Thursday, November 1, 2012

World War One

Here are the presentations I have been giving in class for your HSC unit in Modern History. We have been studying World War One.

In HSC subjects, the most important thing you can do is check the Syllabus. This is the document from the Board of Studies that describes what needs to be covered in each part of your course. You will only be examined on those dot-points contained in the Syllabus.

You can download the Stage 6 (that is, year 11 and year 12) syllabus for Modern History here. Here is what it says about the World War One unit of study:

Core Study: World War I 1914–1919: A Source-based Study
Percentage of course time: 25%
Principal focus: Students use different types of sources and acquired knowledge to

investigate key features, issues, individuals, groups and events in the study of World War I.
Students’ prior learning about World War I
At Stage 5, students will learn about Australia and World War I, including the reasons for Australia’s involvement; the places where Australians fought; the experiences of Australians at Gallipoli; how and why the Anzac legend was created; the conscription debate in Australia; experiences of one group in Australia during World War I and the ways that Australia has commemorated World War I over time.
  1. H1.1  describe the role of key features, issues, individuals, groups and events of selected twentieth-century studies
  2. H1.2  analyse and evaluate the role of key features, issues, individuals, groups and events of selected twentieth-century studies
  1. H3.2  locate, select and organise relevant information from different types of sources
  2. H3.3  analyse and evaluate sources for their usefulness and reliability
  3. H3.4  explain and evaluate differing perspectives and interpretations of the past
  4. H3.5  plan and present the findings of historical investigations, analysing and synthesising
    information from different types of sources

  1. H4.1  use historical terms and concepts appropriately
  2. H4.2  communicate a knowledge and understanding of historical features and issues, using
    appropriate and well-structured oral and written forms

Students learn to:
  • ask relevant questions in relation to World War I
  • locate, select and organise information from different types of primary and secondary
    sources, including ICT, about key features and issues related to World War I

  • make deductions and draw conclusions about key features and issues of World War I
  • evaluate the usefulness, reliability and perspectives of sources
  • account for and assess differing historical interpretations of World War I
  • use historical terms and concepts appropriately
  • present the findings of investigations on aspects of World War I, analysing and
    synthesising information from different types of sources

  • communicate an understanding of the features and issues of World War I using
    appropriate and well-structured oral and/or written and/or multimedia forms including ICT.

In investigating for the source-based study, students shall develop knowledge and skills to respond to different types of sources and relevant historiographical issues related to World War I.
Students learn about:
  1. 1  War on the Western Front
    • –  the reasons for the stalemate on the Western Front
    • –  the nature of trench warfare and life in the trenches dealing with experiences of Allied
      and German soldiers

    • –  overview of strategies and tactics to break the stalemate including key battles: Verdun,
      the Somme, Passchendaele

    • –  changing attitudes of Allied and German soldiers to the war over time
  2. 2  The home fronts in Britain and Germany
    • –  total war and its social and economic impact on civilians in Britain and Germany
    • –  recruitment, conscription, censorship and propaganda in Britain and Germany
    • –  the variety of attitudes to the war and how they changed over time in Britain and

    • –  the impact of the war on women’s lives and experiences in Britain
  3. 3  Turning points
    • –  impacts of the entry of the USA and of the Russian withdrawal
    • –  Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive and the Allied response
  4. 4  Allied Victory
    • –  events leading to the Armistice, 1918
    • –  reasons for the Allied victory and German collapse

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Now is the winter of our discontent...

Richard the Third is one of Shakespeare's most enduring plays.
Richard himself goes down in history as one of fictions' most iconic "baddies". We say "fiction" because there is considerable debate about whether his portrayal in the play is deserved. Was Richard a avaricious, child-murdering monster? This question burns anew with the alleged discovery of Richard's grave in England, long considered lost.

In a way, we must put this historical question aside, and examine what we are presented in the play for its own merit.

But what does Shakespeare present us? And how has this, in turn be interpreted and re-interpreted by actors?

This article will recap some themes we will touch on in class and point you to some good resources we will use to explore just one small fragment of Richard III, the opening speech, of which the first and most famous line is "Now is the winter of our discontent..."

Different adaptations.
We will discover that adaptations made at different times take certain liberties with Shakespeare's original text, perhaps omitting some lines, or transplanting lines from other parts of the play.

This is a BBC production from the 1980s. It remains reasonably faithful to the original, but is fairly bland.

This is the 1995 production starring Sir Ian McKellen (and in my opinion, the best adaptation). The opening speech contains lines from elsewhere in the play, and is cut a little short. Further, the play has been re-set into a kind of "alternate reality", a 1930's fascist England. These kinds of re-interpretations are common. Have you seen Baz Luhrman's "Romeo and Juliet" re-set in a modern gangster Los Angeles?

More information about this particular adaptation can be found on Ian McKellen's website.

This is the famous 1955 production starring Laurence Olivier. In this version, what is supposed to be the opening lines of the play occur over 8 minutes into the play and after some other dialog.

Also, try this (audio only) version of Shakespearean actor, Sir Kenneth Branagh, delivering the speech

Questions: Is our interpretation of the play changed by these alterations? Would you be a "purist" or be OK with these changes if it made the play more accessible to an audience? Can we help but interpret a play through the lens of our own time? What factors would have contributed to the way the play was understood in Shakespeare's own time (hint, who was on the throne at the time and how could it be interpreted that there might be a 'political message' in the way a previous dynasty is portrayed? Compare Henry V and Richard III. What dynasties did they represent, and what was Elizabeth the First's dynasty?)

 Here is an excellent resource we will devote an entire lesson to, where Sir Ian McKellen walks us through the opening speech line by line and helps us understand it.

Click this link for the video at the Stagework website.

Here is a 2004 documentary hosted by Tony Robinson (Time Team, Black Adder) titled "Richard III: Fact or Fiction"

Lastly, just for fun, here is an impressionist giving one of the other speeches from the play (Clarence's prison speech) in a range of celebrity voices.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Robert Menzies

This article contains a brief overview of Robert Menzies. Scroll to the bottom for some other web-based resources to aid your learning.
Robert Menzies remains the most significant figure in Australia’s political history, and played a lesser role in international history during a time of world war and its cold-war aftermath. His significance arises primarily from the extraordinary duration of his tenure as Prime Minister; eighteen and a half years. This made him Australia’s longest serving leader by 7 years.

The first of his two periods as Prime Minister came as Europe was plunged into World War. Menzies immediately committed Australian troops to Britain’s aid, against the opposition of the Labor party, who felt that troops should be reserved for Australia’s home defence. His latter term, from 1949 until his retirement in 1966, spanned the Cold War, the entrance into the Vietnam conflict, Australia’s re-orientation away from Britain and towards Asia with the U.S as its chief ally, and the post-war transformation of Australia’s society through immigration and urbanisation.

Menzies was a consummate politician, known for his rhetorical dexterity both in parliament and on the hustings. “The whole glory of parliamentary debate,” he said, “is its cut and thrust”[1]. He was lauded for his steady governance and temperament. He attracted the loyalty of his ministers and upheld the independence of the public service mandarins who served around him. He was regarded as a man of integrity, even by his political foes.

Uniquely among all Australian Prime Ministers, Menzies retired at a time of his own choosing rather than being defeated in an election or party room coup. In an age where politics now consists of constantly shifting allegiances and where even sitting Prime Ministers or Premiers can be deposed by former allies, Menzies longevity sprang as much from his force of intellect and imperial mien as it came from inhabiting an era of a more civil polity.

We may gauge the impact Menzies would have on Australian politics by observing his rapid ascent in earlier life. Menzies was born to a middle class family of Scottish and Cornish heritage, the son of a shopkeeper. He studied and gained admittance to the Victorian bar, winning a number of awards and scholarships. He practiced as a lawyer before beginning his political career at the age of 34 in 1928, where he served in both houses of the Victorian legislature, soon becoming deputy Premier as a member of the Nationalist Party. This party merged with other groups to form the United Australia Party, under whose banner Menzies gained election to the Federal parliament in 1934 and was appointed Attorney General. Menzies became Prime Minister in 1939 in a minority government immediately prior to the outbreak of war.

Menzies' declaration of war against Germany, made famous by his radio broadcast, flowed from an assumption barely questioned in either Australia or Britain, that Australia would come to its Mother Country’s aid. Although Menzies was an ardent monarchist and supporter of strong ties with Britain, it is not likely any other leader would have failed to have to have done the same, except that Menzies’ choice of sending Australian troops abroad at the expense of home defence was criticised. Menzies narrowly won the 1940 election but his most significant action afterwards was to undertake a hazardous journey to England in early 1941 to confer with Winston Churchill to press Australia’s plight. Menzies was exceptionally well received in England, possibly because of his symbolic status as the leader within the wider Commonwealth that would not see Britain abandoned in its time of need. Menzies clashed personally with Churchill, and lamented privately that Churchill’s autocratic style of government stifled genuine debate and dissent within cabinet and from advisors. But among the public and press, so well received was he that there was agitation from some quarters that Menzies should replace Churchill as British leader. Menzies experienced two crucial failures at this time. He failed to convince Churchill to defend Britain’s regional possessions, such as Singapore, at all costs, and his absence of four months created a crisis for his political leadership at home. He lost the Prime Ministership shortly after his return.

Menzies’ chief contribution in the interregnum between this loss and his return in 1949 was addressing the moribund state of the conservative parties. The United Australia party lost its mandate in 1940 and both the following two elections. In 1943, the UAP gained only 16.1% of the vote, and Menzies felt it no longer suited the times. Right-of-centre parties were fragmented and disorganised; no match for the solidarity and resources of the Labor movement. It was Menzies who convened a summit of eleven conservative groups in October 1944. The result was the founding of the Liberal party which (in coalition with the Country [later, National] party), has dominated Australian conservative politics for nearly 70 years. Menzies was advocate, catalyst, midwife and leader to this change.

            The defining global factor that proved pivotal to Menzies’ second, fifteen year stretch as leader from 1949 to 1966 was the Cold War. Menzies trenchant opposition to communism was typical of the time, and the persistent fear of “reds under the bed” delivered Menzies more advantages than defeats. It was Menzies who pushed hard for the Communist Party to be declared illegal, and it was a significant loss for him have lost the 1951 referendum he proposed to this end. However, Menzies skilfully manipulated the “Petrov Affair” in 1954 (where a Soviet functionary defected, revealing purported Communist sympathisers within Australia) to his advantage. Menzies instituted a Royal Commission which implicated members of the Labor opposition, which exploited deep divisions between H.V Evatt, the Labor leader (whose behaviour began to descend into paranoia), and Catholic members of the Labor movement who were themselves opposed to Communism. This famous schism, which created the Democratic Labor Party, was very effectively used by Menzies to keep the Liberals in power for years. This was no doubt assisted by Menzies’ historic decision to directly support non-government schools (including Catholic schools) with Federal money. This further encouraged a break in the historic nexus between Catholics and the Labor movement. Menzies also implemented a visionary master plan for the development of Canberra into a fitting capital, initiating the construction of iconic places such as the National Library and Lake Burley Griffin, and actively relocating bureaucracies from Melbourne and Sydney to Canberra.

            Menzies mastery of domestic politics contrasted with what is perhaps a mixed record on the international stage. Menzies authorised the British atomic tests at Maralinga, and opposed Britain joining the E.E.C  or its ceding of the Suez. He also opposed the isolation of South Africa arguing a principle of sovereignty, although this view was lost in the debate over apartheid. He cemented regional alliances by negotiating a Australia-Japan Trade agreement, by approving a U.S communications base at North West Cape, and joining Australia in the Columbo plan, the ANZUS and SEATO pacts. Menzies also threw Australia’s support behind the U.S in the escalating Vietnam conflict, even though this meant the unpopular conscription of Australians to the war. Despite this, he failed to convince the United States to intervene in the Indonesian annexation of West New Guinea. Despite the stereotype of Menzies as an Anglophile, history should judge him a leader who was aware and active in Australia’s concerns in the region; our need for the U.S as a key ally, and in Australia’s slow reorientation toward Asia as the key to our future. Finding himself alternately on the right and the wrong side of history leaves Menzies’ ledger in foreign affairs merely balanced.

            Despite many successes, Menzies was not without flaws. His friend Lionel Lindsay summed Menzies up as “a fascinating, generous, affectionate man who yet found time for a certain amount of hearty intolerance and well selected hatreds”[2]. One colleague, referred to him as “Banyan Tree Bob” because “in his shade, nothing will grow.” Another noted he treated his backbenchers with ill-concealed condescension. Such characterisations perhaps sting more than those bestowed by opponents (epithets like “Ming the Merciless” or “Pig-Iron Bob”) because they reflect on the reality of the man without the bias of malice. Both complex and expansive, Menzies’ presence as a crucial figure in Australia’s history cannot be doubted.
[1] Quoted in Wallace Brown’s Ten Prime Ministers, p15
[2] Quoted in Wallace Brown’s Ten Prime Ministers, p9

Here are some books containing information about Menzies:
  • Brown, Wallace. (2002). Ten Prime Ministers: Life among the politicians.The first chapter is very readable and is written by a long time political journalist with first hand anecdotes about Menzies, and about how politics was "done" in the 50s and 60s.
  • Henderson, Gerard. (1998). Menzies Child: The Liberal Party of Australia. This book is a history of the Liberal Party that Menzies' founded. The first half of the book is more relevant as it deals with how Menzies' time in the political wilderness gave rise to the Liberal Party as a new conservative force in Australian politics
  • Howard, John. (2010). Lazarus Rising: A personal and political biography.This is the memoir written by John Howard, Prime Minister from 1996-2007; the second longest serving Prime Minister, and from the same party as Menzies. Check the index, as Menzies is referred to many times as Howard contextualises his story.
 And here are some on-line resources you can use:

Menzies' entry in The Australian Dictionary of Biography,

The Menzies Virtual Museum:
Containing valuable information about the timeline of Menzies' life, in parallel with events in Australia and abroad.

Robert Menzies' 1941 Diary:
An exhibition put on by the Museum of Australian Democracy (in Old Parliament House in Canberra) detailing Menzies' overseas trip where he pressed Australia's plight directly to Winston Churchill and the British War Government. This is an excellent resource for our lesson covering these events.

The Menzies Research Centre:
Information about Menzies, a more concise timeline, and some links to Menzies' more significant speeches.

Menzies: A Life of Liberalism
A 12 minute YouTube biography that covers the main points of Menzies' life, made by the Menzies Research Centre:


"Menzies and Churchill at War":
Go to this link for a three minute synopsis/trailer of a longer documentary we will be watching parts of in class

Menzies interviewed in retirement about the "Petrov Affair":

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Texts that elicit awe

Awe is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder”. Synonyms include amazement, astonishment, admiration, respect, dread, fear and terror.  Our usages of awesome  and awful, springing from the same root, acknowledges that awe connotes both negative and positive responses, but also affirms that it is an emotional response.

“Awe” is a good subject to examine because a fundamental role of texts is moving us in the depth of our being. Texts can inspire us, expand our appreciation, and transport us. In one example I have selected, even a “dry” science documentary is shown re-worked into a song to inspire us to have a sense of purpose in the Cosmos.

Here are presented five texts from diverse genres and modes which might move the respondent at an emotional level. Although it is acknowledged that such selections are subjective, it is hoped that elements common to moving texts can be identified and appreciated. Students will reflect on factors contributing to the effect of the texts, such as the descriptiveness of the language, the scope of the scene described, the appeal to fundamental human hopes and fears, and the degree to which personal identification with the text is possible.

In three cases, a source text is written, but will be considered alongside a rendition in another medium (film or audio). In another, the text is a “mashup”; an original work (a song and music video) drawing on other texts (a science documentary series of the 1980s). In yet another, the selected text is written, but is a fictional extension of characters and a story better known in the medium of film (Star Wars) designed to explore a characters inner-life and unspoken backstory in the form of a diary. Students would explore the relationship of the primary texts, forward to their adaptations, or back to their antecedents, contrasting their fidelity or subversion, or any change of meaning.

To assess students’ understanding, they would be asked to nominate texts which have moved them, and to justify their selection using the same methods employed to critique my five. Optionally, they could compose a brief text which use the same (or similar) tropes to elicit the same response.

1. A more glorious dawn, mashup of Carl Sagan's Cosmos TV series

2. The Bridge of Khazad Dûm, from The Fellowship of the Ring


3. Henry V's speech, "St Crispin's Day" at the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.

5. "And Death Shall Have No Dominion", by Dylan Thomas (1933).
There seemed to be no appropriate reading of this available on the Internet, so I found an old CD I had bought years ago of distinguished British actors reading war-poetry and which had a great rendition by Sir Derek Jacobi. I created a video with this reading and the text of the poem and uploaded it to my own YouTube channel. Here it is:

Further notes about these texts are included below:

Selection 1

“A More Glorious Dawn”, YouTube mashup autotuned song of scientists Carl Sagan and Steven Hawking, based on the 1980’s science documentary series Cosmos.
Medium:        YouTube video (3m34s)
Genre:            Music video, created by user melodysheep as part of the “Symphony of Science” video series
Source:          Internet video, drawn from non fiction TV from the 1980s

Example Syllabus area:   Stage 6 English (Standard) outcome 5 (p26):
“A student describes the ways different technologies and media of production affect the language and structure of particular texts.”
(and its subsections)

This text shows how source material can be repurposed to alter a message or reach a different audience. Carl Sagan, a scientist and a populariser of  science, made the 1980’s TV series Cosmos to inspire people as much as educate them. His luminous prose and distinctive intonations have made him an enduring figure in popular culture. This video, one of a series of mashups set to Sagan’s voice, encourages us to believe we are a part of the universe and that humanity has a destiny among the stars.

Questions for students:
-       Is Sagan’s message changed from it’s original intent, or merely repackaged for a different audience? Is it subverted or faithful?
-       What relevance would this message have in today’s world (eg, in relation to the landing of a new rover on Mars?)
-       Is such a “mashup” on YouTube as authoritative as another medium, such as a book or TV documentary?
-       Is it an example of democratised media (ie, the author did not need a publisher to make this creative work seen by millions?

Selection 2

“The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm”, from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien .
Medium:                    Written (7 pages)
Genre:                        Fictional, fantasy novel.
Source:                      Book, paired with video segment of the movie
Fellowship of the Ring (2001)  (7m40s) of the same events.

Example Syllabus area: Outcome 2 (p25)
2.  A student identifies and describes relationships among texts. Students learn to identify and describe the relationships among texts by:
2.1 identifying similarities in and differences between texts
2.2 identifying and describing the connections between texts
2.3 identifying and describing the ways in which particular texts are influenced by other texts and contexts.

This text describes a climactic moment from the Fellowship of the Ring, where Gandalf confronts the Balrog in the mines of Moria.

Tolkien’s language is rich, evocative and descriptive. Students will contrast the passage from the book describing the events with the segment from the movie, satisfying the syllabus requirement for students to contrast texts

Questions for students:
-       What emotions are evoked by the piece?
-       What changes are there between the book and the movie, and why might  such changes have been made (sequence, pacing, omission, addition, emphasis)?
-       Does being presented with a movie version “ruin”a book for a reader by leaving less for the imagination?
-       This text is more fanciful than the others, set in a fantasy world. Does this make it less relevant to us? Differently relevant?

Selection 3

And Death Shall Have no Dominion, poem by Dylan Thomas (1933)

Medium:                    Written (1 page), plus audio recording/ animation of poem
Genre:                        Poem
Source:                      The works of Dylan Thomas.

Example syllabus areas
3.1 (Cultural references)
6 (identifying language patterns, structural features, identifying key words and phrases)

This text was written by Dylan Thomas when tasked to write on the subject of “immortality”. Commonly evoked as a “war poem”, it was written in peacetime and Thomas was 19 when it was written, and went to lengths to avoid service in WW2.

The poem should be presented along with a dramatic reading, here by British actor Sir Derek Jacobi), and significantly, from a CD of “War Poetry” alongside Slessor and Owen.

Questions for Students:
-       What does this poem evoke?
-       Was there any intent for the poem to be understood a certain way by its author?
-       Is it a hopeful poem? Why does death “have no dominion”? Is death’s defeat literal or metaphorical?
-       What  word choices stand out to create a memorable effect? What repetition is made to underline the theme of the poem?
-       Would someone recently bereaved gain comfort from a poem like this?

Selection 4

Speech by Henry V in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, before the battle of Agincourt (Act IV, scene iii)

Medium:                    Written (1 page), plus video of the 1989 movie with
Kenneth Branagh of the same speech (5m30s)
Genre:                        Shakespearean Play
Source:                      William Shakespeare.

Example Syllabus areas:
2. Connections between texts
4.3 (historical context of language and conventions)
6 (identifying language patterns, structural features, identifying key words and phrases)
9 (developing a considered and informed personal response)

This famous scene from Henry V is regarded as inspiring and emotive.  It’s inclusion is justified as Henry V does not appear on the list of texts in “English Stage 6, Prescriptions Area of Study Electives and Texts” (p41), although other Shakespeare plays do.

Questions for students:
-       Does this speech evoke an emotional response?
-       What language techniques does Shakespeare use?
-       What about the situation acts as an archetype? (imminent battle, overwhelming odds)
-       What other examples of dramatic battle-eve speeches can you suggest? Do they owe something to Shakespeare or do they stand apart?
-       You might cite:
o   Braveheart
o   Independence Day
o   Queen Elizabeth’s speech to her troops (I have the body of a weak and feeble woman…)

Selection 5

The final chapter from The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster

Medium:                    Written (6 pages),
Genre:                        Fan fiction
Source:                      Serialised fiction appearing on author
Cheeseburger Jones’ blog, “The Darth Side”, and subsequently published commercially
(, but drawing from characters and events in the Star Wars movies.

Example syllabus area: 11.8.3 (p59):
A student demonstrates understanding of cultural reference in texts. Students learn to understand cultural reference in texts by:
3.1 identifying and explaining cultural differences relating to communication
3.2 identifying direct cultural references
3.3 identifying a range of culturally based values and perspectives in texts
3.4 showing understanding of some key cultural attitudes, beliefs and values underlying issues and language in texts.

This excellent, alternative fiction work purports to be the personal diary of Darth Vader from Star Wars, interweaving and referencing the events from episodes IV, V and VI (the “original trilogy”) and alluding to events occurring in episodes I, II and III. It challenges our conception of “serious” literature by being an exceptionally well written example of a genre usually disparaged, “fan fiction”. We obtain an entirely different view of Darth Vader’s internal thought processes and motivations, and feel empathy for his plight when the story is told from “the Darth side”.

Questions for students:
-       Does this text subvert a “traditional” understanding of the character?
-       Is this subverted meaning as valid as the traditional one?
-       Is the intention of the original author important?
-       Is this alternative meaning more valid if the original text (the Star Wars movies). is silent on the same questions? What if it disagreed with it?
-       How crucial are these cultural references (or our “traditional” understanding of Darth Vader) to our appreciation of this text?
-       Would this text have any meaning for someone who had no knowledge of Star Wars?
-       Should this be regarded as a legitimate form of literature given the mode of its appearance? (a serialised fictional blog based on a science fiction movie series?)
-       What other examples can you cite of an original fictional work subverting a previous one?

Note: You could cite:
-       The musical “Wicked” as a subversion of Frank Baum’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ character, the Wicked Witch of the West.
-       Reboots of various superhero movies where a character or their story are reinterpreted.
-       Novels written by authors who (authorised or not), create stories in the same “universe” as a previous work (eg sequels to Frank Herbert’s Dune, Asimov’s Foundation, H.G Well’s The Time Machine)