Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - weird history and other meanders

I am continuing to enjoy Christopher Moore's Canadian History, a blog that has taken me down some strange by-ways. I don't know of any Australian equivalent, although one may well exist.

Lurking beneath the surface, and sometimes not very far below the surface if the popularity of Dan Brown is any guide, are some weird and wonderful alternative views. Christopher pointed me to a New Zealand post, Sindbad met a moa, met a moa on a mountain… from Jonathan Jarrett on the possible Islamic pre-Maori discovery of New Zealand. There are a lot of Australian equivalents.

My problem with some of the alternative views is that they can actually be lot more fun than the official views. Not all mind you - some are quite unpleasant. However, I do have a personal liking for the weird and wacky!

Staying with Christopher Moore for the moment, his live blogging of the Siege of Quebec attracted interest, sidetracking one reader of this blog! It's not a bad idea. I plan to try it with some of the Red Kangaroo material.

The following quote from American historian/journalist Jill Lepore (original source here) comes from one of Michael's posts:

To be a public historian, not a public intellectual, not a popular historian, not a pundit, but a public historian, is to be a keeper of our memory as a people. And that, if I had my druthers, and the capacity, is what I would want to be.

This struck a chord because it goes to the heart of some of the things that I have been trying to do. Most recently, Belshaw’s World: Information, access and the transmission of knowledge dealt with the transmission of knowledge between generations. When I began writing history again it was almost like a rescue dig, a hurried attempt to try to at least preserve something of a past about to be buried, in this case the world that I had known.

In similar vein, in writing about Aboriginal history I am trying to make their history accessible to Aborigines as well as the broader community. Not white fella history, although I am a white fella, with its obsessions with past wrongs and the moral conflict that arises when you write about past wrongs while sitting in a world whose freedoms and comforts are in fact the outcome of those wrongs. 

I just want to understand and write about what was.

To my mind, objectivity is central to history. Subjectivity comes in the selection of topic. I write about things that I believe to be important. That is subjective. But when I come to look at the evidence I must be objective, to go where it takes me. This can be hard and challenging because it forces me to address issues at a personal level.

I loved my maternal grandfather very much and remain very proud of him. He overcame a profound disability, deafness, as well as a very troubled childhood to become a major Far and Gran c1955political figure who did much good. These things remain.

The photo from cousin Jamie's collection shows Fah and Gran at Mann Street in Armidale around 1955. At 65, he was still member for New England with another eight years as member remaining.

Yet I also have to deal with his views as Minister for Education in NSW when he articulated the view of the Aborigines as a child race. This is very hard because of the personal connection.  It is not my position to make moral judgements. I have to explain how he formed those views, show how they worked out in practice. I have to do this independent of the relationship.

Well, I think it time to end here.  Time is up.

Still, just to record a blog that I want to review - Reading the Maps. This blog is relevant to this post in ways I will talk about later.          

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