Saturday, April 08, 2006

On History

I have just created a second blog - - dedicated to the history, culture and activities of the New England region in Australia. This inspired me to a second post today.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been attacking what he calls "black arm band history." The PM's statement had been attacked and supported. However, my interest lies in what the debate tells us about the current state of historiography.

There is no doubt that, at least so far as Australia is concerned, the study of history has been in decline as a discipline. I find this sad. I love history.

When I look at the Prime Minister's comment, I look at the history wars, the conflict between different views of Australian history. Here I make a distinction between two things.

The first is the question of topic selection, the question to be answered. Selection of topics has always been determined by interests and values. So topics shift as interest and values shift.

The second is the question of methodology, the approach to be adopted. Herein lies the real problem in the history wars.

I may disagree with topic selection. I feel, for example, that the current selection of topics in the Australian school curriculum is narrow and biased. But that's an opinion. However, I do worry when (as seems to be happening) the approach adopted to the analysis of questions and topics is affected by opinions and values.

History as a discipline has (or should have) its own rigour. The purpose of analysis is to test, not prove. When proving or justifying becomes the central point, the discipline is lost.

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