Monday, December 27, 2010

Social change, the Aborigines & the writing process

M main post today, Social Change in New England 1950-2000 11: the Aborigines, is on the New England history blog.

When I first studied history at school, there was an argument that said that current or recent events were not a suitable subject for history because closeness made it hard to get sufficient distance. The present always affected interpretation of the immediate past.

Of course, all historical writing is affected by the present. Still, there is a point. I have written a lot on public policy towards Australia's Aboriginal peoples. I find that I want to use my historical writing to support my policy positions.

That's hardly surprising. After all, my public policy arguments were already grounded to some degree in history. However, it does introduce a bias.

Just before Christmas I had an interesting discussion over drinks with a German journalist turned historian. An older man in, I think, his early eighties, he had had a fascinating life. I will write something on the conversation at some point. For the moment, I just wanted to record his comment at the surprise he felt that so much history had been written on such a short period, the history of Australia since 1788.

He is right, of course. Australia's history is very short, shorter still if you cut out the British, Imperial and European context. I still find it fascinating.

I have set myself a 100,000 word limit for the general history I am writing. That sounds a lot, I know. However, it means that I have to cover the entire twentieth century in a maximum of 40,000 words. Within that, I have to reduce the chapter(s) on social change in New England over the second half of the twentieth century to 3,000 to 4,000 words. That's actually going to be a bit of a struggle, given that I need to point and counterpoint between broader trends and their local manifestations.

In process terms, I am using the posts on New England's history to flesh initial ideas out. I will then consolidate the material into the seminar paper I plan to give in Armidale in April. That done, the material can be put aside for the moment while I go onto other issues. Then, when I come to rewrite, I can amend and extend to take later work into account, while also shortening and consolidating.     

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