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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation. Post seventeen: questions

Some questions to be thinking about. Some can easily be solved with a quick internet search? Some have no generally agreed answer ...


Why did Cook and his crew have an enormous technological advantage over the native peoples of Tahiti, Hawaii, New Holland etc?

Why did the different peoples die from European diseases, and not the Europeans from their diseases?

Why were Cook’s instructions secret both for the first and the third voyages?

Why did he have just one ship on the first expedition, and two on the second and third expeditions?

Why were there soldiers on board all the expeditions?

What light does Captain Cook’s story throw on the question of the role of the individual in history?

What would you make an axe with if you didn’t have any metal? What about an arrow?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Brexit season 2: Is Winter Coming?

If you  are following the somewhat confusing situation with the British Conservative government and Brexit, you might be interested in some amusing comment from comedian Mark Steel:

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/no-deal-brexit-lib-dem-jo-swinson-corbyn-johnson-a9061271.html?fbclid=IwAR3hoiS5Et-KAVygtAEV3gV8LqPhiNaF1ez-f3xnythH5DcqZi9n3RyIQeA 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 post sixteen: music

As Cook began his voyage in 1769, his sponsor the earl of sandwich and his milieu might well have been listening to the concerts of the latest music. Like this piece, out that year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qyp9-Dy49Y

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation. Post fifteen: A folk song

The expeditions of Cook have inspired a number of songs over the years. Not all of them are of high quality! This is perhaps one of the better ones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGZlN9EpF3s

Monday, August 12, 2019

Brexit saison 2

If you are unsure what is going to happen in the Uk this autumn, you are not the only one, as the country faces its biggest political crisis for decades, and the Conservative party, the oldest political party in Europe, shatters.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/aug/11/mps-opposing-no-deal-brexit-will-need-new-tactics-report-says

Sunday, August 11, 2019

200 years ago: Peterloo

One of the most important protests in British history happened just 200 years ago.
The BBC has made a radio programme about it.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00076tg

Captain Cook agrégation 2020 option civilisation post fourteen: the invention of racism

Naturally to understand the complexity of first contact between "the West" and the native peoples of the places visited by Cook, it is essential to have some idea of where racism came from and how it works. This BBC documentary (part one of a three-part series on the history of racism) is helpful. You will find it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcrcflTCu4Q&

Parts two and three, which are about the 19th and 20th centuries, are also good, but less of a priority when studying Cook's expeditions.

Don’t hesitate to use one of the many sites which will transform a YouTube video into an MP3 file. Then you can work while practising your golf swing. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation 2020 option civilisation post thirteen: first contacts

No doubt the most important part of Cook's story is the first contacts made with peoples who had not been in touch with the "Western world". By the end of the nineteenth century most peoples had had contact: but not all. This video shows a very recent experience of first contact between a few members of a tribe which had been completely isolated, no doubt for over a thousand years. Naturally today, when the aim of western first contacters is not specifically to take the land, the situation is different, but still thought-provoking. This video is only a few minutes long.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYEoLw93qvk&app=desktop

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post twelve

The SAES  has published a bibliography on Cook's travels. Do not feel intimidated: nobody reads everything!

http://saesfrance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2020-AGREG-BIBLIO-COOK.pdf 

Captain Cook agrégation anglais option civilisation post eleven

There is a huge amount of material online about Captain Cook's journeys, and I will be putting together a guide to help you through this jungle (I even found a video which claimed that Cook's journals proved the earth is flat!) Obviously, one must pay attention to the provenance of any material. This is from the British Library website, and concerns the indignenous aboriginals reaction to Cook's arrival.

https://www.bl.uk/the-voyages-of-captain-james-cook/articles/an-indigenous-australian-perspective-on-cooks-arrival

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post ten

For reading the journals themselves, which are rather long, I recommend reading the second and third journeys first, and then the first journey. The accounts of the second and third journeys are more accessible.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation britannique post nine

Over the summer you will be getting familiar with the different subjects on the programme of the agrégation. I highly recommend this round table organized by the British Library in London on the death of Cook. It shows some of the important questions raised. The sound on the video is bad at the beginning but quickly gets better. Listen out in particular for questions raised by a Hawaiian woman ( if I understand correctly) at the end.

The video is here https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UcCCbvXB164&

Don’t hesitate to use one of the many sites which will transform a YouTube video into an MP3 file. Then you can work while doing the family shopping.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation britannique post eight

This may appear a little technical, but it was a matter of life and death to Cook.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_distance_(navigation)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post seven

Not everyone can go off to Sydney to climb aboard the replica of Captain Cook's  Ship the Endeavour (which I will be doing next week)! But next best is to absorb the atmosphere with this virtual tour.

https://www.sea.museum/anmm_files/VirtualEndeavour/Virtual-Endeavour.html

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 post six

To understand Cook's crew, his voyages and  their consquences, we need some idea of what life was like in 18th century England.  I highly recommend this general book.

The Penguin Social History of Britain: English Society in the Eighteenth Century (Anglais) Broché – 25 octobre 2012

de Roy Porter  (Auteur)


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais option civilisation 2020 post five

This short comic video is not about Captain Cook, but it could have been.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wxLPJM0kos&app=desktop

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post four

One of the major questions posed by Cook's voyages is the future of the australian aboriginal peoples. This series of documentaries will give you some good information. There are a number of episodes, but episode one is essential.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_u0eQOPIwQ

Saturday, May 25, 2019

concours civilisation GB

If you are planning on taking the CAPES or agrégation in 2020, you need to be thinking about revising, among other things, your knowledge of British history.

You could do worse than start with the history of Wales, covered in these excellent documentaries:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfKYqjempvc&t=100s

Friday, May 24, 2019

Réunion d’information agrégation anglais Rouen 2020

le mercredi 5 juin à 14h30 en salle A 510 il y aura une réunion d’information pour toutes celles et tous ceux qui voudraient suivre la préparation pour l’agrégation d’anglais en 2020. ( interne ou externe). Veuillez faire circuler cette information.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Revue française de civilisation britannique: Home Rule

Vient de sortir! Notre revue sur la question du Home Rule.

https://crecib.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/hr-1.pdf

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post three

There will be a huge number of commemorative activities to mark the 250th anniversary of Cook's voyages. They will be very varied in  nature and in politics, and the debate should be very lively. Here is a site where you can begin to explore what is going on. 

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post two

If you are in London at all, do not miss this small but essential exhibition at the British museum.

https://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/reimagining_captain_cook.aspx

Captain Cook agrégation anglais 2020 option civilisation post one

I will be teaching this option at Rouen, so I am now myself beginning to study it in detail. I will put up here on this blog useful resources, mostly videos.

I recommend converting  the videos to Mp3, to allow you to listen to them while driving, doing the shopping or tidying your home, playing golf or waiting for a bus. This is what I do.

This collection of posts does not replace a serious bibliography, which the SAES normally makes available a little later in the year. In any case, it is essential to read the framing document (here http://media.devenirenseignant.gouv.fr/file/agreg_externe/57/9/p2020_agreg_ext_lve_anglais_1107579.pdf )

and the journals themselves.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

L3 Popular music slides and recordings

I do not have all the recordings of all the classes. But on popular music, I posted the first class recording a couple of weeks ago. 

You will find the second class recording here: 

And the slides accompanying all three classes are here :

Just click here

podcast history of British popular music

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Café débat Brexit

Aujourd’hui à 17h A401 UFR de Lettres, j’anime pour une association étudiante ACEL un café débat sur le thème du Brexit.

Entrée libre!

Monday, April 22, 2019

How to write about (popular) music ?

This book came out, full of advice about how to write about (popular) music. I wrote a review of it.


Review of : Marc Woodworth and Ally-Jane Grossan (Eds), HOW TO WRITE ABOUT MUSIC , Excerpts from the 33 1/3 series, magazines, books and blogs with advice from industry-leading writers, Bloomsbury Academic, New York and London, 2015, 414 pages.

Not a book you get bored with.
Review by John Mullen, Université Paris Est Creteil

Marc Woodworth and Ally-Jane Grossan (Eds), HOW TO WRITE ABOUT MUSIC , Excerpts from the 33 1/3 series, magazines, books and blogs with advice from industry-leading writers, Bloomsbury Academic, New York and London, 2015, 414 pages.

Not a book you get bored with, though you might feel irritated almost as often as enlightened. This volume is made up of a large number of short writings on Western popular music, (mostly canonical but sometimes underground), along with endless advice from writers on what to do if you want your writing for fans to be published and paid for. It has been put together by the editors of the 33 1/3 series, an endeavour now counting a hundred books, each analysing one music album from recent decades.

The book has three different aspects. Firstly, it is indisputably itself a rock object. Filled with short and pithy productions with soundbites[1] and neologisms galore, it is often unbearably hip. Right from the foreword, packed with exclamation marks, you know what you are in for. It has all the rock attitudes: sentimentality (“our beloved 33 1/3 series”, write “for love or not at all”); hyperbole (this series has “revolutionized contemporary rock criticism”); melodrama (“great albums still completely fuck my whole life up”; you should write about music “in exactly the same way that you would write a suicide note”); and contradiction (advice from “people who themselves avoided all the advice anyone ever gave them”). The music writers are interviewed as if they were themselves minor rock stars (“How did you land your job?” “How is music writing different?” “Where do you find inspiration?” “Who is your dream interview subject?” “Which three songs, two objects and one novel would you take on a desert island?”) One writer “would so love to take Oscar Wilde out to karaoke”, innit?

Secondly, this is a manual for would-be writers on rock and pop music, featuring a few hundred short paragraphs of advice from a few dozen authors (“expert advice from our writers”). Although the back cover exclaims that the tome is “crammed full of stellar advice”, the tips given are of extremely uneven quality. Some are embarrassingly obvious (for an album review “begin by listening to the disc in question several times”; for the artist interview “don’t read from your notes too much” and in general “Use Google to check your facts”, and “don’t trust Wikipedia as your sole source”). Some are just not interesting (“What was your biggest mistake?” “I totally trashed an album in my college newspaper that later became one of my favorites”; “How has the field of music-writing changed ?” “It’s better in some ways and worse in others - very difficult to say”). One section is actually labelled “offbeat advice” although its contents is sometimes less than wacky (“I always file on time”; “I try to have a clear picture in mind of who reads what I wrote”). In the last pages, one of the star writers seems to undermine the whole exercise: “I think that reading other music writing is often a trap”.

As well as the tips from “industry-leading writers”[2] the reader is provided with a series of “writing prompts” – practice exercises for budding writers (Write an album review about a group you know nothing about; go to a concert and write about it to deadline, write a 2 000 word essay that explores your connection to a single song). Useful for college courses on music writing (I’m assuming such courses exist). Clearly, the editors felt there were a lot of people who would buy a book aimed at helping them to get published. Some of the advice may serve its purpose, this is difficult to judge.

Finally and mostly, the volume is an anthology of 48 pieces of writing on a vast variety of Western popular music of recent decades (with one or two older themes). Different kinds of articles each get a chapter: album reviews, concert reviews, artist interviews, personal essays, artist profiles, scene analyses, musical analyses, “cultural criticism”, and experimental writing (including novelettes based on music albums, and an extract from a graphic novel about Black Flag).

As a whistle-stop tour around today’s journalistic writing on popular music, the book stands up very well. You can read chirpy concert reviews written as if we were all young (“She’s like Chris Ware, except not, except totally.”). The style is sometimes enjoyably creative (“So much sass! Pickup trucks! Dads who are gonna beat up ex-boyfriends! I’LL TAKE IT.”) True, there is also analysis you might find more pompous than illuminating (“Sociology … is an obvious functional drag, particularly when it subverts the move qua move by means of opaque non-magical causality.”) But much of the writing is good. There is an insightful piece on Enya, and a thoughtful piece on computers and music. The best contributions  are those which deal with how the creation of a sense of mythology through music works in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, with the emotional power of drumming and in particular that of The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, with the “mumfordization of pop”, with Radiohead’s image and music and with dance clubs in Kosovo. An article on how The Beatles chose instruments for “Strawberry Fields Forever” gives a fascinating glimpse of the different factors involved. The application of music theory to Kate Perry’s “Teenage Dream” is very convincing. And one of my favourite pieces speaks against the rock consensus in defence of sentimental music.

Several articles go into on what particular albums meant to particular young people (the writers) at a particular time. This category varies from the touching to the pretentious. But all in all, there is much which is worth reading if, as I have said, accompanied by an editorial tone which is unbearably hip and with practically no analysis of what hip is and why it is. One occasionally gets an image of the music writer as someone who wants to be ever so rock n roll, yet still be at home for the kids every evening, rather than in a rickety old tour bus hundreds of miles away.

The book gives opinion and analysis from 41 men and 4 women (and the 4 women write less than the average male contributor). A less generous or more feminist reviewer than myself might be tempted to suggest the book be re-titled “How men have written about popular music”. This points up a major flaw, since in all the plethoric advice about how to write about music, the question of what to do if you’re a woman writer is not mentioned. This is all the more surprising as one of the editors has previously written a book on women singer-songwriters, so must presumably have a feel for gender issues in the business.[3]

There is plenty to please and educate in here. Many people who read this review are used to writing about music in a less hip manner, since there are in reality many ways of carrying out such a task, but it does us no harm to see how the other half lives.

John Mullen
This review is a draft version of a piece which was written for IASPM Journal.


[1] “Keep your overhead low and your expectations lower”; “He plays [drums] like D H Lawrence writes”; “Music writing is the crack cocaine of non-fiction writing”; “You could say Punk rock is anger’s schmaltz.”
[2] For an analysis of the industrialization of popular music criticism, and a general view of changes in content due to this industrialization, see Thomas Connor and Steve Jones, “Art to Commerce: the Trajectory of Popular Music Criticism” in IASPM@journal, vol 4 N° 2, 2014, available online www.iaspmjournal.net

[3] Marc Woodford, Solo: Women Singer-Songwriters, New York, Dell, 1998.


Commemoration

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/22/we-must-teach-tolerance-says-stephen-lawrences-mother

Saturday, April 20, 2019

L3 What is high culture doing, meanwhile?

One of the most popular (!) events in British high culture... is the series of promenade concerts every year. Here is a review of this year's:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/apr/17/proms-2019-comment-little-to-challenge-or-feel-exceptional

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

L3 popular culture: illegal raves

On Youtube there are a lot of documentaries about popular music, and many of them are very good (in particular the ones made by the BBC, in the "Britannia" series see here :  https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=BBC+Britannia

And I just discovered this one, on the illegal rave culture in the 21st century in the UK
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3t3YnVgY9k&t=159s

The British papers







Monday, April 15, 2019

L3 Popular culture- popular music

We will be having two more classes on popular music. Here is the recording of the one just before the Easter break.

Just click here 

keywords: United Kingdom, popular music, podcast, lecture, cultural studies

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Agrégation 2020 option civilisation

If anyone is already thinking about Captain Cook, why not get into the atmosphere by listening to some of the music the British élite were listening to at the time.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pnTESOMJfM&list=PLF90F5207F0F1074A

Sunday, April 07, 2019

L3 Popular culture: recordings and slides

You will find here the powerpoint we saw in class on the history of  TV and radio
And here is the recording of the second class on TV (I am still looking for the first one).

Moving onto cinema, the powerpoint is here.

And the Mp3 recording of the class on UK cinema is here.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

L3 Popular music: Folk and singing about work

In the 1960s, Ewan Maccoll worked on making a new folk music from the lives of ordinary workers. Along with Peggy Seeger. He produced a series of "radio ballads" many of which are available on YouTube, such as this one on fishing folk.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zarl3ecTM_s&list=PLPDCrD_igZmvsd7bvrZSWm4V9BIg2qrUH&index=3

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

L3 Cultural history



If you want to know more about cultural history, but in French,

see here

https://johncmullen.blogspot.com/2018/04/lhistoire-culturelle-ou-en-sommes-nous.html

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Master MEEF Final classes

I hope your written exams went well. We are moving right on to preparing the orals. From the point of view of British civilization, this is not a huge change. I am going to give a little more revision of history in class, and then move on to looking at sample "dossiers", which I will have printed tomorrow.

This week we have a class on Wednesday at 11am in L210, and a class on Thursday from 3.30pm to 6.30 pm (with a short break in the middle) in L315.
Our final  class is on the 24th April at 11am in L210.

There  are themes I have not really had time to revise in class. Here are classes from 2014 on the history of gay rights and identities in the UK. they are not quite up to date, as gay marriage has been authorized since (first in England, Wales and Scotland, and then in the Republic of Ireland - though it is still illegal in Northern Ireland).

https://johncmullen.blogspot.com/2014/12/l1-bloc-2-social-and-ethnic-identities.html

I also recommend this lecture on the Liberal party by an (establishment but fair-minded) lecturer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44ir_D_hD-M&t=78s

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Brexit

what happens next? This article is a good summary, though it inexplicably omits the obvious option of a general election.
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/23/brexit-what-next-critical-week-indicative-votes-revoking-article-50

Saturday, March 23, 2019

L3 Popular art/ high art

As we have seen the separation of high art dynamic and popular art dynamic is not so simple. Here is a website with one thought-provoking example. Just click here

MEEF CAPES anglais Idée du progrès podcasts

You will find here the talk on industrial progress. Just click here. 
You will find here the talk I gave on democratic progress:  just click here

In case you prefer audio formats, you will find here an MP3 of the comments on the dossier on Ireland (which is a little further down on this blog). Just click here

Friday, March 22, 2019

Homework MEEF

I have just sent back to students the homework with comments. I have five left to mark which I will send tomorrow at the latest. The mail I send to Mme Yahi came back undelivered.
Once again, good luck for the week's events.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

CAPES revision


Best of luck with the written CAPES exams.


This weekend I will add some more recordings of classes.
I will also email you individually your homeworks with a few comments. Note that the mark I give is for the UE of the Master, it is not an estimation of a mark in the concours.


You will find at earlier dates (ie below) some other podcasts and PowerPoints from my classes, etc, including
-a corrigé of the Homework dossier on Ireland.
- some podcasts about the seventeenth century.
- a set of podcasts « Britain since the Romans »
- a collection of news articles on themes connected to « mémoires/héritages/ruptures »
- the class and PowerPoint on mémoire/héritages/ruptures.
- a long article on remembering world war one

Saturday, March 16, 2019

MEEF CAPES marking

It is taking me a long time to mark your homeworks, but some progress is being made. By a very long way the two main problems were not talking enough about what Mary Holland, Tony Blair and David Cameron were trying to do and the methods they were using to try to persuade people, and not showing enough knowledge about the history ( in particular what the British government did during the famine and what happened at the first inquiry into Bloody Sunday, why there was a second one etc.)

CAPES MEEF devoir maison Mémoire héritages ruptures


John Mullen  Université de Rouen
You will find here a set of documents given as a homework assignment for M1 MEEF in January 2019, in the form of a mock CAPES exam exercise, but done at home with access to research resources. First there is the set of documents, then a series of methodological comments, then a draft proposed commentary, and finally remarks about a few of the mistakes and weaknesses found.

Dossier MEEF 0119.

(I have indicated in colour in the dossier, some elements and references which it would be good to show briefly, in your commentary, that you understand. You would not be expected to get them all). In the documents I have highlighted some of the elements it would be good to show you knew something about.
Document A
Why Blair deserves bouquets for Famine apology
The Irish Times   Thu, Jun 5, 1997, 01:00
MARY HOLLAND
 
TONY Blair has taken a lot of flak - and received precious few bouquets - for his statement on the Famine, read by Gabriel Byrne at last week's commemoration concert in Millstreet. While falling short of a formal apology. this was the first time that a British Prime Minister publicly acknowledged the fact that his predecessors in government had failed the people of Ireland in their hour of greatest need.
The Labour Party leader spoke of a "defining and dreadful event in the history of England and Ireland" and of the deep scars that bad been left by politicians in London who had stood by and allowed "a crop failure to turn into massive human tragedy". He also paid tribute to the courage and resilience of those Irish men and women who had triumphed in the face of this catastrophe, and said that Britain in particular had "benefited immeasurably" from their skills and talents.
Mr Blair has been roundly criticised by sections of the British media for the tone of the statement, and his political judgment has been called into question for making it at all. Yet, there has been very little reaction on this side of the Irish Sea. The Taoiseach welcomed Mr Blair's comments, saying that he had confronted the past in a way which laid a basis for healing in the future. But, as far as I can ascertain, there has been no public response from Bertie Ahern. Two years ago the Fianna Fail leader said that "a frank acknowledgment and expression of regret about the shortcomings of the then British government (at the time of the Famine) would contribute to a much better climate of relations".
[…] FOR many years Irish people have asked for some official acknowledgment by the British that a great wrong was committed 150 years ago. Now that the Prime Minister has tried to respond to that demand, we seem strangely reluctant to admit that something important has happened.
The statement has been noticed in Britain, of course. It isn't easy for any country to admit that it has behaved badly in the past and there are particular problems for the British in accepting that they may have been less than generous in their treatment of Ireland. The comments have ranged from the sneers contained in letters to the newspapers, asking if it might now be appropriate for the British government to seek an apology from Denmark for the actions of the Danes during the reign of King Alfred, to more serious criticism of Mr Blair.
The Prime Minister was reprimanded by the Daily Telegraph for encouraging "the self pitying nature of Irish nationalism". There was a real danger, the paper warned, that Mr Blair's letter would simply feed "the grievance culture which allows Nationalist Ireland to place the blame for all the country's ills at the door of the Brits, ultimately justifying terrorism". It was a theme taken up in the London Independent, which referred to the Irish "culture of victim hood". There were dire warnings that this could start a flood of demands for apologies for perceived grievances. Bloody Sunday in Derry was quoted as an example.
HISTORIANS also voiced their disapproval, albeit in more measured terms. The argument was made that the Famine like many great tragedies of history, flowed from immensely complex political and economic causes and that it was simplistic to lay the blame for what had happened on a callous or indifferent British government. To do so was to undermine the work done by professional historians in seeking out the more complicated truth.
Several writers suggested that it was wrong to judge what happened then by the standards that would probably be applied now to such a disaster. But it is one of the most refreshing aspects of Tony Blair's government that it does seem prepared to confront the gross injustices that have been committed in the past, and where possible, to put them right. The decision a couple of weeks ago to pardon soldiers, including young Irishmen, who were shot for cowardice in the first world war is another example of the kind of generous imagination which has already been brought to bear on old griefs.
[…] We have seen from our own experience in the North that an expression of obviously sincere contrition for having inflicted suffering can make trust seem possible in even the grimmest situation. No one who saw it is likely to forget the announcement of the loyalist ceasefire in October 1994. What quickened hope that a quite new kind of leadership had emerged from the world of the loyalist paramilitaries was the way Gusty Spence offered to "the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past 25 years, abject and true remorse". And, in spite of all that has happened since, the brutal resurgence of loyalist violence in recent weeks and the almost unbearable images of grieving innocents, that hope has never quite died.
Admitting responsibility for what has happened in the past is the first step towards creating a better future. That is true of personal relations and of public life. Tony Blair has made a brave and generous attempt to lay part of our shared and painful history to rest. Perhaps, when the general election is over, the new government should respond to what he has said.



Document B                  2018



Document C


Bloody Sunday: PM David Cameron's full statement
15 June 2010, source : BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/10322295

This is the full transcript of the statement Prime Minister David Cameron made to MPs in the House of Commons on the day the Bloody Sunday report was published.
"The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville inquiry - the tribunal set up by the previous government to investigate the tragic events of 30 January 1972, a day more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. We have acted in good faith by publishing the tribunal's findings as soon as possible after the general election.
Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.
Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of the support company who went into the Bogside did so as a result of an order which should not have been given by their commander. He finds that, on balance, the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army. He finds that none of the casualties shot by the soldiers of support company was armed with a firearm. He finds that there was some firing by Republican paramilitaries but none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties. And he finds that, in no case, was any warning given by soldiers before opening fire. He also finds that the support company reacted by losing their self-control, forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training and with a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline. He finds that despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers, none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. And he finds that many of the soldiers - and I quote knowingly - put forward false accounts to seek to justify their firing. […]
Mr Speaker, these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth. There is no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal's authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.
I know that some people wonder whether, nearly 40 years on from an event, [if] a prime minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, Bloody Sunday and the early 1970s are something we feel we have learnt about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and the hurt of that day and with a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry. […]
Mr Speaker, while in no way justifying the events of January 30th, 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday. Since 1969, the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly. Three days before Bloody Sunday, two RUC officers, one a Catholic, were shot by the IRA in Londonderry, the first police officers killed in the city during the Troubles. A third of the City of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army. And in the end, 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland's bloodiest year by far, with nearly 500 people killed. And let us also remember, Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969-2007. This was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, spanning 38 years and in which over 250,000 people served. Our armed forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible. And over 1,000 members - 1,000 members - of the security forces lost their lives to that cause. Without their work, the peace process would not have happened. Of course, some mistakes were undoubtedly made, but lessons were also learned. And once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude we all owe to those who served in Northern Ireland. […]
Mr Speaker, this report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account and how we should be determined at all times, no matter how difficult, to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, they do not make us weaker, they make us stronger. That is one of the things that differentiates us from the terrorists. We should never forget that over 3,500 people from every community lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists. There were many terrible atrocities. Politically-motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from. And it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to draw Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who contine to seek to destroy it. But neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville, what happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland. Those are words we cannot and must not ignore. But I hope what this report can also do it is mark the moment where we come together in this House and in the communities we represent to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us. And come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland's troubled past. That is not to say we should ever forget or dismiss the past, but we must also move on. Northern Ireland has been transformed over the last 20 years and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future. And it is with that determination that I commend this statement to the house.”


Proposition de commentaire composé
(The elements in red of course would not appear in your commentary, they are simply there to remind you that all these points need to be covered, sometimes briefly, sometimes more at length).
(There are many, many ways of commenting on these extremely rich documents -certainly you would not be expected to include all the elements I am including here. However, it is best if you have at least something to say on almost all the following questions
Who ? (is expressing themselves),
To whom ? (are they trying to communicate)
When ? (what is important about the fact that it was at this date and not at another)
What ? (is the essential content of the document),
Why (are they saying all this),
How (do they express themselves, or try to persuade people ?)
and
What difference did it make ? (Where does this document or incident fit into the long history of Anglo-Irish relations).

Everybody makes mistakes and ommissions, but which ones are dangerous ? For this piece of work I would say it is dangerous 1) not to show that you know who was fighting whom in Northern Ireland and why, and when and how the conflict started and was stopped. 2) not to show that you understand that these histories are strongly contested and controversial 3) not to show that you can explain more than one point of view in these ideological conflicts.
It is also essential to identify and comment on the point of view in each document. Mary Holland is giving an opinion – you must say what it is. David Cameron, also. Even the author of the picture which is document two is giving an opinion, although it is a little more difficult to identify.
A central element of documents 2 and 3 is the conflict between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, so if you define the question as simply international relations between countries it will be impossible for you to explain.

References which it would be good to show you are familiar with.
The Irish Times is a respected Irish newspaper, and naturally will tend to give an opinion whose main priority is an Irish point of view. Within Irish public opion, there is a general consensus that Britain was partly to blame for the tragedy of the Irish famine. The most radical speak of genocide. In Britain, there is no such consensus.
The Daily Telegraph is the most conservative of the serious daily newspapers published in the UK. It is unsurprising, then, to see that they have very little sympathy with those who emphasize the negative legacy of British colonial domination.
The Taoiseach is the equivalent, in the Irish Republic, of the Prime Minister. If you knew that, that is good, but if you knew it and did not show you knew it, that is foolish. You should write « the Taoiseach (equivalent of the Prime Minister in the Irish Republic »). If you did not know it, that is life, but you must show you knew it.
The Irish famine. Again, you can show in a very few words that you know what is being talked about. « the article deals with an apology for the famine » gains you no marks – your reader is waiting for you to say something interesting. However « the article deals with an apology for the Irish famine (a tragic event of the mid-nineteenth century during which a million Irish people died and two million emigrated) » is infinitely better. It is important to not speak of the Irish famine as if it wa sjust one more sad thing that happened in the past. The population of Ireland did not recover, in numbers, for more than a century. The mass emigration much accelerated by the famine sent Irish people around the world, in particular to the USA and to Australia, where Irish diaspora communities have had an important effect on local society. The Irish famine is one of the founding myths of Irish society, and Tony Blair’s change of attitude compared to previous UK governments was an important political event.


Pardons for First World War soldiers The article in the Irish Times mentions this. During the First World War, a number of British soldiers were executed by their own army, for questions of discipline (sometimes sleeping on duty, sometimes running away etc). This, from today’s point of view is rather shocking and for many years there was a campaign for an official pardon for these soldiers. For decades different governments said this was impossible, but finally it was declared in 2006. (A similar campaign exists in France, but so far the French parliament has not agreed to a pardon). The pardon is an example of an attempt, many years later, symbolically to redress injustice, and the writer uses it to compare with the « apology » for the famine.

A hard border : we see the expression frequently, but you must show you know what it is. It is simply a border at which you must stop and show your passports, and at which all goods vehicles must show what they are carrying and prove that they have paid the required customs duties if any. A « soft border » is like the border between France and Belgium today, or France and Germany, at which the only reason you know you have crossed into another country is that you receive a message on your mobile phone from your phone operator telling you that you are abroad, but that everything is fine.
Derry/Londonderry
The city of Derry was renamed Londonderry in the 17th century, as a symbol of colonial domination. For a very long time nationalists (generally Catholics) called the town “Derry” and unionists (generally Protestants) used the name “Londonderry”. The use of one or the other name was rich in political signification. It is certainly no accident that Cameron alternates between the two names in his carefully written speech. He is attempting to showcase equal respect for the two sections of the population. In recent years in Northern Ireland, one often sees (on the front of buses or trains, for example) the double name “Derry/Londonderry” leading to the humorous local nickname for the town: “slash city”.

The commentary
These three documents all deal with aspects of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the island of Ireland. They can easily be linked up with the theme of « mémoire, héritage, rupture » as in all three cases we can see the exploration of an attempt to mitigate the effects of past injustice or conflict.
The first document is a newspaper article from the Irish Times, in which the author praises and defends[1] Tony Blair’s controversial « apology » for British government action (or indeed lack of action) during the famine in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. The « apology » and the article both date from 1997, a crucial year in the development of the conflictual situation in Northern Ireland.
The second document is an image in the form of a mathematical puzzle, summarizing in a humorous manner the dilemma of Theresa May’s minority government in 2018-2019 in its attempts to find a commons majority for an orderly withdrawal from the European Union.[2]
The final document is a speech in parliament by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron from almost nine years ago, in which he officially apologizes for the killing in January 1972 of unarmed demonstrators, at the same time as presenting this event as exceptional and not typical, and praising in general the actions of British troops in Northern Ireland during the 30 year period after 1969.[3]

In what way are they about mémoire/héritage/rupture ?

Two of the documents are concerned with apologies, in each case for actions of a dominant power towards a subaltern group at a moment realtively distant in the past. Both of the events referred to – the famine and Bloody Sunday, left much bitterness against the British, in particular among Irish nationalists, for whom such cruelty was considered typical of British imperial crime.
In the first case, Tony Blair  suggests that the British government should have done more to alleviate the effects of the famine.
(1 WHO)
It might be considered unsurprising that it should be Tony Blair who volunteered this apology. Tony Blair’s premiership was characterized by a series of measures and policies intended to modernize institutions and turn the page on old ways of doing things (which went in parallel to the use of a new, personal style very much more informal than Prime Ministers had traditionally been). For example, the House of Lords was thoroughly overhauled and the vast majority of hereditary Lords were excluded. A Freedom of Information act on a North- American model changed the relation of the state to the media. On inner-party issues, Blair changed the name of his party (to « New Labour »), and changed its constitution and policies.  Thus, a new attitude to the history of the Irish famine and to Britain’s colonial past in general might be seen as just one more novel approach brought in by Mr Blair.
(1 : When, and what difference did it make?)
This « apology » took place in 1997, shortly after the election of Tony Blair. Irish nationalists were hoping that the new Labour government, elected after 18 years of Conservative government, might mark a change in attitudes to Ireland, even though John Major’s government had already been working on negotations between nationalists and loyalists. Margaret Thatcher’s time in office, for 1979 to 1990, had been marked by the death of ten Republican prisoners on hunger strike, but in the 1990s, the British Army, the IRA, and the loyalist paramilitaries all seemed to be coming to the conclusion that a military victory was impossible. This “apology” by Tony Blair for an old historical injustice might have helped an atmosphere of negotiation which was to lead up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which managed to end the military conflict in return for work on Catholic human rights in the North, and increased cooperation between the North of Ireland and the Republic.
(How and what)
Nevertheless the form of the apology is to be noted. It was not (unlike document 3) an official government apology given formally in the House of Commons, but a statement sent to be read out at a commemorative concert for the victims of the famine.  The article only uses very short quotes of less than a sentence from Blair’s words, but the full text includes the words “Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by”. Holland welcomes this expression of regret at the failings of previous British governments  and feels it is an important step forward in the respect it shows for Irish feeling on the still burning  question of the famine. One scholar has underlined its historical significance in that “Blair’s rhetoric was one of the first examples of a collective apology issued by a post-Cold War era political.”
Indeed, the famine, whose immediate cause was a disease affecting the potato crops, began in 1847 and lasted several years. More than a million died, more than a million emigrated, and population levels in Ireland did not recover for over a century. Although some government aid was forthcoming from Westminster, it was severely limited by “laissez-faire” politics in this period long before the welfare state. The ideology of conservative elites considered that the Irish people were no doubt to blame for the famine, or even that it was punishment come directly from God. Ireland’s people were often represented at this time as inferior and even animal. We should remember that until 1829 Catholics in Ireland were not allowed to sit as Members of Parliament.
As the famine continued, soup kitchens and “public works” were organized, but the latter was often forced and humiliating labour, rather useful work, in keeping with attitudes to the poor at the time. Even more shocking was the fact considerable quantities of food (which the poor did not have the money to buy) were exported from Ireland during the famine, and the government was not prepared to reduce taxes on foreign wheat which might have helped the situation.
The famine became, in subsequent decades, something of a founding myth of Irish identity. The fact that the British helped so little was considered by many to be typical of colonial domination, and some nationalist historians have even referred to the British government’s attitude at the time as “genocidal”.
Mary Holland is disappointed that Irish politicians have not received with more enthusiasm this expression of regret. Although the Taoiseach (the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic) made positive comments about it, Bertie Ahern, leader of Fianna Fail, a centre right political party and one of the two main parties in the Irish Republic,[4] has not yet reacted, despite his earlier interest in seeing Britain express regret. She underlines the fact that conservative forces in the UK have denounced Blair’s statement. For example the Daily Telegraph, the most conservative of the serious daily newspapers, had objected, and Holland suggests that Blair’s political courage should be praised. The Daily Telegraph had expressed a common conservative complaint in cases where  historical injustice is the target of modern political campaigns: it said that this was a case of “grievance culture”, people enjoying at playing at being victims,[5] suggesting that the dark past is better forgotten rather than re-hashed. For the Daily Telegraph, far from providing the basis for a future of mutual respect and peace, apologizing in this way would tend to encourage terrorism.
To strengthen her argument in favour of this apology, Holland gives two examples of apologies which she feels have been positive. One is the decision in 2006 by the British government to accord a posthumous pardon to British soldiers executed by their own army in the First World War, the result of a very long campaign, and a pardon which resulted in oficial statues to the executed being set up in official places of military commemoration. The second was the ceasefire declared by the loyalist paramilitaries opposed to the IRA. The expression of apology by loyalist leaders, she felt, led to real progress in the peace agreements.

The third document is also connected to apology: it is the official statement of Conservative prime minister about the report from the Saville inquiry.[6] Although it is David Cameron who makes the apology, it is the result of a long process in which he himself had little role, as indeed he underlines, saying that the 1970s was a period he had read about but had not lived through (Cameron was six years old in 1972, and became Britain’s youngest  Prime minister since the early 19th century when he took office in 2010.)
After British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in 1969, in a situation where inter-community violence was at a high level, and Catholic parts of town in particular were in danger, their reputation among Catholics rapidly deteriorated, as it became clear that they did not have the same attitude to nationalist Catholics and to loyalist Protestants. Imprisonment without trial was brought in for paramilitary suspects in 1971, but only used systematically against Republicans. At one point, Britain was denounced by international organizations for the use of torture.
In January 1972, an unarmed political demonstration took place in Derry. Fourteen young men were killed by the British Army, in front of hundreds of witnesses. Several of them were teenagers, and one of them was shot dead while he was waving a white handkerchief in sign of peace. An inquiry, the Widgery inquiry, set up in the days following the events concluded that the soldiers had acted in self-defence, and both houses of parliament approved the report of the inquiry, despite misgivings being expressed even in establishment circles.
The events of Bloody Sunday strengthened the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. It was well-known in Northern Ireland that the men killed had been unarmed, and often shot in the back in cold blood, and this fact, along with government and media insistence that the shooting was done in self-defence, made it seem to many that only a military or paramilitary option was open for defending Catholic nationalist interests in Northern Ireland. In his speech, Cameron confirms this, saying that Bloody Sunday “strengthened the provisional IRA”.
25 years later, when it had become apparent to all sides that a military victory was highly unlikely, there were the beginnings of negotiations for a peace agreement. The question of Bloody Sunday came to be very important. Many Republicans were not prepared to negotiate as long as the official position of the British government was that these killings were justified. The whole future of the very fragile peace negotiations might have been threatened.
There had been a campaign for justice for many years by families and supporter of those killed, but there was a technical problem: it is not normally possible to open a new inquiry once an inquiry on a given event has reached its conclusions. A special dispensation was obtained to open a new inquiry, under the leadership of Lord Saville. The inquiry lasted twelve years, partly because hundreds of witnesses had seen the people shot (since the events took place below blocks of flats). The result showed that the people killed were not armed and were not threatening the soldiers in any way.
David Cameron had inherited this situation, and his priority was, naturally, damage limitation. There are still very small paramilitary groups uninterested in the Good Friday process, and any attempt to block the conclusions of the inquiry could have been dangerous. He decide on a formal, public apology, hoping thus to close this chapter in history. The apology did not, in fact, quite close the chapter, in that there are campaigns for the soldiers who carried out the murders to face criminal charges.
Cameron’s position is unenviable, since the Saville Report made it clear that the victims of Bloody Sunday were executed in cold blood, and the question must therefore be raised as to how it was possible for the first inquiry under Lord Widgery to exonerate the soldiers involved. Cameron concentrates then on presenting the events of that Sunday as wholly exceptional. British troops he says are “the finest in the world”, and over the thirty years or so that British soldiers were in Northern Ireland, they deserve “honour” not reprobation. They showed, in general, according to Cameron, “enormous courage and professionalism”. He further argues that it is the work of the large number of troops who were in Northern Ireland which made the peace process after 1998 possible.
By mentioning the large number of deaths resulting from the “Troubles” , in particular in the 1970s, he aims at contextualizing, perhaps even minimizing, the scandal of Bloody Sunday.
In this way, Cameron replies in advance to the arguments that will be put forward by Irish nationalists, who will consider that Bloody Sunday was certainly an extreme case, but that the logic was wholly typical of British forces in Northern Ireland, backing up anti-Catholic racism and a Northern Irish statelet which the nationalists consider to be illegitimate and temporary.
Cameron ends his speech by expressing the hope that this clear  apology will  mark the moment where we come together in this House and in the communities we represent to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us.” That is, he expresses a wish that truth and reconciliation can be attained, and that the Good Friday process can continue and relations improve. In 2019, there are still a number of Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Northern Irish cities divided by “peace walls” so it is clear that there is still work to do to unite Catholics and the Protestants which the British army was aligning itself with.


(1, 3 context)
The first and third documents also fit into a series of events and initiatives within Britain and indeed other countries- actual or proposed apologies for past injustices. One of the best-known cases is the decision of the Australian government a few years back to apologize for the treatment of Aboriginal children of « the stolen generations » when racist policies involved the taking of children from their families and placing them, often secretly, with White families. In Britain there have been such examples as the apology by the British State for the msitreatment of gay mathematician Alan Turing, and the apology some years ago by the Church of England for their involvement in the slave trade.

The second document is quite different in form. It is a mathematical puzzle, presented as a « paradox ». How can one follow the instructions ? It is mathematically impossible to do so. Because of this, the intention of the diagram is no doubt humorous.[7]
The diagram refers to the dilemma facing Theresa May and her government in their negotations for withdrawal from the European Union after the referendum decision of 2016. There are political reasons for each one of the instructions, and, as we shall see, they do have some connection with memory and heritage. We will take them, not in order.
Why must there must be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Although the military conflict has almost completely ceased, the Irish nationalists in the North and in the Republic still wish, by political means, to work for the eventual reunification of the whole Ireland, since they see the 1920 partition as a colonial carving up of the island, caused by colonial settlements going back centuries, in a process which imposed Protestant domination on an island which held a Catholic majority. The lack of a real visible border at the moment is very important to nationalists, seeing that the militarized border before 1998 was felt as an insult to Irish national aspirations.
Loyalists also are not keen for a hard border (with customs barriers, passport controls etc) to return. From a practical point of view, many thousands of people cross the border every day simply to go to work, and also, if  a hard border were to encourage those nationalists who have not abandoned armed struggle, this would be a negative.
There must be a hard border between France and Britain. The UK has decided to leave the European Union, and thus no longer be part of the single market nor the free movement area, nor, eventually, the customs’ union. The European Union has true, hard borders all around its exterior, and it would be illogical for this not to be the case for Britain.
These two imperatives lead to a contradiction. How can there be no hard border to the North of the Irish Republic, and yet a hard border between the EU and the UK?
One idea which was floated last year to solve this dilemma was to have some kind of border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain: that is, to allow Northern Ireland, although it is part of the United Kingdom, to have a special relationship with the European Union, on a tariff-free principle. This would no doubt be complex to put into place, but it would have, in theory, solved the political problem. There would have been customs checks on items entering England Scotland or Wales if they came from anywhere on the island of Ireland. However, there was an “accidental” complication. This solution would have been unacceptable to many unionists, who are firmly opposed to Northern Irealnd being treated in any way differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, because they see any such difference as the beginning of a dangerous slope leading to the reunification of Ireland. Rule from Dublin has been the nightmare of unionists since the very beginning of the 19th century, when Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom by the Acts of Union, passed in Westminster and in Dublin. At the end of the 19th century Home Rule for Ireland, a plan for partial autonomy for Ireland, was fiercely fought against by unionists, through such actions as the Curragh mutiny. After the First World War, the determination and force of unionists allowed the division of Ireland and the formation of a Northern entity of which the majority of the population was Protestant.
It might have been possible for the British government to ignore these unionist feelings, or compensate them by making concessions on other issues, had it not been for an unfortunate political coincidence. The British Conservative government of Theresa May does not have a majority in the House of Commons (always an uncomfortable position for any government). The only way they can have decisions voted in by a majority is by relying on the ten or so Mps from the Democratic Unionist Party, a hardline unionist organization, often considered to be anti-Catholic, and which campaigned against the Good Friday agreement when it was put to a referendum in 1998.
This situation of dependence was created by the 2017 general elections in Britain, in which the Labour Party, newly led by left-winger Jeremy Corbyn did better than expected, and left the Conservative party without a majority.
The DUP Members of Parliament would never accept that Northern Ireland be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, leading to the dilemma illustrated in the diagram. Although this is above all a question of twenty first century politics, the link with memory and heritage is clear, in that the partition of Ireland almost a hundred years ago, a compromise intended to solve the problem of the conflict between the nationalist population and the unionists created by earlier settlement and by religious and social divisions, has come back to haunt today’s politicians.

All in all, the three documents highlight past injustices and conflicts, and the use of the government apology in processes connected with Truth and Reconciliation. The two apologies are interventions in delicate situation – the first voluntary, the second constrained.[8] The diagram, a more factual presentation rather than a rhetorical one, illustrates the dilemma inherited from past conflicts and bitternesses.



General questions of methodology

Here are some general points on writing a text commentary in civilization, which is completely different from in literature. Many thanks to the teachers from the University of Paris 7 : this section is made up of extracts from their document, which I have slightly adapted.

This is one suggested method. Others are possible, but they will tend to draw in the same questionings. The two main grave errors are a) paraphrasing the document and b) reciting your history classes without linking them to this particulat document and what the document is trying to do.




Objective of the commentary
In a text commentary, your role is to determine the historical significance of the text. In order to do so, you must discuss the perspective given by the author on the historical issues presented in the text. You must determine what his or her objectives are and how / to what extent he or she achieves them. This implies that there needs to be 3 levels to your analysis:

Level 1: define, explain, highlight the events, developments etc mentioned in the text, using your knowledge of the period; demonstrate that you know your history, understand what the author refers to, and that you are able to make the text comprehensible to people who do not know the period or have not read the text.

Level 2: comment on the intentions of the author, on how they present the issues at stake, and why.

Level 3: what difference did it make? What is the role of this particular document or incident in the long trends of historical development?

Preliminary work on the text
1. Look at the “margins” of the text: title, source, date (situate it within your period), author (see whether it’s anonymous / anybody famous; if the author is known to you, gather in your mind the elements you know about him/her)

2. Read the text carefully, at least 3 times. When you read the text for the first time, do not make any notes or write on the text; do not make assumptions and keep a clear and open mind until you have read the last word of the text: texts can be deceptive and the key to the interpretation may be at the end of the passage – it’s always difficult to get rid of wrong assumptions.

3. Once you have perceived the general idea of the text, look closely at the following elements:

a. nature of the text (official report / letter / petition / speech). The specificity of the text will have to be taken into account in your analysis.

b.  period analysed in the text + date when the text was written. They may be the same or they may be different, in the case of memoirs for instance - the retrospective aspect of a document should never be ignored. Place the date(s) within your period + is it immediately before/after a major historical event, reform etc. Before you start your analysis, you must be clear on the
context in which the text was written or the speech delivered 

c. author (or multiple authors); if you know who they are, determine whether they are likely to have a particular perspective / events they describe and why.

d. readership / audience: this is essential to help you analyse the objectives of the author, who they intend to convince and what means they will use to do so.

e.  tone/ literary qualities… because they are markers of subjectivity and will help you determine the intentions, means and perspective of the author.

f. structure of the text: uncover the internal logic of the text, the argumentative dynamic of the author’s demonstration, (if it is an argumentative text, as texts chosen for exams often are) looking closely at repetitions/progression…

Detailed analysis of the text
One of the main challenges here is to distinguish the main arguments from the more minor points. This does not mean of course that details are to be overlooked: but they shouldn’t obscure the central dynamic of the text, which should be at the heart of your commentary. A linear analysis of the text will first enable you to choose the terms, dates, concepts, events, etc that need to be defined, explained and commented on. Select the quotes that you will include in your commentary. But the objective of your analysis should be to go towards the most problematic elements, towards what is implicit, what is left unsaid, what is hidden (consciously or unconsciously) by the author.

You should uncover whether the author is being influenced (and by whom or what), to what extent they arepartial, and to what extent they are trying to influence the readership/audience. It is on these points that your commentary should provide a critical (which of course means constructive assessment) perspective on the text. Compare the way the author presents events to what you know of these same historical events, to ultimately determine why the author writes as he or she does, what the motives are and what, therefore, is the historical interest of the text. Once you have completed this detailed analysis, you will be able to organise the main themes of the text into a logical, detailed outline and determine a “problématique”. Remember that this is not an essay and that the  problématique should be based on the historical interest of the text and the intentions of the author, not on the topic in general.

 
Introduction
1. Begin with the context: select relevant historical developments that will lead to the issues raised by the text.

Select the context critically: the historical long-term perspective is only interesting if relevant: avoid equally superficial and naïve comments, such as “England has always been/ For centuries…”
The introduction should remain dense, concise, to the point: it is not the place to cram in knowledge, so do not give a vast panorama of events on the subject at stake in the text.

2. Present the main idea/theme of the text (brief but to the point), the objective of the author, the date, the readership; show that you have understood the context in which the text was written or the speech delivered and that you will reflect on its significance.

3. Introduce a clear  problématique, focused on the text (not simply on the general topic of the text) and on its interpretation. Once again, the essential elements in a commentary are the interpretation that the author gives of the period concerned, and your own informed interpretation of the author’s perspective. You need to reflect on how the text should be read in order to be properly understood, in its explicit and implicit elements.

Development: argumentation
Do not hesitate to draw comparisons between the document you are asked to study and other documents you have read that would highlight the interest of the text and help you build a critical analysis. Interpretations are central in history and the quality of your analysis will be improved if you can use briefly and selectively other documents that may be relevant to fully understand the significance of the text you are to study. Similarly, do not hesitate to use the historiography on the period to support your analysis. Referring to books and/or articles by historians of the period will give weight to your own analysis and demonstrate that you have a broad and informed perspective on events.

Conclusion
It should not be a summary (neither of your development nor of the text itself). You must reflect on what you have demonstrated and pull together the threads from your main arguments, conclude on the historical interest/significance of the text, the objectives of the author and his/her degree of subjectivity. Needless to say, you must provide an answer to the
 problématique given in the introduction. Include your reflection in a broader historical context (without giving the impression that it’s a mere “what happened next”.

To be avoided at all costs
1. Paraphrase and reformulation: this will be avoided if you remember the 2 levels that your commentary must include (cf above). 2.

Essay rather than commentary: (cf above: never provide an analysis that is not closely linked to the text and its specificity; this should also enable you to avoid any
 placage de cours).

3. Literary commentary: style, rhetorical devices etc are only useful if they support your analysis of history; if not, they are irrelevant.
[If you want to talk about lexical fields, anaphores and cataphores, you should probably wait until you are working on a literary document].

4. Judgment on the author, pseudo-psychology on his/her feelings and intentions. Bold statements (particularly if unfounded): valuable comments generally come from the confrontation between several interpretations of the same event/process.

[e.g. Do not write “The author’s presentation does not fit with the facts.” Write instead: “Other commentators such as X have seen these events in quite a different way, claiming that ….”.]



[10][2] The full manifesto can be found here: http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con74oct.htm


Errors.
Everyone makes mistakes, so please do not take it personally if one of yours is listed here.
In content
The idea expressed
The problem with it
The three documents deal with Northern Ireland.
The famine was before Northern Ireland, and the Irish Times is not a Northern Irish paper.
Document X is clearly biassed.
« Biassed » is a very negative word. Better to say « Document X shows clearly it is written by someone who believes … » or « Document X is somewhat partisan in that it claims that … »
Relations between countries are influenced by their history.
Much too general. Do not use up space writing sentences which cannot gain you any credit. Every sentence should add a little credit.
As a matter of fact, relationships can evolve in both a positive or negative way.
Much too general : omit.
The history of Anglo-Irish relations is marked by a series of disagreements and quarrels.
The vocabulary is much too light-hearted for a history of conquest, war, famine etc.
[Cameron apologizes and] Then, he offers a contrasted perspective by explaining the beneficent deeds of the army in Ireland and the devotion of soldiers.                                                                                                                                          
Here, more hedging is needed. *In Cameron’s opinon* the general work of British soldiers in Northern Ireland was positive and honourable. But you, the student, should not assert that this is the case. In English, if I write “Mr Smith explained that it was not his fault”, this means that I agree with Mr Smith on this point.
The relationship between Ulster and the other countries of the United Kingdom.
“Ulster” is nine counties; “Northern Ireland” is only six. Although people do sometimes say “Ulster” instead of “Northern Ireland” it is not accurate.


Questions of language
1. No contractions in university work when not quoting dialogue, ever.
2. A few people have problems translating the « conditionnel de conjecture » (« des tragédies dans lesquelles le Royaume Uni aurait sa part de responsabilité »). This is not translated with « would ».
3. Be careful with infinitive andf gerundive structures. The correct form with “risk”, for example, is “There is a risk OF ENCOURAGING a return to a military conflict”.


[1] Note that from the very first mention of the document, it is best to clearly express what the document is trying to do. « The first document deals with Tony Blair’s apology » is weak.
[2] One student suggested that the colours in the document were significant – the green words for Ireland’s priorities, etc. This is creative but not correct in this case.
[3] Same comment here : from the beginning try to characterize what the document is doing, and what the motivation is. Cameron is forced to apologize because of the facts officially uncovered by the Saville inquiry, but he wants to do it in a manner which limits the damage to the reputation, in Britain, of the British Army. You should not characterize the apology as something Cameron felt like doing because he was so honest. If this was how politics worked, the apology would have come decades earlier.
[4] At the exam, obviously, if you do not know who Fianna Fail are, you cannot add these words, but if you do know you must show you know.
[5] If you can define « grievance culture » this would definitely be a bonus.
[6] Be careful : inquiry not enquiry.
[7] The characterization of the second document is considerably more difficult than that of the other two, and I think it would be possible to get a good mark on the exam even without understanding the humorous intent of the diagram, as long as you showed you understood*why* it was being considered essential to have « no hard border » in one place and a « hard border » in another. You should also show you know what a « hard border » actually is.
[8] Many students were too generous with their analysis of the interventions by politicians. Of course it is quite possible that Blair and Cameron were motivated by the highest of ideals – this is not really something we can know. What we can know and explain is the circumstances which made it a good idea to apologize (Blair) with a particular political aim, or made it compulsory to apologize (Cameron) in the hope of damage limitation.