Silencing the Past, coastlines, and Sherlock Holmes

In the latest of our recommendations series for undergraduate History degree applicants, we spoke to Dr David Gange.


As someone who does lots of the department’s teaching about historiographical things, I spend a lot of time thinking about why we write history, and who has traditionally been included and excluded (both as historians and the people they write about).

My three favourite books that relate to this are Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (its very best chapter is freely accessible here), David Lloyd’s Irish Times and Ariella Azoulay’s Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism. These are all challenging books but are the kind of thing that can genuinely transform how you see the world!

Even if you can’t get hold of them, there are essays about them, and YouTube talks by the authors, online. But something you’ll definitely be able to explore straight away is the Global Social Theory website. It introduces key thinkers, and has some similar goals to the books listed above. 

Book covers for Silencing the Past, Irish Stories and Unlearning Imperialism

My main area of research interest is coastlines and Atlantic communities. There are lots of excellent websites to explore for the history of, for instance, Scottish coasts, such as https://canmore.org.uk/ (in which I could easily get lost for weeks of imagined travel).

I’d recommend looking into the art, film, music and essays inspired by 1950s efforts to find stories of seal people, round Scotland and Ireland, by the BBC journalist David Thomson. You could start with this essay by Seamus Heaney.

The Shetland poet, Roseanne Watt, has a wonderful vimeo that’s a great introduction to island traditions. Best of all, though, you could explore one of the languages of the coast – whether the East Atlantic (I’d recommend Scottish Gaelic Duolingo, which is both a great learning device and surprisingly funny) or the West (have a look, perhaps, at a First Nations language of Northern Canada such as Inuktitut, or one rich with oceanic history such as the Caribbean language Papiamentu). 

 

But I’m also a lapsed historian of nineteenth-century Britain, and one of my favourite articles is ‘Clap if You Believe in Sherlock Holmes’ by Michael Saler (also the first chapter of his book As If: a Prehistory of Virtual Reality). Anyone who has enjoyed any adaptation of Conan Doyle’s stories should definitely read it!