Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Overwhelmed by history

A short post today to get back momentum. I remain tied up on other matters, some not very productive I fear!

Yesterday's post, A note on New England Aboriginal servicemen, on my history blog was inspired by all the ANZAC Day coverage on Aboriginal ex-serviceman. It was really just a note to remind me to fill out a gap in my knowledge of  New England history. The is a photo is of Harold Cowan from Grafton who enlisted in 1917.

The post drew a short comment from one of my favourite bloggers, Hels (ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly),  that I have yet to respond to. More precisely, I have had several goes but in the end posted none of it. I will do so eventually, but it may have to be via a full post.

Part of my problem is that I am now so distrustful of anything written on Aboriginal history because so much lacks context or is overlaid with other agendas. So when I started responding to Hel's comments I thought that I wanted to check my facts. Then I found that there were things that I didn't understand, questions that I couldn't answer although I could surmise..

There are three quite distinct sets of questions, those relating to enlistment, those relating to treatment while on service, those relating to treatment after service. Each needs to be set in the history of the time, including attitudes as well as formal rules. They also need to take into account the moving frontier and the law, attitudes and structures of multiple jurisdictions since these had such an impact on the detail of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life. The position in NSW was not the same as in the Northern Territory.

I find that this type of problem, knowing enough to realise that I don't know, that what I am reading is probably wrong, happens quite a lot. Indeed, the more I learn, the more it happens! The problem is compounded by my evolving role as a public or popular historian.

I greatly value the comments and feedback I get, the questions that people ask me. This generates new ideas, new questions, forces corrections. But again, the result is constantly broadening horizons in terms of both breadth and depth with constant reminders of how little I know.. The effect is a sort of paralysis, a feeling that it has all become a bit beyond me.

I know that it's silly, that so long as I document everything I write should be seen as a work in progress for later review by me and others. Still, it is a problem, one that I am trying to work my way through at the moment.

Enough, I think. I have done my short post! More later.


Anonymous said...

That linked post of yours is lovely Jim! I was particularly struck by one sentence in the Examiner's article: "If England goes under, where are we?"

Such a powerful belief, coming from such a one; amazing really.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd. The past is never quite as it seems in terms of attitudes. :) What we think now may be relevant to a later history but not to our past