Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

History Wars & Popular Knowledge

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
A week since The Australian's controversial reportage on the fallout from the History Wars at the Australian Historical Association Conference and some more, how shall we say, sober reporting has emerged. Dirk Moses looks at the role of the historian and the journalist in terms of historical knowledge in Australia:
Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that the newspaper columnists who support [Keith] Windschuttle fare much better in the public sphere than historians. They are read by millions each week, after all, and are echoed by talkback radio and federal government ministers. In today's media culture, the press is arguably a much more powerful institution of cultural transmission than the university. Where does this leave the history wars? In my view, taking account of the indigenous perspective has been a central feature of this country's moral learning process over the generation, but Windschuttle and his supporters appear to disagree. This basic difference about our moral constitution is the buried bone of contention in the history wars. Such wars are as much about morality as about facts because we choose the way in which we frame the national drama: either to regard the dispossession of the indigenous people as an injustice that needs addressing or not to. There is no neutral body of facts to which to appeal in answering this basic question. We all have to answer it for ourselves. Every Australian has to exercise historical judgment. For that reason, academic experts should not be the sole custodians of national memory. Likewise, prime ministers cannot summarily shut down debate because they think we should "move on".
A view I can happily agree with!

Also, Professor David Carment has a letter in today's Australian which presents the view of someone actually involved in last week's proposal discussion:
There were different views expressed about parts of the paper and it is being referred to the next meeting of the Australian Historical Association's executive. No decision was made regarding it. As a participant in the discussions, I can recall no one expressing a wish to "silence criticism within the profession" or to deprive any person the right to be heard.
Carment's letter also points out that I should probably read more widely before writing posts (i.e. last week's History Wars post was rather unbalanced and The Australian-centric).

(Thanks to Cathie Clement for the links.)

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