The Honest History website includes a number of items tagged ‘Teaching history’. Some of them are also tagged ‘Using and abusing history’. Here is a selection:
- Parkes and Sharp analyse how five secondary history textbooks treat Gallipoli and Simpson and his donkey.
- David Stephens questions aspects of how children are taught about war.
- Stephens and Flora look at aspects of the Simpson Prize, including its cautious move from civics education towards asking real history questions.
- Peter Stanley asks whether teachers have patriotic obligations.
- The Institute of Public Affairs is critical of how history teaching has become ‘arts and crafts’.
- Jim McKay defends battlefield tourism, including by students.
- Ann Curthoys and Ann McGrath write about the writing of history.
2 October 2014
Thanks Robert Lewis for this comment which HH will pass on to the authors of the article. Please note though that the article was not ‘recommended by Honest History’. We include articles and other items that are within the area of our interest and our editorial policy (see About Us) and we include as many of them as we can find and have the resources to annotate. We do not recommend them, agree with them or disagree with them. The same applies to comments on articles. Occasionally, as this time, we will select lists of articles. Again, this is on the basis of their subject matter and does not mean we are recommending them. David Stephens, Secretary and Senior Website Writer, HH
I have just read the recommended article ‘Nietzchean perspectives on representations of national history in Australian school textbooks: what should we do with Gallipoli?’ in Ensayos: Revista de la Facultad de Educación de Albacete [Spain], 29, 1, 2014, pp. 159-81 by Australian academics and history curriculum experts Drs Parkes and Sharp.
As a serious contribution to examining the ‘history wars’ and the history curriculum in Australia I believe it contains both major and minor problems.
The whole article is based on a false or unsubstantiated premise: that “The new Australian History curriculum . . . has recently come under fire for its perceived lack of attention to the battle known in Australian historical culture as ‘Gallipoli’.“ (pages 159-160)
There is no authority referenced to support this claim. They state that “[b]oth the conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and his Minister for Education Christopher Pyne have decried what they see as insufficient attention to the important topic of Gallipoli”. (161) However, they offer no evidence to support this claim. My recollection, supported by a quick search of newspaper reports and as many of the references they cite in the article as I could access, is that the criticism by conservatives refers not to a lack of focus on Gallipoli, but to the perceived downplaying of Anzac Day as a commemorative day. This is supported by the newspaper report included in their reference list: Pyne “attack[ed] the school curriculum for putting Aboriginal and multicultural commemoration days on the same level as Anzac Day.” (Kenney and Tovey) The conservative criticism is that Anzac Day is lumped in with several other Australian commemorative days (Australia Day, Harmony Week, National Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC week and National Sorry Day, MABO day, Anniversary of the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples), and not given specific and special privilege within this list. Nowhere in the references the authors cite is there any criticism by conservatives of the inadequate attention given to Gallipoli in the current National Curriculum: History.
Their representation of the conservative attitude to Gallipoli in the curriculum is not only unsupported and inaccurate, but it is also, in the case of Prime Minister Abbott, outdated. I refer to the account by Katharine Murphy in The Guardian Australia (hardly a conservative supporting source) of Abbott’s Anzac Day speech this year. She quotes part of the speech:
‘Tony Abbott has used a major address on Anzac Day to temper some of the mythologising associated with the Gallipoli campaign, arguing that Australia’s contribution on the western front was a more consequential moment in the conflict, and in our military history.
The prime minister said on Friday, the 99th anniversary of a campaign which is now considered by many as a definitional moment in Australian nationhood, that Australians would remember our “baptism of fire”.
‘But he reasoned that Gallipoli was just one part of the “great tide of events” that shaped the new nation; one campaign in a four-year war. “When all is said and done, Gallipoli was a defeat, but the western front, a victory; and victories, even terrible ones, should be no less iconic than heroic defeats,” Abbott said at the national Anzac Day service in Canberra.
Abbott said we should remember the western front “not just for its carnage, but also for Australia’s moment on the stage of history”. Murphy then approvingly refers to these as “nuanced observations” on “the current debate about whether or not Gallipoli has assumed disproportionate importance in the national psyche at the expense of other significant military milestones.”
(Katharine Murphy, Tony Abbott questions mythologizing of the Gallipoli campaign, The Guardian Australia 25 April 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/apr/25/tony-abbott-questions-mythologising-of-the-gallipoli-campaign, accessed 24 November 2014)
The article then explores “the political concern over the place and representation of Gallipoli in school history education, examine[s] the space given to Gallipoli in school history textbooks, and investigate[s] a specific example of how one aspect of the Gallipoli narrative has been represented in those same textbooks”. (160) The sole focus of the authors’ analysis is on Year 9 and Gallipoli. The Anzac Day criticism relates to Year 3. I believe they have set up a totally false ‘straw man’ argument for their article.
They analyse five school history textbooks. This is an interesting and potentially useful and revealing approach, but I believe that their analysis here is also flawed.
They want to establish that Gallipoli is well-represented in the curriculum. This will prove the supposed “perceived lack of attention to the battle known in Australian history as ‘Gallipoli’.” (160) They claim as evidence of this that “[s]o significant is Gallipoli considered to the national psyche and the teaching of the Great War, that it is the only military campaign of WWI that is indicated as a mandatory topic for this depth study area”. This is misleading and disingenuous. The relevant content paragraph from the Australian Curriculum: History does require students to study “[t]he places where Australians fought and the nature of warfare during World War I, including the Gallipoli campaign”, but then goes on in the Elaboration column, which teachers will use as an essential guide to the content, to list other battles and fronts: “identifying the places where Australians fought, including Fromelles, the Somme, Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine”.
Clearly Gallipoli is not as privileged in the curriculum as the authors suggest, and which they use as an argument against the (non-existent) conservative criticism. I think they have misrepresented the demands of the curriculum to artificially support their argument.
They use the crude but important measuring tool of counting the number of pages devoted to Gallipoli in the textbooks to support their view about the stress given to that battle and to the Anzac Legend. I have been able to check all five of the textbooks they use, and in every case I believe that they have miscounted the number of pages they claimed to be devoted to the Anzac legend: the Cambridge textbook devotes 3 pages to it, not their claimed 9; the Macmillan figure is arguably 7, but more honestly 3, and not their claimed 10; the Oxford book is 6, not 7; the Jacaranda book is 6 at a stretch, not 9; and the Nelson book 4, not 6. Surely we can expect accuracy from the authors.
Their dot point summaries of the “Content emphasis in section on Gallipoli” table are also misleading and sometimes inaccurate. For example, they include in each case the “political motivation for Australia’s involvement”, which is not relevant to the Gallipoli campaign. What is relevant is any discussion of the Gallipoli strategy, and they do not acknowledge that both the Cambridge and the Oxford books include this. This analysis of what the textbooks tell us about Gallipoli could have been a significant contribution to understanding how history is represented to students, but they do not pursue it.
Their analysis of what they identify as the very minor emphasis given to Simpson and his donkey in the textbooks is interesting, but unconvincing. They link the downgrading of the emphasis on Simpson at Gallipoli to the controversy over the use of his image on the Commonwealth Education Minister Brendan Nelson’s 2006 poster Values for Australian schooling. Yes, there was controversy and criticism over this, but to characterise the lack of information about Simpson in the three textbooks that mention him as “Representing a possible backlash against the so-called ‘Nelson interpretation’” is tenuous at best. The real reason is more likely to be that the curriculum does not specify a study of Simpson, and publishers pressure their writers to include only those aspects and people that are explicitly named in the curriculum.
Equally as important as Gallipoli, and listed in the analysis table, is the idea of the ANZAC Legend. They count pages (inaccurately), but do not explore what is said about the Legend in any way. This would seem an obvious and important place to apply they Nietzschean analysis to explore how history is being represented to young people. But they do not do so.
Their article also contains some factual errors and misleading information:
• Simpson was not “nominated” for a Victoria Cross at the time (page 171).
• Their claim that the “contemporary ‘raised profile’ of the Gallipoli campaign . . . can largely be attributed to former Prime Minister John Howard” (163) is misleading (and probably wrong). It was actually the 1981 film Gallipoli, followed by the 75th Gallipoli landing anniversary pilgrimage in 1990 attended by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and the Australia Remembers program under Prime Minister Paul Keating and the resources provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which have stimulated the revival in schools of the emphasis on Australia in World War I.
• Part of a quote they attribute to Christopher Pyne (165) was, when I checked their source, actually attributed by the writers of the source to “A government insider”, not to Pyne. (Kenny and Toovey).
• There are also some misused words: prosperity instead of posterity (162), and sites instead of sights (164).
The authors both hold influential and significant places in history education. I believe that a more accurate and academically rigorous article could be expected from people whose role it is to guide and set standards for new (and current) history teachers.
I was very disappointed that the article, recommended by Honest History, does not help further our knowledge and understanding of the ‘history wars’, the National Curriculum: History, or the effective teaching of history through textbooks.