Why the history wars matter

JS captain cook 1Before I became what I half-jokingly describe as a fact-grubber and barrow pusher — a think tanker — I was formally trained as an historian.  My PhD thesis examined the political ideas and ideals of the men who founded the Commonwealth of Australia.

I was — and still am — a big-picture national history kind of historian. At a time when deconstruction is the intellectual fashion, my historical interests continue to lie in the national story.

And not only as a historian interested in getting the national story right about contentious historical and social issues such as gender and race; but also as a think tanker interested in the contemporary importance of the national story to the national interest.

For despite what the post-modern theorists claim, the nation remains the ultimate political reality. The power of the national story to inspire our collective beliefs about ourselves as Australians, and for those beliefs to inspire the direction of our national life, is the reason the history wars matter.

The history wars — the on-going debate about the practice and teaching of Australian history — and about vitally important and potentially divisive subjects such as the history of Australian racism — remain a critically important battle of ideas.

Understanding the true meaning of Australian history, and debunking the perennial claims routinely made about the role our supposedly perpetual of history of ‘racism’ allegedly continues to plays in Australian society, is increasingly in the national interest today.

In the current age of grievance-mongering identity politics, the use, abuse and distortion of Australian history lies behind the politicisation of racial issues by organisations such as Australian Human Rights Commission.

Getting the history of Australian racism right has therefore never mattered more than now to counteract to the threat identity politics poses to the social harmony that has become the hallmark of modern multi-racial Australia.

Dr Jeremy Sammut has a PhD in Australian History. He is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and author of The History Wars Matter.