I guess I've read more than 100 military memoirs, mostly of World War II, but some of WWI and the Vietnam War too.
Recently I read Arthur Page's memoir of his service with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) during the Second World War. Between Victor and Vanquished. It's remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, it is beautifully written. Page evokes people and places through his writing with ease. Secondly, it is meticulously researched and includes footnotes at the end of each chapter. These footnotes include URLs where the reference is an on line one - rare in the military history genre. Fourthly, he has written it within the past few years and if you know any veteran of WWII, you know they are now all over 80 years old. Fifthly, he has led an unusual life and therefore has an unusual story to tell - that means it is not boring..
The book is both personal memoir and unit history of the ATIS. As he tells it, he could write the unit history through no other eyes than his own. He was born in Japan to Greek and Russian parents and was sent tot he English Grammar School in Yokohama. His beloved nanny steeped him in Japanese culture and history, and at the same time learnt the King's English at school. So, he was a natural Japanese linguist, English speaker, and had Greek, Russian and French too. His small boy's love of all things military led him to study ships, arms, soldiers and aircraft which was to stand him and Australia in good stead later. With Japan's growing hatred of foreigners, he and his family fled the country, and almost accidentally ended up in Australia. Ater the outbreak of the War he and his father attempted to join up but were rejected because they were foreigners. Eventually they were permitted to join the Australian Army, but their appeals to have their Japanese language skillsutilised initally fell upon deaf ears. Eventually they found their way to the ATIS in Brisbane where their skills were put to good use. Young Arthur eventually being attached to combat units for the purpose of interrogating Japanese prisoners and vetting captured documents. At war's end he was involved in war crimes investigations, including the atrocities at Bandjermasin in Borneo.
The other book I commend after re-reading it is Steve Martin's Born Standing Up.
Martin tells two parallel stories. This is primarily a show-biz autobiography with the main theme being his early career as an entertainer, right up to the late 70's when he was the biggest comedy concert act anywhere. His early career as a magician, and a banjo player. And a banjo playing magician. Then the transition to stand-up. The secondary theme of the book is his troubled relationship with this father.
The book is not out and out hilarious right the way through (for that in a comic's autobiography read Harpo Speaks) but there are some very funny moments, and there's plenty of famous people with walk-on roles in the story. Martin worked and worked and worked and worked and toured and toured and toured and nearly gave it away a couple of times before becoming a success. I enjoyed it. But you gotta have some knowledge of American popular culture of the 1970's to make it worthwhile I guess.
Now, we were talking before about free textbooks. It's common practice for Australian cultural institutions to have an expensive exhibition programme or catalogue for sale. The National Library of Australia has put the Charles Bayliss show catalogue available for download as a pdf document. It's 70 pages, but only about 2.7 megabytes. I've just had a look and it's a really useful document for those interested in historic Australian photography. Curated by Helen Ennis.
Download the show catalogue here. " Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this book contains images and names of deceased persons."
"If you know that you can count on 1000 students buying your textbook (at a price you set), then you really can’t lose. You may as well pay the upfront costs because you are guaranteed a profit from sales to your own hapless students.
No bookshop needs stock it, no other university needs assign it and no libraries need buy it - the authors still come out well because it is required reading for their students. This is why, in the vast majority of cases, the only sales of these self-published books are to the author’s own students.
Academics who engage in assigning their own books to students could be viewed as exploiting their students for personal gain."
An ethical minefield for sure.
This New York Times article Don't Buy That Textbook, Download it Free tells the story of Cal Tech Professor of economics R. Preston McAfee who is making his textbook free on the web for download. And he's not the only one.
They're calling them open-source textbooks.
I know that lots of people in book publishing are trying to work out what's going to happen in the future with the impact of the internet. Nobody knows yet.
Bonus 1: I love this quote which Noam Cohen has included in the NYT piece:
Jonas Salk was asked who owned the patent to the polio vaccine and scoffed: “Could you patent the sun?”
"We cannot understand, for instance, the history of western societies – including Australia - without some knowledge of the Bible and its influence. See this article from Slate on the religious influences on Abraham Lincoln as just one example
Beyond that, the Bible has been highly influential on literature, on philosophy, and even the way we speak … turning the other cheek, road to Damascus, reaping what we sow, ashes to ashes, fall from grace and many more are all expressions taken from the Bible.
Similarly, how can we hope to understand the present and glimpse the future without some understanding of the language of science? "
Photographs placed in The Commons group must be of "no known copyright", thus making them available for download and broad use, instead of mainly being locked away in a museum or library attic or little known corner of an institutional website. It's a wonderful cultural resource and importantly a place where the institutions are trying to engage the public at large and enlist help in describing and tagging the photographic collections.
"Supports going up after battle to relieve the Front Trenches, note the three observation balloons above the bright cloud."
And the description in the on-line shop is:
'Supports going up after battle...', c 1917.
Group of soldiers marching towards the front line, taken by an unknown photographer. An atmospheric photograph of marching Australian troops reflected in a pool of water. This photograph was probably taken during the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Paschendale, which was fought in very wet and muddy conditions. The full caption reads: 'Supports going up after battle to relieve the front trenches, note the three observation balloons above the bright cloud.' This photograph is from an album called 'Official Australian War Photographs', produced by the Australian War Records Section which was established by the British government in 1917. The British government in World War One recognised the importance of photographs, both as propaganda and as historical records.
One other interesting thing about this photograph is that it is credited to, "an unknown photographer."
They should be forgiven, for they know not what they do. To those familiar with World War I Australian military photography, it is unmistakably the work of Frank Hurley. Hurley worked very close to the front lines, and his photographs were noted for their dramatic composition. Controversially, he was known to make composite photographs to enhance the visual values. That is, he sometimes superimposed or retouched photographic negatives.
Now, I think it is unmistakeably Hurley's work - but is it? Let's check the largest repository of Australian World War I photography @ the Australian War Memorial.
The AWM has many Hurley photographs in its collection, and includes this:
Hurley, James Francis (Frank)
Western Front: Western Front (Belgium), Menin Road Area, Hooge
5 October 1917
Black & white
Supporting troops of the 1st Australian Division walking on a duckboard track near Hooge, in the Ypres Sector. As they passed toward the front line to relieve their comrades, whose attack the day before won Broodseinde Ridge and deepened the Australian advance.
Status to be assessed
It is worth noting that no observation balloons appear in this image. However we must also note that the AWM only puts low resolution images up on its website from where I downloaded this image, as part of its commercial strategy. Could it be that in higher resolution the print held by the AWM shows the observation balloons?
Let's look at another source of Hurley images. The National Library of Australia holds many of Hurley's papers, and a large collection of his negatives.
The caption of the negative at the NLA reads, "Infantry moving forward to take up front line positions at evening, their images reflected in a rain-filled crater at Hooge, October, 1917"
You will notice once again, that there are no observation balloons visible on the negative.
Looks like we have discovered that the (top) photograph held by the National Media Museum of the UK is one of Hurley's infamous composite or manipulated images.
Colin Harding of the National Media Museum has drawn my attention to the upcoming exhibition of war photography Memory Of Fire at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 which will feature some of Frank Hurley's WWI photographs. See here and here.
Colin has also advised me that more photographs from the album "Official Australian War Photographs" may be found by going to: