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Dumbing down Australian history and its teaching


The eminent person
in current academic Australian history, Stuart Macintyre, is the keynote speaker
at this Labor History Conference (held in June 2000), about Labor and Federation.

Stuart Macintyre
is emerging as the major figure in the current counter-revolution in Australian
history, which seems to be directed at restoring a kind of Anglophile official history,
modified by a few gestures towards the currently fashionable high theory, as the
dominant discourse in teaching the subject.

As this happens
to coincide in time with the dramatic collapse in student numbers taking Australian
history in schools and universities, it seems to me necessary to make a comprehensive
critique of this process.

Macintyre is the
Ernest Scott Professor of History at Melbourne University. Ernest Scott was the
practitioner of a Whig, British-oriented, official Australian history, which was
the first major academic school of Australian history writing, and commenced late
in the 19th century during the imperial heyday of ruling-class British Australia.
This general approach was dominant in history teaching in high schools and universities
until well into the 1960s.

There were some
early dissenters from this bourgeois British-Australian history. These dissenters
existed in two streams. Amongst secular socialist groups, J. N. Rawling, Lloyd Ross
and Brian Fitzpatrick challenged this ruling-class orthodoxy with a more populist,
Marxian and nationalist version of Australian history.

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