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Australian History Now
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Australian History Now
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Australian History Now
Anna Clark, Paul Ashton (Editors), NewSouth Books, 2013
Paperback, 288 pp.


Australian history has changed drastically over the last 50 years and has found itself at the centre of heated and consuming public debates. So how do historians themselves read this history? Where do they see themselves in these momentous shifts in historical reading and writing? With contributions from prominent historians including Marilyn Lake, Tom Griffiths, Peter Stanley and Ann Curthoys, Australian History Now offers revealing and refreshing accounts of the ways Australian historians think about the nation's past.

This book contains introductory overview chapters by leading historians on 17 topics including Aboriginal history, a feminist voice, oral history, history in museums, transnational history, public history and the history wars. Recommended for History Extension teachers and students.


1. Making Aboriginal History - Peter Read
2. Labour History and Radical Nationalism - Stuart Macintyre
3. A Feminist Voice - Anne Curthoys
4. Oral History - Alistair Thomson
5. War without End - Peter Stanley
6. History in the Academy - Alan Atkinson
7. History goes to School - Paul Kiem
8. History in Museums - Mathew Trinca
9. The History Wars - Anna Clark
10. Public History - Paul Ashton
11. My Heritage Trail - Graeme Davison
12. History in Communities - Martha Sear
13. Sex, Lies and History on TV - Clare Wright
14. The Trouble with History - Tony Birch
15. Seeing the Forest and the Trees - Tom Griffiths
16. Histories Across Borders - Marilyn Lake
17. New Cultural History and Australia's Colonial Past - Leigh Boucher



Title Reviews

This book provides a kaleidoscopic view of developments over the last half century or so in the reading, writing and 'doing' of Australian history. In each chapter a prominent historian turns the scope to present a different view, suggesting the complexity and constantly changing nature of the discipline of history.

The title 'Australian History Now' implies a framework for discussion, not only of the current state of Australian history, but also what it was in the past and what it might become in the future. The introduction, 'Rethinking Australian History' by Paul Ashton and Anna Clark sets the scene by outlining the effects of major changes to Australian history in the last few decades, among them the development of new methodologies, the use of information technologies and the inclusion of new perspectives, and how these have 'revolutionised'the content of Australian history and how it is understood.

In each of the following chapters (there are 17) an Australian historian provides an account of what drew them to history and their struggle to find the right focus and method, the right type of history for them. Some of these accounts are very personal, others are also political. Many reference the influence of family, the inspiration of teachers at school and university and the stimulation of working with colleagues. Most locate their own journey and practice as historians within the wider framework of national and international trends in history. Some write franly about the impact of history wars on their practice (Anna Clark provides a good overview of the history wars in Chapter 9) and others explain how funding bodies such as the Australian Research Council and the Australian War Memorial influence which types of history are funded and therefore which types of history are produced.

The editors have assembled a diverse range of historians including Peter Read, Stuart Macintyre, Ann Curthoys, Peter Stanley, Martha Sear, Tom Griffiths and Marilyn Lake. Although they broadly align to the left rather than the right politically, they don't fit neatly withing a typology and their methods and interests often intersect. Some practise history mainly in universities, others in communities and museums. Some produce scholarly books and articles for the initiated, others are interested in wider audiences associated with public history, television documentaries or the world of historical fiction. Some focus on particular groups, especially gender, race and class, while others research similar themes but on a wider transcolonial or transnational canvas. There are particular practitioners producing different types of history, including military history, environmental history, Indigenous history, oral history, publich history, labour history, feminist history and heritage history. Some work within identified parameters of their chose field, while others are defining new fields. All seek to provide new ways of understanding the past.

Teachers of History Extension will find this book most valuable. It explores all the key questions of the course in an Australian context: the historians, the historical debates, the aims and purposes of history, the construction and recording of history over time and reasons why approaches to history have changed over time. Students have the material at their fingertips: digitised sound, film and document archives have made the raw materials for Australian historical research more accessible than ever before. With a little encouragement from an interested teacher, and using this book as a road map, more History Extension sudents may be inspired to explore for their own project a significant question or issue in their own national history.

Kate Cameron


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