Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - historiography, web archives and the Australian people

These musings actually began last week, continued on Saturday but then spread over to Sunday. It seems easiest just to call them Saturday Morning Musings.

At the moment, I am on something of a historiographical trip, in part using my own PhD thesis as an entry point. I have a little more to say on this because I am using the posts in part to dispose of some unfinished business, I want to put the PhD experience behind me, more to get down some ideas on the historian's craft.

I know that all this is of limited interest to the general reader, but this blog is also my own journal of record, a device to consolidate and extend my thinking.

In a somewhat linked way, I have been thinking about blogs as a future source of historical evidence. This depends in turn on the degree to which they can survive in an ephemeral world.

In December, the Blog Herald carried two interesting stories (here and here) about the history of blogging. One problem referred to in the first article is simply that of survival.

Looking at the referral sources to my blogs, and this one in particular, I have noticed an increased volume of traffic from what we can think of as archival sources, caches and then in a very pronounced way from Google images. Technorati, too, is an archival resource.

Internationally, The Internet Archive collects pages at points in time, providing something of a blog snap shot. Try searching for your own blog.

In Australia, the Australian National Libraries Pandora provides a web archive of internet sites considered to be of national significance.

To satisfy my own curiosity I did a check on some of those in our immediate blogging world.

A search on myself, aren't we all egotists?, brought up eleven references. The key link here is Gordon Smith's photo blog. This is classified as of national significance - well deserved too - and consequently, through the vagaries of search engine mechanics, links through to some of my material. There was also links through Club Troppo, another archived site.

Ninglun gets five references. Again, there is a linking to Gordon that, presumably, came through me. There is one link through Palmer's Oz Politics, another listed site. Ninglun as Neil Whitfield gets six references. This adds in a couple of poetry sites.

I won't go through everybody, although I did run some more checks. I leave it to you to look!

On the subject side, I searched on "New England". Here the results were disappointing to say the least, with very little material indeed.

One thing that I did notice in the various Pandora results was the importance of Technorati material. The whole project would be greatly impoverished should anything happen to Technorati.

I find the topic of what should and should not be preserved an interesting one - the answer is sometimes far from apparent - and may make some comments on it as part of my current musings on historiography.

Australia Day. This was my second Australia Day since I started blogging, so looked back at what I was blogging on last January. It all seems so far away, now.

David Hicks was clearly on my mind, Neil and I were discussing poetry, thanks to Legal Eagle I found that I was now centre left in political terms causing a degree of mental confusion, Lexcen had introduced me to Kittlers, I was still pursuing the New England cause and musing on the nature of Australia.

During the week a Chinese colleague made me take a citizenship test that she had been composing because she thought that it might be a fun exercise at her local church group. This includes many new PR's. Took me a moment here to work out that she meant permanent residents.

One question I got wrong was a quote from Alfred Deakin. This referred to one people, one continent. I was about to pick this when another colleague said surely not one people. I changed my mind to one nation, but I was wrong.

I found this interesting because I do in fact use the term "Australian people" and do indeed use it to mean one people.

The concept of "the Australian people" is, I suspect, very anti-PC. How can you talk about an Australian people, note the singular, in this world where everybody is meant to be different and equal in their differences?

The first reference to Australian people as a distinct group came early after European settlement when visitors commented on the distinct accent and attitudes of the locally born. Later, there was a constant stream of references in English press and novels to Australians as somehow different. We were all lean and laconic, a new breed of antipodeans.

Now some modern urban middle class Australians might be uncomfortable with the way we were presented in the past. Yet there is a direct and clear line between the currency lads and lasses of early Australia and modern Australia.

To a degree, we Australians (and New Zealanders) have always defined ourselves as a counterpoint to the way others see us. This is inevitable in a still remote migrant community. We cannot see what we are until we see how others see us.

Each migrant group has added its own content to the mix that makes up the Australian people.

To take a modern example, we all know of the contribution of European migrants after the Second World War, or of the growth of interest in Vietnamese food at the end of the Vietnamese War with the influx of refugees. This type of admixture has been repeated many times across Australia's history.

All new groups have faced a challenge of adaptation to the new country. This has been a constant theme in Australian writing from the early days of European settlement to the present time.

If you look at Nevil Schute's Far Country, one of the most popular Australian books of the past, you will see the interplay between continental Europe, England and Australia. Schute was himself English.

Australians themselves sometimes find it difficult to see the sweep of acculturation and assimilation because they are so tied up in their immediate concerns.

A week back I went for a walk. I passed a Chinese family. The two boys on their bikes were chatting in a broad Australian accent. Dad was carrying a cricket bat.

About the same time, I started mowing my lawn. Tony popped his head over the back fence and offered a hand. Tony is, I think, Greek. He still has very limited English. Later his wife popped her head over to see the job. She said that Tony came from a farming village and still missed the work and life style after all these years.

One of my immediate work colleagues is a Bosnian Muslim women. She and her husband love the Australian countryside. They get out of Sydney more than most Australians born in Sydney. She worries about how she and her husband will cope with the attitudes of her still young kids when they grow up and absorb main stream Australian attitudes.

Rika, one of Clare's friends, is an orphan from the killing fields of Cambodia. She is presently going out with a country boy from my old school. Her step-father, a former UN official worries about her.

Clare's friendship group includes a mixed ethnic group from Sydney Boys High School. Most have played Rugby, including against my old school. So we have a common base.

The point in all this is that the concept of a people does not depend upon everybody being the same. People are always different. Rather, it depends upon the cross-links, the shared experiences, things that bind across divisions.

Two or more distinct groups living in exclusion from each other do not constitute a people, They become one when they start seeing themselves as the same despite continuing differences.

There are many other things that I might write on. But just at present I have a compost heap to move, a lawn to mow.


Compost moved. Lawn mowed.

I was going to extend this post with a few comments on the death of President Suharto. I hold what is now an unpopular position. I think that President Suharto was a good thing. I also thing that he would have been a better thing had he retired earlier.

I will say no more now except to add this. I wonder how many Australians, or Malaysians for that matter, know that 23 Australians died defending Malaysia during Indonesia's undeclared war on the new Federation of Malaysia?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The most rigorous part of the dissertation includes the

Methods Section
Study Design
Research questions and hypothesis formulation
Development of instrumentation
Describing the independent and dependent variables
Writing the data analysis plan
Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

Results Section
Performing the Data Analysis
Understanding the analysis results
Reporting the results.
When you enter this phase of the program, you are nearing the end of the journey. Given the difficulty of this phase, one often wishes they had previewed what was to come.
Many Ph.D candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the methods and results section of their dissertation.
This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their advisor, peers, university assistance and even Google.
This is also the time when the student asks themselves the question" HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH".
Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation.(e.g. APA formating and editing) It also is not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help.

If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggest the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandible language by telephone and e-mail.

Distance learning, and the avaiability of programs, has increased exponetially over the last few years with some of the most respected institutions (Columbia University, Engineering; Boston University and others) offering a Ph.D in a variety of fields. If you are enrolled in a distance learning program, or considering one, you will be interested in reviewing the reference sites listed at the bottom of this page.

As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistics section. Frequently, a student will struggle for months with that section before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics.

So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much.

I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics.

When their defense is successful, the question of "was the help too much" is answered.

If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may email me at:


Reference sites: