Monday, February 02, 2015

Monday Forum - the historians

Last week it was announced that Alan Atkinson had won the Victorian Government's $100,000 prize for volume three (the final volume) of  The Europeans in Australia. 

Alan was in brother David's class at school. Later I met him again when I was  living back Armidale and he was in the University of New England's History Department.

Jason Steger, the literary editor of the Melbourne Age, wrote:
Atkinson said he was very relieved to have finished the final instalment, which covers the period from the 1870s to the aftermath of World War I. "The last volume was an enormous effort."
He started work on the project more than 20 years ago, never thought it would take so long, and admitted he was glad he had finished it.
The establishment of democracy had been crucial to Australia, he said. "The problems and challenges of democracy are in the end more important and challenging because the nation is built on democracy." 
And in the week of Australia Day, Atkinson said the date was an appropriate one on which to celebrate. "Not because it's an absolutely perfect day but because it's an imperfect day in a way. It raises all sorts of problems that we can rethink every year, very deep moral problems and that's probably probably the way it should be."
It was nice to think of an historian winning the literary prize. Alan is a reflective historian, I try to be too, and a very good writer. I totally empathise with his comment on the time taken. 

All this brings me to the topic of today's Monday Forum, a break from Australian politics. What historian do you especially like or dislike? Why are they good or bad? Do you actually read history? 

Don't limit yourself to my questions or, indeed, Australian historians. Go in whatever way you like. Tangents are welcome. I'm just interested in what you think.  


Noric Dilanchian said...

You're a pretty good writer too JB. I loved this thought a few posts back: "[O]ne of the changes in the Australian media landscape lies in the way that speed of communications facilitates instant responses. One side effect is less tolerance for mistakes because of the way a swooping and swirling media and broader commentariat all linked in real time means the creation and expression of instant views."

Jim Belshaw said...

Why thank you sir!:)

Winton Bates said...

My favourite historians tell a story with a message without being pompous. I have read and liked histories by Russell Ward and Geoffrey Blainey.

Unknown said...

Jim, I think Alan is a terrific writer. His history of Camden is a model of local history writing. He is/was a wonderful teacher. I undertook a history BA at UNE to escape accountancy and Alan along with Norma Townsend and David Kent were inspirational. I wouldn't be currently trying to finish my PhD if it wasn't for the History Dept of UNE setting me on the path. I caught up with Alan at the day in his honour at ANU a year ago.
I have found Linda Colley to be a writer with insight and ease of explanation and the younger generation like Maya Jasanoff are of the same school. Tom Griffiths is erudite and intelligent. Greg Dening was superb in taking his reader over horizons real and imagined and Rhys Isaac's history of early Virginia is a masterpiece. Sorry, I going on - this is becoming too long. There are of course others. Bob Clarke

Unknown said...

Bit off topic, but I should have added I hadn't realised Alan was in the same year as me (albeit different schools). I knew he was a similar age but not that close. My best wishes to brother David next time you are in contact.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a good point, Winton. Both Ward and Blainey had/have very decided views, but they tell stories without standing between the reader and story. Thinking about it, there have indeed been some dreadfully pompous historians!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Robert. John Ferry, Alan, Norma, David and others created a school of history focused on the way family reconstruction can provide valuable insights. Camden is a great example.

I don't know some of the names you mentioned. Time for some research! David and I are a little out of touch at present, but I will pass your regards on.