The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage, (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
In my last post I reviewed the provocative book, The History Manifesto. Written by history academics Jo Guldi (Brown University) and David Armitage (Harvard), it is a call to historians to turn their work towards investigating long periods of history (the longue-durée) in order to address the big issues affecting humanity such as inequality and climate change. I set aside one chapter in that review for special attention. In this post I consider chapter four, ‘Big questions, big data’.
There are many ways that technology can be used by the historian The ‘Big Data’ chapter in The History Manifesto discusses the use of topic modelling tools to highlight the type of language most often used and the topics most widely discussed in the past. Guldi and Armitage also recognise the potential for digital tools to uncover the ‘invisible archives’ which include records that some person or institution in the past wanted to remain hidden. They give the example of The Declassification Engine, developed by a history professor and a professor in the field of statistics. This website explores the world of classified, redacted and declassified government documents and is a good demonstration of the potential of the use of technology in history.
“Digitally structured reading means giving more time to counterfactuals and suppressed voices, realigning the archive to the intentions of history from below”, they observe (p. 93). This type of historical research has the potential to reveal serious injustices and even lead to steps being taken to rectify a historic wrong. It is exciting to see the potential of digital research techniques to reveal invisible or hidden archives. However, the authors do not draw attention to the fact that most of the world’s archives are not digitised. Historians always need to be mindful of this.
I’m researching the beliefs of Australian soldiers as expressed in their diaries during World War I. In his book, The Broken Years, Bill Gammage has already noted that Australian soldiers didn’t discuss their beliefs much in their diaries. Information technology has assisted me enormously to find the scant comments and their context. Digital tools are fundamental to my research methods but close reading of the work of other historians and primary sources is an indispensable first step in identifying the research questions and issues that the digital tools can then help me explore. I still have to spend hours reading old handwriting as most of the primary sources are still not in machine readable format. Continue reading
The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage, (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Historians, turn to the longue durée and focus your minds on the needs of our age. Your insights are needed to address intractable global issues such as climate change, inequality and governance. Dig deep into long time to assist policy makers to steer humanity into a better place.
This is the siren call of The History Manifesto. Written by historians, Jo Guldi of Brown University and David Armitage of Harvard, The History Manifesto seeks to change the direction of the discipline, to make it not only relevant to the world at large but an active contributor of solutions that speaks to the yearning of today.
In my previous post about the Annales school of historians I explained the term longue durée as it was conceived in the middle of the twentieth century. Guldi and Armitage explain how this approach to history fell out of favour in the latter decades of that century and was replaced by interest in micro-history. Micro-histories shone the light on histories that had been obscured in the old-style nationalist political histories, such as the lives of the working class and the subalterns who were marginalised by colonial powers.
Now historians need to embrace the ‘new longue durée’ in their work, say Guldi and Armitage. The new longue durée draws on its Annales heritage but it focusses on the future and its connection to the past as well as responding to the current intellectual environment and modern research tools.
Using the issues of climate change, inequality and governance, the authors explain the value that historians can give by plumbing long periods of the past to explore alternative ways of thinking about current problems. Guldi and Armitage explain that historians can do this by highlighting the evidence that humanity has free will to decide its future, the importance of ‘counter-factual thinking’ and the exploration of alternative ways of doing things that could bring about a better future. Continue reading
The Europeans in Australia. Volume Three: Nation by Alan Atkinson (UNSW Press, 2014).
The last volume in Alan Atkinson’s trilogy, The Europeans in Australia has finally been published. Volume Three: Nation caps a wide-ranging and unique view on the history of Europeans in the land that is now known as Australia.
For more reasons than one, this book is the reason why I am writing and researching history today. I have been extremely fortunate that Alan Atkinson has been a mentor to me for several years and gave me the opportunity to do some work as a research assistant for this book. My current work on the beliefs of Australian soldiers on the front line in World War I stems from discussions Alan Atkinson and I had about this period of history while he was writing the book.
For these reasons what follows is not a book review. This is not an independent critique. Instead I want to share with you why reading the final version of this book has inspired me. Continue reading
Google Doodle in honour of Miles Franklin, 14/10/2014.
Today, 14th October, marks the birth dates of three literary luminaries of the twentieth century – Miles Franklin, Katherine Mansfield and Hannah Arendt. These three women have made a big impact on western cultural life and thought and continue to do so.
Miles Franklin’s, novel, My Brilliant Career, has a secure place in Australia’s literary canon. This is extraordinary for a book written by a woman, first published in 1901 and coming from the pen of a twenty-one year old. Miles Franklin threw herself into life and writing, taking herself off to live in the United States before World War I, moving to England, nursing soldiers in dangerous circumstances in Macedonia before moving back to Australia. In the words of her biographer, “Miles was no wimp”. She did not make her fortune but through frugal living she conceived and endowed Australia’s premier literary award through her will. Continue reading
A Doctor’s Dream: A story of hope from the Top End by Dr Buddhi Lokuge and Tanya Burke, (Allen & Unwin, 2014).
A Doctor’s Dream is about a microscopic mite, a huge health issue and the fraught nature of ongoing injustices towards Aboriginal people in Australia. It is a very Australian story. Both white and Aboriginal people are tired of the same intractable problems and tired of announcements of quick fixes that never work. In this book Dr Buddhi Lokuge and Tanya Burke offer a way through this mire, but only through hard, time-consuming commitment and respect.
Scabies is a mite that is a scourge in some outback Aboriginal communities. It causes itching which leads to skin infections in the tropical environment of northern Australia. Some people do not have any natural resistance to the mite which leads to huge colonies living on their skin causing the disfiguring and serious health condition known as crusted scabies.
The chronic skin infections caused by recurrent outbreaks of scabies can lead to abscesses and in some cases, amputations. It is the underlying cause that has led to remote Aboriginal communities in Australia having some of the highest rates of kidney and rheumatic heart disease in the world. The constant sores on a child can give the appearance that the child is suffering from neglect at home. Lokuge and Burke explain that this health condition can be horribly misunderstood by the authorities and lead to the removal of the child from their family. Despite what we have learned from the Stolen Generations, removal of children from Aboriginal families is still occurring.
Dr Lokuge drew on his experience working for international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières to design and deliver a program to eliminate scabies in Arnhem Land. The not for profit organisation Lokuge worked for, One Disease, offered him the freedom and support to devise and implement a solution that enabled Aboriginal people to tackle the issue. Their overall management and support of Lokuge’s work is a crucial element in the success of the program. Continue reading
A History of Australian Schooling by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor (Crows Nest, NSW:Allen & Unwin, 2014).
For over a century Australian schools have acted as future-shapers. Since the era of compulsory schooling emerged in the Australian colonies during the late nineteenth-century, every Australian child has spent a number of years in school. Children take at least some of the ideas and behaviours that are developed in the classroom and in the playground with them for the rest of their lives. As such it surprises me that education history is seen as a ‘special interest’ and not a field that is part of the core of Australian history.
A History of Australian Schooling by Craig Campbell and Helen Proctor is a chance for people to catch up on the latest research in Australia’s schooling history in one readable volume. It is long overdue. When I started exploring the history of education in Australia seven years ago I had to turn to books published in the 1970s for the overview I needed to become grounded in this history. Those books were good but forty years later our society has changed and a substantial amount of historical research into many different themes has been conducted. A History of Australian Schooling encompasses a broad range of themes in Australian education history including those that have not been previously collected in one volume. Continue reading
Dark Emu: Black seeds agriculture or accident by Bruce Pascoe (Broome, WA: Magabala Books, 2014).
While the Australian Historical Association conference was being held this week an important annual national celebration was taking place. This year the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Day of Commemoration Week, commonly known as NAIDOC Week runs from 6th to 13th July. Lisa Hill at the ANZ LitLovers Lit Blog runs the Indigenous Literature Week book reviewing challenge to coincide with NAIDOC Week each year.
It is tricky as I want to participate but each year it coincides with the Australian Historical Association Conference. There is nothing like a bit of determination to find a way though. Each year I choose two books to review, one by a female author and another by a male author. I read the first one in the weeks leading up to NAIDOC Week and post the review right at the beginning of the Week, but the other I struggle to read and review in NAIDOC Week. The review often comes out later… but I’ve managed to fit it in this year!
I had a wonderful day reading Dark Emu: Black seeds: agriculture of accident? by Bruce Pascoe. Engagingly written, full of interesting material and a modest 176 pages , it was the ideal end-of-conference read. Continue reading