Sunday, 22 October 2006

The History Question bookcover; Black Inc.Review: The History Question: Who Owns the Past?, Quarterly Essay, Inga Clendinnen (2006)

Clendinnen says that historians should stay clear of the creation of myths. The history question is too important for historians to get involved in the public debate at a superficial level. They should concentrate on finding the truth about the past, and not mix with the pundits and the commentators, the politicians and the journalists who dominate public debate.

Historians need to resist participating in the concoction of large, inspiriting narratives, because any large, inspiriting narrative requires significant narrowing of vision and manipulations of the truth.

She also wants Australian history to be studied in the context of the global events of whatever time, so that students will get an understanding beyond the parochial, of the broad narrative of history.

Clendinnen also gets the nod from John Hirst, Associate Professor at La Trobe University, in his piece published in The Monthly (October 2006). Her book Dancing with Strangers (2003) is last on a list he compiled of "the best eleven history books on Australia".

As an ethnographic historian, her skill is in deciphering cultures that have left few, if any, records. She finds meaning by interpreting action as it was described by outsiders hostile to or puzzled by what they were seeing. ... She develops startling new views of the spearing of Governor Phillip and his ordering of the first punitive expedition against the Aborigines. She calls her reinterpretations hypotheses or even guesses, but they are so dazzling that we are left groping to offer alternatives. All previous accounts are now in question.

Both Hirst and Clendinnen were among the "23 academics and other community leaders" who attended the History Summit called by the federal Education Minister to discuss the teaching of history in secondary schools. According to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald:

A five-member panel has been asked to write a model curriculum to give the Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, later this year.

It'll be interesting to see what they come up with.

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