Pause, Reflect and Share… and a note to publishers

Peter Stanley standing on the, left, holding his book. I am standing on the right.

Peter Stanley and I at his book launch earlier this month.

Tomorrow I am driving to Canberra and will be in Melbourne at the end of the week. I am looking forward to researching at the State Library of Victoria and the Public Records Office of Victoria as well as catching up with family and friends. I have identified some key soldiers for my book and will be doing further research into the lives of a couple of the Victorian soldiers.

While World War I will be the focus of my book, I want to write about some of the experiences of the soldiers in their families and schools before the war as well as looking at their lives after the War. Soldiers brought the culture and learning they had received as children to war with them. The War stayed with them for the rest of their lives.

As you can imagine I am reading a lot of books about World War I. Most are well written but the one I am reading at the moment is infuriating because of the lack of referencing. I have done a bit of my own research to try to substantiate some of the author’s claims but cannot find proof of major claim about a statistic of the War. Humph! If a history is not properly referenced unfounded claims can be passed as truths. For all we know these books can be a mix of fiction and history, a member of the ‘faction’ genre.  Poorly referenced histories are not good sources. I have found another book on the topic which I am hoping is properly referenced.

Publishers – if you want your history books to be taken seriously then allow your authors to publish their fully referenced work! Why should we believe unsubstantiated claims?

As my then seventeen-year old daughter observed several years ago, footnotes (or endnotes) are ‘sneakily important’. Read that post for more about the problems of lack of referencing and the rise of ‘faction’.

I will step off my soap box now.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Canberra and had the pleasure of attending the book launch of Peter Stanley’s latest work, Die in Battle, Do Not Despair: The Indians on Gallipoli, 1915. As I wrote in April, the Australians and New Zealanders fought alongside thousands of troops from the Indian Subcontinent at Gallipoli. This book estimates that over 16,000 soldiers from the British Indian Army fought at Gallipoli. Who would have known this from our diet of heroic tales about Gallipoli in popular media?

Die in Battle, Do Not Despair is a beautifully produced book of 392 pages with loads of maps, photos and… footnotes!  At the back there is a provisional list of over 1,500 men from the Indian Subcontinent who died at Gallipoli. Peter Stanley explains that more research needs to be done to provide a definitive list. I like the fact that each chapter title comes from Gurkha verses, the Bhagavad Gita (sacred text of the Hindus), the Q’ran, and hymns of some of the Sikh Gurus. Peter Stanley has also created a website, Anzacs and Indians on Gallipoli.

In Canberra I visited the National Archives to consult a document that is important for my research. It has been digitised but every word on this document is critical for my research and some were impossible to transcribe. I thought that part of the problem may be that the original digital image was not a high-resolution.

When I opened the folder of documents I received a big lesson in the value of consulting the original documents even if they have been digitised. Whereas on the digital copy the handwriting had looked poor and the paper of low quality, I had in front of me the same document but the handwriting was very easy to read. I fixed all my transcription difficulties bar just one, and I did this very quickly. It was so easy to read!

Over the last week I have been finding more transcripts of War diaries to add to my collection. There are a lot online, but for many reasons I have made a rule that I will only use a transcript if the document has been fully transcribed and I have access to at the very least, the images of the original diary. I don’t want to misrepresent a diarist because I am relying on excerpts taken out of context and I want to check any part of the transcription I am relying on against the original.

I have become particularly interested in finding the transcriptions of nurses’ diaries. My book will focus on the culture of the men during the War, but the observations of nurses will be interesting. They nursed the men when they were injured and dying. They were with men at their most vulnerable so will have heard men saying things that they normally would not say. I am hoping to gain insights into some of the most sensitive thoughts of the men through the observations of nurses as recorded in their diaries.

There are so many things I am doing it is impossible to blog it all. I have a backlog of book reviews to finish and publish. Hopefully I can get these up in the next couple of months!

But for now, Melbourne, here I come!

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