The History Question: Who Owns the Past?
In the third Quarterly Essay for 2006, Inga Clendinnen looks past the skirmishes and pitched battles of the history wars and asks what's at stake - what kind of history do we want and need? Should our historians be producing the "objective record of achievement" that the Prime Minister has called for? For Clendinnen, historians cannot be the midwives of national identity and also be true to their profession: history cannot do the work of myth. Clendinnen illuminates the ways in which history, myth and fiction differ from one another, and why the differences are important. In discussing what good history looks like, she pays tribute to the human need for storytelling but notes the distinctive critical role of the historian. She offers a spirited critique of Kate Grenville's 'The Secret River', and discusses the Stolen Generations and the role of morality in history-writing. This is an eloquent and stimulating essay about a subject that has generated much heat in recent times: how we should record and regard the nation's past.
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