Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Round the history blogs 6 - Ethics, Canada & the teaching of history

Time for another history blog roundup. I always enjoy them.

I continue to enjoy Helen Webberley's ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly. Her most recent post, Adolf Eichmann trial: 1960-2010, brought some personal memories flooding back.

All those years ago when when I became an Administrative Trainee with the Commonwealth Public Service Board, our year long training program included a substantial ethics component. Whereas modern ethics training really focuses on questions of rules and probity, our course looked at the relations between the individual public servant and the state. What should you do if you personal values clashed with your official duties?

Eichmann was taken as a case study. In many ways he was a quintessential public servant. His job was to exterminate Jews. As a loyal servant of the state, he did this as efficiently and effectively as possible. Yet what he did was clearly wrong.

It's interesting in a broader historical sense to look at at the way in which circumstances constrain and condition individual actions.Julian Ashton, Sydney, 1940s

In her post Travel posters: Harwich to Hook 1930s-50s Helen looked at some European travel posters. You can find some Australian equivalents in the Australian National Library exhibition Follow The Sun: Australian Travel  Posters 1930-1950s.

This graphic shows a Sydney tourism poster from the 1940s by painter Julian Ashton. You can see how concepts of geography continue to dominate pictures of Sydney. 

As I did last year, Janine Rizzetti has discovered the history of Canada. See, for example,  "Upper Canada: The Formative Years’ by Gerald M Craig and The Lion, the Eagle and Upper Canada’ by Jane Errington.

I explored my own reactions to my discovery of the history of Canada in a number of posts on my personal blog:

I found the history of Canada interesting not just because of its length and complexity as compared to Australia, but also because it is the history of another country set in the context of Empire and Commonwealth. That imperial connection worked itself out in different ways not just because Canada was different, but because things happened at different times. The Empire wasn't static, so Australia in some ways actually received the benefit of later experience.

In another of Janine's posts, ‘Inventing Australia’ by Richard White, she reviews White's 1981 book. This is quite an important book that I read with interest at the time it was first published. His point about the Imperial influence is important. However, my problem with books of this type is that, as a regional historian, I am interested in the way the various forces involved play out on the ground. I am more interested on what my own subjects thought and felt; attempts to create broader national synthesis are only interesting to the degree they are relevant at local or regional level.

On Australian Policy & History, Tony Joel from the School of History, Heritage and Society at Deakin University had a rather disturbing article, Australia's New National Curriculum and the Future of History. My own comments in this area have focused on what I see as the weaknesses in the curriculum. Joel's point is a broader one: no matter what the curriculum may say about history as a key learning area, it's going to fail if there no teachers to teach it.

So old am I that I actually went to school when history was a core part of the curriculum with specialist teachers in Ancient and Modern. I gained my love of history there. How have the mighty fallen!

In writing this post, I have been struggling with a very intermittent wireless connection. It's frustrating in the extreme spending many minutes waiting to see if my connection is going to work. I mean many minutes: in the last three hours the connection has been live for barely thirty minutes. For that reason, I am going to finish this post here and then upload in the brief connection windows I am presently being given.

1 comment:

Bettie said...

Thanks for writing this. I really feel as though I know so much more about this than I did before. Your blog really brought some things to light that I never would have thought about before reading it. You should continue this, Im sure most people would agree youve got a gift.

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