…from a distant historian, Caroline Adams MPHA South Australia
As an opening comment I just want to make it clear that I think that no-one has a monopoly on writing history, nor is it owned by any particular group. I do think trained historians are in a better position, be they inside or outside of the academy, to research and write history. It is what we have been rigorously trained to do. (Even as I write I am conscious that I am going to be read by historians. Have I got it right? Will some-one find an error in my argument – most probably – but that also is not a bad thing.) Most professional historians and those working in the academy have tertiary qualifications in history, at least four years, and a wealth of experience. Many also have a collegial network to call upon. (PHA(SA) meets for lunch on the first Tuesday of the month and it is a great time to catch up with others and discuss our work.)
2015 was always going to be a big year in history in Australia. And it seems that ever since Anzac Girls was shown on TV late last year there has been an increasing number of World War One themed programs and media articles. The authors of much of this material appear to be journalists. There is nothing wrong with this per se as journalists are in the business of communication. But how many historians were consulted for the articles/programs? Yes I know there have been some (and I’m sure the research librarians have been working overtime), but how many jobs for professional historians have been generated from the Anzac centenary?
The plethora of TV programs (fact and fiction) and media articles on World War One has left many people with what historian Clare Wright has called ‘commemoration fatigue’ (Nick Grimm, ‘The World Today’ ABC website, 22 April 2015). This is evidenced by the poor ratings of ‘Anzac type’ programs. Wright (2015) went on to say that ‘people are wanting to have a more complex, a more nuanced version of the Anzac story.’ It is here that historians (both professional and academic) can come to the fore. We are able to offer insightful and contextualised accounts of history, more than ‘digger stories’ and ‘nursing angels’. There is a much larger picture of boys enlisting to escape poverty, to have adventure, of a heterogeneous country where not everyone wanted to fight for King and Country. Yet we are not hearing many of these other alternative narratives. Which brings me back to my question – how many professional historians are working on World War 1 projects? And if we are not working on them, why not? Why haven’t more professional historians been engaged to research this material? Is the onus on us to promote our profession more? Does the public need to be more aware of the role of professional historians? More questions than answers … what are your thoughts?