". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Reading A Thatcherite - Napoleon Bonaparte

Huh. This doesn't look like Merryl Streep.

I have on hand Napoleon: A Life (English publication title, Napoleon The Great) by Andrew Roberts (2014).

This isn't the first biography or study of Napoleon I've taken on by any means.  But it is the first one to be published since the massive publication of all of Napoleon's correspondence; the past editions left out a third of the letters for various political or axe-grinding reasons. It is also the first work on Napoleon written by a self-proclaimed Thatcherite.  On his wiki and other sites, Robert refrains from mentioning any other reason for his conversion to Thatcherism other than he agreed that the UK had no reason to join the European Union and / or change it's own currency.  From early in his adult life he has always been deeply embedded in the UK's upper echelons of the business and financial communities -- he's currently married to the CEO of "the Brunswick Group LLP and a Governor of the South Bank Centre." 

Roberts is a prolific and most successful historian - journalist.  For all his publications and many honors and dignities received, including several BBC programs made from his books go his wiki here.  

There's a lot here to make me skeptical about his work.  On the other hand, he has a deep and authentic knowledge about the man and the era via his previous works, all of which are mostly well received.

As far as this bio of Napoleon, the reviews are mixed.  Several have mentioned that Roberts has allowed his hero-worship of the man spoil his interpretation and perceptions.  For my own most important concerns around Napoleon, which is slavery, the slave trace, the Saint-Domingue slave uprising, Toussaint, the Caribbean wars with Britain, the sale of the Louisiana Territory, and the earlier accompanying matters of the Revolution's and Directory's relationships with and treatment of the very young United States -- there's hardly anything. This isn't unusual in studies of Napoleon, particularly those by British writers.  They got their own ass kicking in Saint-Domingue and don't like thinking about that much.  They also overplayed their hand with the U.S. in this era, which led to the War of 1812, which wasn't good for Britain in the end.  And most of all the Brit historians lurve Rear-Admiral Nelson, Trafalgar, the Peninsular War and Waterloo. So there ya go -- no Saint-Domingue or Louisiana or the U.S.

But this sort of thing reminds us how basic it is to research to read only a single work by a single writer, and that we need to read many works by many writers from different political and social perspectives -- and from different eras.

I don't think there's need to question Roberts on the facts of the matters -- it's all about the spins he gives them.  So I like to compare and contrast.

I do respect and profoundly admire what Roberts has accomplished in his life's works.  There are thousands and thousands of works on Napoleon alone, many published even when he was alive -- and he's read enormous numbers of them. His french must be perfection, which I envy!  I also envy him his resources: he's personally visited, in company of experts, over 50 of the 63 battle grounds where Napoleon personally commanded.

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