Honest History goes to school: Glebe symposium

Honest History is always ready to talk to schools and to teachers. Thanks to Matt Esterman, from St Scholastica’s College, Glebe Point, in Sydney, Honest History was able to provide three representatives for a symposium with History Extension (Year 12) students at St Scholastica’s on 9 February. About 20 students from St Scholastica’s and from St Ignatius, Riverview, attended along with teachers, Matt Esterman, Keith Smith, David Posker-Hill and Panayiotis Diamadis.

The Honest History team was Alison Broinowski, Douglas Newton and Vicken Babkenian. Alison is an Honest History committee member and editor or author of 11 books, mostly on Australian relations with Asia, and much journalism. Douglas is author of a number of books and articles, most recently Hell-Bent and The Darkest Days, about the rush to war in Australia and Britain in 1914. Vicken is a freelance author currently working with Peter Stanley on a book about the Armenian genocide 1915 and related events, including Australian international humanitarian efforts in World War I.

The symposium centred around five key questions generated by the History Extension course as taught at St Scholastica’s. These are:

  1. What are the historical debates?
  2. Who are the historians?
  3. What are the aims and purposes of history?
  4. How has history been constructed and recorded over time?
  5. Why have the approaches to history changed over time?

There was broad-ranging discussion, followed by pizza. Among the issues dealt with were whether there is such a thing as a good historian, what are the essential skills of a good historian, how the audience affects what the historian writes, the role of ideology in the construction of history, how historians should use sources and whether all history is political.

Some key points made were Vicken Babkenian’s injunction (with which Alison Broinowski concurred) to ‘think outside the box’ when looking for sources, Douglas Newton’s remark that one’s conditioning, religion, and other filters ‘shape the way your mind processes what you see in front of you’ and Alison’s  point that propaganda does not cease with the end of a war. Douglas added that, ‘inevitably, political debates are part of historical debates’ underlining that ‘historians don’t own history’.

The Honest History team found the time stimulating and rewarding and they have received good feedback from teachers and students. Honest History hopes that similar gatherings in future will help spread the ownership of history beyond historians – and politicians.

27 February 2015



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