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

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Musing on Geraldine Doogue's new RN radio program on new genres in Australian history

Interesting program this morning from the ABC's Geraldine Doogue New genres in Australian history. The introduction describes it this way
Saturday Extra brings you in the month of March emerging and established historians who are embarking on studies of particular regions in Australia and using different means to trace the history such as literature and the environment. Eminent historian Tom Griffiths provides his take on this new genre.
As indicated, the program began with an interview with Professor Tom Griffiths whose most recent book is entitled The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their Craft.  I haven't read it yet. Clearly I must.

This was followed by an interview with Tony Hughes d'Aeth whose recent book, Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt, studies the work of eleven writers to explore the experiences and feelings of living and working in West Australia's wheatbelt area, a region that is almost as large as Britain. I liked his approach.

I'm not sure about the new genre part, mind you  After all, historians such as John Ryan have been working in this space for many years. However, I was pleased to see a renewed interest in regional history as well as a focus on using different sources to explore different aspects of life.

I responded with a comment hoping that there would be some inclusion from the broader New England in the program. I gave a link to this blog as an example of the range of topics. However, reading the blog actually left me dissatisfied at several levels.

Because I write across a number of platforms, the blog does not properly represent the range of work that is around nor the different threads involved. Further, I am trying to write a history of the full North over 30,000 years so that I am constantly moving between topics, adding topics. In a way, it's a bit uncontrolled. Then, too, I write outside the academy so that I'm not aware of the range of work going on.

I have the strong impression that the interest in the history of the broader New England has been in decline for a long time. The historians I do know who have done so much are dead or old now to the point that I am just about the youngest. The younger ones within academic life who are interested are so pressed by day-to-day pressures that they don't have time to write.

They also face a problem in that the KPIs that govern their life are structured in such a way that to be interested in local or regional history simply does not cut the mustard unless they have an institution that has it in its mission statement and is prepared to commit resources, to provide top cover, even though it gains no money.      .

Let me give a simple example. An article in say the Armidale and District Historical Society Journal is read by locals and then stays as a resource for broader interest. I use it all the time. I know others do. But it doesn't count because it's outside the KPIs.

I remember going into the University and asking what I might provide that would help them measure the UNE contribution. I was told that nothing I did could be counted because I was an adjunct, not a staff member. Further, all the stuff I did fell outside the parameters anyway.

I thought f...! Here's a place that was founded in part to serve New England, the university of the North. Here's a place that has had a dramatic influence on the texture of Northern life and well beyond. And now this is all written off as irrelevant to comply with certain imposed KPIs.

Then I thought, blow them  Each week I get to more people than read the standard academic article in twelve months. I know people are interested, although I struggle to respond to the feedback because I am working alone.

I may seem to have drifted. I have not. I am looking forward to following the series. If we have new work on regional history, if people are trying new things, I want to know about it, recognising that I am outside the academic loop.

For my part and looking at this blog, it is also time to draw together some of my writing even though it is far from perfect.


Hels said...

"Using different means" to study history reminds me that history used to refer to evidence found in official chronicles eg royal, church, military etc.

I studied Huguenot history via silver and silk art, and had trouble finding a history academic to supervise the thesis and two more to mark the final published version.

Johnb said...

Listening to Tom Griffiths I came away with the phrase and concept of bio-regional culturalism and thought it very useful. He went on to link it to the continent Europeans found when they began their settlement. He then postulated that it is this knowledge we are seeking to recover for our own sense of belonging. Many thanks for the reference Jim, I shall carry those thoughts away with me as they resonated quite deeply.

Johnb said...

A diversion from a study through their Art Hels but there are several Huegenot families still farming in Lincolnshire. They were instrumental in the draining of the Fens to establish farming in place of wild fowling. The following two references may be of interest.
“The Huguenots came to the English midlands in great numbers. Some settled in Lincolnshire. You will find the Thorney Heritage Museum (link is external) site a good place to start.
Many Huguenot families trace their roots to Lincolnshire. Visit the Huguenot Forum (link is external) at the Huguenot Resource Centre.”

Jim Belshaw said...

Morning both

Hels, I can imagine just how difficult that would have been. You are right about the written records bit. I was reminded of this recently reading J L Myres 1911 book Dawn of History. I found myself bristling at the idea that there was no history before writing, at the dismissal of that part of the human past. It's actually a good book considering the knowledge available at the time and oddly relevant to the arguments in the interviews because it relates history clearly to specific environments. By the way, really liked that Vassilieff piece. You are such an interesting writer.

I'm not surprised that you are attracted to that concept, John, given your interests. Mind you, I do bristle at the idea encapsulated in the phrase "slow and agonising sense of belonging." I think that this is something of new urban myth or perhaps just urban angst. Fairly obviously from my writing and interests, I have a strong sense of country.