This issue of History Australia brings together several of the threads that have been conspicuous during the last few years of the journal’s career. There is the centenary of the First World War, which we recognise, in the first place, with Marilyn Lake’s valedictory address on ‘1914: Death of a Nation’, delivered at the 2014 Australian Historical Association Conference in Brisbane. Professor Lake’s lecture drew on both her recent work on the exchanges between Australian and American intellectuals and policy-makers in the Federation era, as well as a much longer period of reflection – one extending across much of her career – on the significance of the Great War and its legacy for Australia. We take this opportunity to thank Professor Lake for her generous support of History Australia during her distinguished tenure as AHA president and wish her well in the future.
The First World War centenary is also registered in this issue with an article by David Kent on the public passions aroused by his pioneering and influential research in the 1980s on the Anzac Book and digger culture. Professor Kent’s reflection is a reminder, among other things, that before internet trolling there was old-fashioned hate-mail. The journal’s review editors, Sarah Pinto (Exhibitions) and Zora Simic (Books) have also been busy, and History Australia is pleased to be able to present an extended review by Martin Crotty of several recent books on the theme of war and memory, a review of an Adelaide exhibition on the internment of Germans on Torrens Island and a book review by Brisbane PhD scholar Romain Fathi on The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918-1924 by Bruno Cabanes. Joanna Bourke, recently author of Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invade Our Lives and The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, writes for us on the debate stimulated by Paul Cummins’s ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – an artwork that seeks to capture something of the wounds and pain of an empire at war. It features 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, one for each British or ‘colonial’ death in the First World War. Do Australian, New Zealand, Canadian or Indian visitors to this site understand their own war dead being commemorated here? Do British visitors to the site understand it as extending in its scope beyond the people of the United Kingdom to the people of these postimperial nations? And what of the dead of other countries and empires, ally and foe? Is First World War commemoration now so bounded by the claims of the nation-state that it is becoming difficult to imagine fighting, suffering and sacrifice as having been shared across an empire, to say nothing of the implications for Europe and humanity in general?
In this April 2015 number of History Australia we hope that our inclusion of a group of short papers on Gallipoli in history and memory might provide some insight in relation to these kinds of questions. We invited a number of scholars with active research interests in this field to reflect on the place of Gallipoli in national, imperial and colonial contexts with which they were familiar, an exercise that in its very nature tends to unsettle the national frameworks that remain dominant in the Australian historical imaginary concerning the Gallipoli campaign – especially, perhaps, outside academia. We regret that for reasons beyond our control, we were unable to present an account of the Canadian – and especially the Newfoundlander – presence at Gallipoli, and we will be doing our best to make good this omission in a future issue of the journal.
A second prominent theme in this number – and one that also builds on recent issues – is transnationalism, explored in a group of articles that have emerged out of a conference held in Sydney in May 2013: ‘Ann Curthoys: celebrating a life in Indigenous, feminist and transnational histories’. Joy Damousi examines Australian responses to the Armenian Genocide, and the Greek–Turkish Population exchange, analysing the role of women in international humanitarian campaigns, and the relationship of those campaigns with domestic issues of human justice. Jane Lydon explores issues of international justice and the transnational spread of humanitarian sentiment in the twentieth century, through a fascinating story that links the Roth Inquiry report on Aboriginal welfare in Western Australia, the role of photography in facilitating inter-ethnic empathy, the evolution of H. G. Wells’ thought on the human future, and the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Heather Goodall and Devleena Ghosh extend the exploration of colonialism, humanitarianism, international civil society networks and women’s activism in an exploration of civil society relationships, and media representations, involving Indians and Australians in the post-Second World War era. The collection is introduced by Professor Curthoys herself, who takes up some of the issues she raised about the relationship of national and transnational histories in an important article in Australian Historical Studies just over a decade ago.
In the general section of the journal, there are further contributions to this transnational theme, with a Jill Roe Prize-winning article by Chris Holdridge on responses to the end of convict transportation in Van Diemen’s Land and the Cape Colony in the mid-nineteenth century, and a study by Jeannine Baker of Australian women war correspondents in Europe in the Second World War. The latter is a contribution to a growing literature on the role of women as vectors of transnationalism in Australian history, participating overseas in a range of activities and occupations for which there was limited scope in Australia and its immediate region. A third article in the general section, by Georgine Clarsen, examines Australian Indigenous encounters with bicycles and cars and how these figure in the settler archive. It is also, necessarily, a larger argument about the quintessentially transnational character of settler colonialism.
An important contribution to this issue by David Armitage, Chair of the Department of History at Harvard University, offers a reflection on the current state of the historical discipline and its future prospects and possibilities. In a call for historians to increase the scope of their vision and ambition, he brings the transnational theme together with a term of his own – at least in application to historical research and writing – ‘the transtemporal’. Professor Armitage argues that the period following the Second World War witnessed a constriction of the horizons of academic history, both in terms of space – a retreat into national histories – and chronology – a focus on ever more limited timespans. His larger point is that these trends also represented a retreat from public relevance. As a consequence historians have become less able than practitioners of some other social sciences to participate in public debate and contribute to policy formulation. Professor Armitage, with his colleague Professor Jo Guldi, has recently published The History Manifesto which develops this case at greater length. It is available as an open access publication – itself a brave experiment in historical communication.
This brings us to the third of the big themes with which History Australia – like the Australian historical profession it seeks to represent – is currently grappling: how, as professional and academic historians, should we engage with the broader public? For some of our readers, this challenge is deeply embedded in the very nature of their work as historians. One thinks here, for instance, of public historians working for municipalities or in government, or our colleagues employed in museums or in institutions such as the Australian War Memorial. School-teachers, too, face the task of making history accessible to a broad (and often very challenging) audience in ways less familiar in the academy. Indeed, the tendency towards politicisation of the curriculum, of which we have once again been reminded with the release of the results of the latest federal government inquiry, means that the ‘audience’ in this case comprises not only students but government and media. Teachers, moreover, are also working in a relationship with parents that university-based historians usually manage to avoid.
The centenary of the First World War – or of ‘Anzac’, as it is inevitably called in Australia – raises these issues in a particularly troubling form. For some ideologues, the very application of the methods of critical history to ‘Anzac’ represents treasonable behaviour. While this group might be a minority largely confined to the pages of Quadrant, there is a larger group of Australians who are instinctively hostile to academic intervention in what they regard as sacred lore. Sometimes, they consider that a family connection with an Anzac ancestor provides them with a special insight not only into what actually happened but also into what it all means today. These kinds of attitudes receive powerful encouragement in sections of the media and from the political class, all of which makes engagement with the history of Australia at war a challenging task for any professional and academic historians prepared to take it on.
As we go to print in April 2015, there will inevitably be a great deal of very bad history in the public sphere. But there will also be some exemplary work, and many opportunities for professional historians with relevant expertise and good communication skills to encourage a thoughtful and informed appreciation of the past among a wide public. History Australia not only celebrates such participation, it hopes that it might be able to play a modest role in influencing the ways that professional historians relate to a broader world that is interested in, and shaped by, its past.
– Tomoko Akami, Frank Bongiorno and Alexander Cook, Editors, History Australia, December 2014