Saturday, November 27, 2010

Social Change in New England 1950-2000

I am cross-posting this post on both my Personal Reflections and New England Australia blogs.

In earlier posts on both blogs (Meander, with a special focus on Ulrich Ellis, Blogging meander), I mentioned that my my focus in the New England history project had switched to social change in the period 1950-2000. As part of this, I have been bringing up relevant past posts and then repeating them with an introduction on the New England History blog.

Doing it this way, the posts do not constitute rigorous history. They also have a high personal component. Still, collectively they do build a picture. I have gone back and included the comments that the original posts attracted because they add to the picture.

Doing it this way also reveals gaps. There are elements that I have written on in glancing fashion only. I have to decide how to handle this.

The material that I am presenting may be partial but is, I think, unique and maybe even important. This may sound a large claim, so let me explain.

I think that the material is unique because I am trying to address a wide range of changes in an integrated way within a frame set by one broad and varied but linked area. In doing so, I am also trying to put those changes into an historical context. I am not sure, I stand to be corrected, that anyone else has attempted this.

I think that the material may be important because, in writing, I am trying to show how decisions made in government offices in Sydney or Canberra, in board rooms in Sydney, Melbourne, Dublin, Newcastle, Tamworth or Armidale, in Vatican City, can change lives for ever.

This is not a story of conspiracies, although some in New England may see or have seen it in that way. Helplessness in the face of sometimes diabolical change breeds conspiracy theories. Rather, it is the story of the way in which fundamental changes at different levels work themselves out on the ground.

It is also the story of the way in which ideas, abstractions, influence the way things work themselves: economic policy, industry policy, competition policy, free trade, protection, neoclassical economics, privatisation, the market, efficiency, effectiveness, outcomes, outputs etc, are all abstractions.

This is all dry stuff, but the BHP steelworks in Newcastle closes; councils are merged; colleges of advanced educations closed; county councils vanish; assets are sold; eras end so fast that nobody has time to notice.

As an historian writing on New England, I am not concerned with the rights and wrongs of particular ideas or policies, although I have views that I argue in other contexts. My job is to try to explain what happened from a New England perspective.

I recognise that my claims to possible uniqueness and Importance are substantial ones. I leave it up to you to make the decision. You will find the entry point for the on-going series here: Social change in New England 1950-2000 Introduction.

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