Five Inside Stories and four Conversations: Honest History miscellany

‘Five Inside Stories and four Conversations: Honest History miscellany’, Honest History, 22 March 2016 updated

Recent update on the Reef 20 April 2016: ABC report on the extent of bleaching, including map, showing particularly the extreme position in the northern sector of the Reef. Scroll down five paras for earlier material. More, reporting the views of David Attenborough. More.


Carolyn Holbrook of Monash University is an Honest History committee member and one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters. In one of the articles in this miscellany she agrees with fellow historian (UTS) Anna Clark’s point that if historians ‘don’t make the effort to connect with the wider public they will become even more irrelevant than they already are’.

We couldn’t agree more. Some historians we’ve come across have bizarre priorities; connection seems well down the list. Some time ago one told Honest History that he only read ‘peer-reviewed’ journals. Yet his own work was distinguished by sloppy research, misuse of evidence and wishful thinking. Either he didn’t mind writing for non peer-reviewed journals or the reviewing peers had been asleep at the screen. Another academic, with a noticeably slim oeuvre, invited to write for Honest History, declined gracefully; she was saving herself for … peer-reviewed journals, publication in which racked up points for promotion. Connecting with a wider public is clearly not top of mind for people who measure success in publications in journals that hide behind paywalls and cater to minimal audiences.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Conversation, supported by a consortium of universities, which has more than two million unique visitors to its website and encourages reuse of articles it publishes. ‘We believe in the free flow of information. We use a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives licence, so you can republish our articles for free, online or in print.’ The Conversation seems a good place to publish for historians (and other academics) seeking relevance and readership. Inside Story, published from Swinburne University in Melbourne, is a smaller operation but is growing in weight and authority.

This collection of articles begins with James Cleverly and Derek Eamus of UTS writing in The Conversation about how Australia’s positioning between the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans leads to our volatile weather, which in turn leads to consequences.

Too much or too little rain can each be problematic. When both happen in quick succession, it is hard to profit fully from the wet or to remain solvent through the dry. In natural ecosystems, bushfires become more likely as the plants swing between exceptional growth and subsequent drying and death, leaving behind huge amounts of fuel. Farmers may need to diversify their livestock numbers and crop types to provide extra resilience to the changing conditions.

Bringing climate effects into sharp focus are UQ’s Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Tyrone Ridgway in The Conversation on coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, with evidence back to 1998. ‘The latest changes in average global surface temperature, if they continue, suggest that coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef may significantly change even sooner than previously predicted.’ Another notable contribution to the history of the land we live in – and timely and policy-relevant. More on the Reef. Even more on the Reef. More on warm seas.

Same journal, very different subject, historical perspective back to 1978: Sydney Uni’s Alexandra Heron on women in the workforce.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told journalists recently that Australia was seeing the highest ever female workforce participation rate and the largest number of women ever in the workforce. That’s true, but the pace of change has been glacial – especially for women in full time work in their prime earning years.

The Conversation also dips into the history of Australian slang (a subject touched on in Honest History already, here and here) via an article by Diane de Saint Léger of the University of Melbourne.

Classic pieces of Australiana, such as “digger” and “dugout”, were coined in the trenches. Slanguage even gave us the term “Aussie” – a word originally seen by some as downmarket and lower-class. This collection of new terms and phrases described the new realities of modern warfare, and it became a fleeting publishing phenomenon. When one of the most famous Australian troop publications was created in 1918, it was called Aussie.

In Inside Story, Carolyn Holbrook reviews Anna Clark’s book, Private Lives, Public History.

This original, important and fascinating book [says Holbrook] argues that academic historians must better understand “the historical consciousness of ordinary Australians” and consider more deeply how they can connect with it.

Clark’s interviewees were by no means au fait with historiographical contests yet they ‘evinced a sophisticated awareness of the subjectivity of historical interpretation’. They knew that history is interpretation. Yet they connected with the broader scheme of Australian history through their own personal and family stories. Emotion was important; good history was about getting a balance between empathy and perspective and between intimacy and distance. This approach to history is not uncontested but Clark’s book sounds like a feisty exploration of different ways of seeing. The bottom line, though, is that ‘Australians will not become interested in wider historical debate unless it is presented in ways that interest them’.

Subjectivity again: UWS Adjunct Jane Goodall in Inside Story reviews a television series in mid-run. The series is Afghanistan: Inside Australia’s War and the difference is obvious between the perspectives of politicians and soldiers. Soldiers’ subjectivity is different.

As veterans, they carry memories of an order of experience to which their fellow citizens in Australia have not been exposed. If they suffer too much from the flashbacks and replays of their own exposure, they will be diagnosed with what is bizarrely called post-traumatic stress disorder. Bizarre, because there is no “post” in this condition: traumatic experience is never over. It is not stress, but distress, of the most acute kind. And it is not a disorder originating in the person, but rather the consequence of witnessing the disorder of the world.

Inside Story also delivers two medical stories with perspective. There is UQ’s Mark Moran on 20 years of alcohol management in an Indigenous community in Queensland and Canberra Hospital’s Frank Bowden on 50 years of measles in Australia, including a recent return of the disease and future prospects, given anti-vaccination tendencies.

Fall and rise features in the title of the measles article and it is also the theme of Norman Abjorensen’s piece in Inside Story on the defenestration of eleven Australian prime ministers. Abjorensen is affiliated with ANU and the article is an extension of his recent book.

David Stephens



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