historical events -- rise of Nazis and outbreak of WW2 in Danzig, Soviet
invasion of Danzig and Polish takeover of the city, life in early postwar West Germany
! Complicated novel -- 1st/3rd person switching narrator
*> Meandering narrative
! Full of metaphors about German society and Nazi past

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Disciplines of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Notes.

More Disciplines Of History: Comparative History & Historical Argument Samples