Six entries were submitted in consideration for this year’s Ann Curthoys prize, which is awarded for the best unpublished article-length work by an Early Career Researcher (within 5 years of PhD graduation) in any one or combination of the fields in which Ann has published. It is worth $750. The editors of History Australia gratefully acknowledge Professor Ann Curthoys’ support of this prize.
The judges noted the overall high standard of the entries submitted and would like to thank all the entrants for taking the time to submit their work.
The winner of the 2020 Ann Curthoys Prize is Laura Rademaker, ‘A history of Deep Time: Indigenous knowledges and deep pasts in settler-colonial presents’.
In ‘A History of Deep Time’, Laura Rademaker offers a subtle and insightful exploration of the many ways in which settler Australians have engaged with Aboriginal ‘Dreaming’ stories. As she shows, settler Australians have long sought to extract kernels of historical truth from Aboriginal ‘myth’ and ‘legend’, although the truths they found were protean, changing in accordance with shifts in the relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Aboriginal stories were read as revelations of ancient waves of migration. By the turn of the twenty-first century, settler Australians were interpreting Aboriginal stories as memories of long-ago environmental events or as metaphorical confirmations of what science already knew. Today, more than ever, settler Australians are grasping onto Aboriginal narratives, with their supposed reach into deep time, as a means of bequeathing a vast time-depth to the Australian nation. Rademaker recounts these transformations and transactions with sensitivity and acuity, in an essay that is both morally engaged and historiographically sophisticated. Elegantly written, ‘A History of Deep Time’ provides a timely reminder of the complications inherent in reading stories across cultures.
Highly Commended: Mike Jones, ‘The Temple of History: historians and the sacralisation of archival work’.
In this bold and ambitious essay, Mike Jones undertakes a fine-grained analysis of historians’ use of sacred language in their descriptions of archives and archival research. Drawing on both Australian and international examples, he contends that historians’ descriptions of ‘silent communion’ in archival ‘temples’ perpetuates a mystique about archives that also, crucially, conceals the labour of archivists. Jones calls upon historians to ‘reveal, rather than revere, the value of archival research’. Demystifying and explaining the work of historians and archivists, he contends, will help rebuild public trust and respect for historical expertise in the ‘post-truth’ era. ‘The Temple of History’ is a beautifully written and provocative work of cultural history.
Adjunct Professor Russell McGregor (History Australia board member)
Professor Michelle Arrow (co-editor, History Australia