Archives for posts with tag: Australia

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What a time it is to an historian!

Here in our corner of the world in Australia, the last few weeks have witnessed a series of social and political events that have absorbed the nation.

To my mind at least, they show that the gaping cracks long evident in the notion of citizenship and belonging (and therefore sovereignty) that underpinned 20th century Australia are now so wide as to be swallowing us whole.

This was a notion of citizenship founded on settler colonialism, racial exclusion, imperial benevolence (British or American), wage arbitration, and the gendered politics that came with it. And it is in this sense that the dual citizenship crisis engulfing parliament, the Manus Island refugee crisis still unfolding with tragic consequences, the politics of the non-binding same-sex marriage postal survey, the Liberal government’s out-of-hand rejection of the Uluru Statement’s proposal for an Indigenous voice to parliament, the ongoing disaster of environmental blindness and destructive resource extraction, and the interlinked outrage of insecure work and tax avoidance are all connected.

Who gets to belong? Who gets to participate and on what (and who’s) terms? These questions underpin our political moment, not just in Australia but across the globe.

They cry out for contextualisation – no wonder the historians are out in force:

Are you an historian who has written for a wider audience? Send your #publichist pieces in for puffing!

 

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FullSizeRenderOne of the best bits about being an historian is that “reading” features prominently in the job description. From archival letters to articles and scholarly monographs (and ok, yes, just as often twitter and random bits of the internet) words crafted by others are at the heart of my daily practice. They take me out across oceans and pull me into the intimacies of others’ longings and fears. And in doing so they bring the past and the future into my present, both slowing me down and dragging me along.

But I find that often this longer-form reading gets lost in the textual flood that is the internet and email and the administrivia of daily life. I want to keep better track of my textual meanderings and I want to be more conscious of their value in my week.

I know, I know, book lists are annoying. I can’t stand the endless “best of” inventories generated by book sellers and reviewers. The words “inspiring”, “gritty” or “hilarious” invariably appear in every single precis. They seem wholly too worthy, and usually make me itchy and impatient. Yet I love love LOVE the LRB, which is basically a big list about books written by people who live in North London. I love the conversation into which it draws me, and the unexpected connections it helps me to make.

So, in the spirit of the latter rather than the former, I hereby offer you:

Occasional dispatches from my big green reading chair #1

  • Zoe Williams, Get It Together(Hutchinson, 2015) – Zoe Williams is freaking great. A journalist for the Guardian UK, her writing combines deep awareness of people in the realities of their daily lives with incisive analysis of the structures and interests at work in our political and economic systems. This book is talking about wtf is going on in Britain now and the massive transfer of wealth that has happened since 2008 and what can be done. It has wide resonance beyond Britain because so many of these issues are present in post-industrial societies – they include the changing nature of work, housing (un)affordability, service outsourcing and much besides. The tone is one of controlled rage mixed with wry humour.
  • Tomás Irish, The University at War, 1914-25: Britain, France and the United States (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) – I am writing a review on this, but I had bought it before the journal contacted me, which has got to be a good sign. It both exemplifies and contributes to a new breed of university history that is coming out of the cloister and stepping beyond its traditional institutional and national frames. I’ve got a particular interest in this book because, as well as focusing on the mobilisation of universities during the First World War, it takes up questions of expertise and the nation in the aftermath of the conflict. These latter themes are at the heart of the major ARC-funded project that I’m running, together with colleagues from the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne. To get a sense of it, imagine a national version of USyd’s Beyond1914 database which collects information on graduates who served in the war. What did these soldier experts do after the conflict ended? Why is their story not more central in our accounts of nation building?
  • Alecia Simmonds, ‘Why we need a reminder about Australia’s imperialist history with Nauru’ Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Feb 2016 – This is an important piece because in all the talk about refugees the history of Australia’s relationship with Nauru is too often ignored. Why has Nauru agreed to set up a detention facility? It’s because decades of Australian-led phosphate mining have stripped it of its natural assets such that 90% of the island is depleted and its people live in the narrow strip around its coast, vulnerable to rising sea levels. The failed tax-haven plan of the 1990s only left it doubly bankrupt. As Naomi Klein has so powerfully shown, on Nauru ‘the people who could very well be the climate refugees of tomorrow … play warden to the economic and war refugees of today.’ In this piece Alecia Simmonds reminds us that the border between Australia and Nauru has long been little more than a convenient fiction.

Domain School Search

I’ve got a new project on the go that focuses on the way we talk about houses. It’s the product of many a conversation with my friend and co-researcher, Frances Flanagan, about our society’s obsession with property.

Moving back to Australia after several years living abroad, it seemed everyone was talking about property: at dinner parties, at work, at the school gate, and in the newspaper. ‘Where do you live?’ was invariably the first question people asked us.

Frances and I wanted to think more carefully about what all this house talk adds up to? What are we really talking about when we talk about houses?

We are hoping that people will help us out by telling us about the houses they have lived in, the homes they have made and their frustrations along the way. There are no screening procedures and we are inviting anyone above the age of 18 to participate in our study.

You can fill out our survey here http://goo.gl/forms/peqDO1xnkx and find out more about the project, including ways to stay updated as we progress at https://talkabouthouses.wordpress.com. And please forward it onto your friends and family too.

Both the questionnaire and the interviews take the form of open-ended questions about your experience of and feelings about property. They also include some questions that help us understand how these experiences might differ across age, income, geographic and gender groups. We do not seek access to any of your personal information and all responses will be anonymised in any subsequent publication.

And in case you were wondering, the picture at the top is of the new search within school catchments facility from Domain.com.au – saying better than we ever could that houses are about much more than savvy finance.