History Seminar Series – Associate Professor Grazyna Zajdow, 9 August 2017

Associate Professor Grazyna Zajdow will present her paper at this week’s History Seminar, titled “Szymon in Spain: tales of the Spanish Civil War”. Grazyna Zajdow is Associate Professor in sociology. Her past research interests have been the experience of living with people with alcohol and drug problems; state policies around alcohol and illicit drugs; and the lives of working women in Australia. Recently she has begun an auto-ethnographic project related to living in a family which has experienced war trauma.


Jerome Bruner argues that there are two ways of presenting the past- as reasoned argument and as story. Reasoned argument relies on facts and an insistence on the ‘truth’. Stories rely on verisimilitude, which means they are not necessarily always factual, not always the full truth, but are likely to be closer to the real experience. Eric Santner writes that historians (which I am not) write for intellectual, not psychic mastery of events but that the elaboration and understanding of any event ‘implicates the historian in the labors of psychic mastery’.

In this project I am trying to present the story of Szymon Zajdow and his experience of fighting with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War as told to an unknown film maker (I have the rushes on tape) and to myself as his daughter. The truth of things is difficult to present when the writer is as close to the subject as I am, but I am certainly implicated in the ‘labor of psychic mastery’. Australia in 2017 seems not to understand why people go off to fight in foreign wars, but in 1936-38 tens of thousands of men and women did just that. This paper presents a particular narrative about one of these as well as indulges a little in what Maria Tumarkan calls ‘the platitude du jour’ of our times- the contemporary desire to tell our own stories.


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