International and transnational historical approaches have become increasingly prominent in recent years and have generated significant scholarship in Australia and beyond. Meanwhile, this growing academic interest in global methodologies sits uneasily alongside public historical discourse, where the ‘Australian story’ remains central to discussions in the media, politics, education and among the public itself (as consumers of these national narratives). In response, this workshop considers the impact of the turn towards transnationalism on Australian history. It examines (1) how the transnantional lens has complicated and challenged conventional understandings of the national narrative, and (2) the limits of such international perspectives in national historiographical debate.
Rationale and Objectives
In recent years the ‘national narrative’ has been powerfully challenged by transnational and international historical persepctives. This workshop draws on leading academics and public intellectuals from around the country to consider the discipline of Australian history in light of these critical new approaches.
Key moments in Australian history, such as colonisation, Eureka, federation, Australians at war, and the recognition of Indigenous rights, have been increasingly re-examined with a transnational lens, raising important questions about the unique context of Australia’s national narrative. Global movements of ideas, people and capital provide the theoretical basis for such scholarship, which has rightly complicated and challenged the overwhelmingly national focus of the history discipline.
Meanwhile, the pervasiveness of the ‘Australian story’ reveals the enduring resonance of the nation in public historical discourse and scholarship. The so-called ‘history wars’, including contests over the national history curriculum, museum exhibits and national commemorations, continue to generate heated discussion around the country. Popular history books drawing on explicitly national stories such as Anzac, Kokoda and Eureka are avidly consumed by an Australian readership, as are heritage tours, Australian historical fiction and television. These popular expressions of Australia’s past demonstrate that people around the country – not just historians, public commentators and politicians – care deeply about the national narrative.
In response, we propose an examination of the tension between these national and transnational perspectives today: we recognise the critical need to internationalise the sort of narrow parochialism that characterise the history wars, for example, or the glorification of the Anzac Legend; but we also sense the limits of transnational histories in a national setting, where histories are primarily produced for a national audience, and where a strong national discourse resonates powerfully in public debate. The ‘nation’ remains the central framework of historical discussion for good reason.
At a time when Australian history seems to be moving in two distinct directions, this workshop brings these diverging national and transnational approaches together for a timely consideration. In doing so, it asks a number of critical research questions: What are implications of transnational and international approaches on Australian history? What possibilities do they bring to the discipline? And, significantly, what are their limitations?
The workshop takes up several themes to consider the impact (both the possibilities and limitations) brought by transnational and international histories on the national narrative. Each session will be devoted to a particular theme and will draw on the prepared papers of participants, which will be followed by group discussion and comment. The sessions will assess and discuss transnational and national historical approaches in the areas of education, politics, public history and heritage, popular histories, ‘history wars’, and counter-narratives—such as Indigenous and feminist histories. Leading scholars and commentators from around the country, representing disciplines such as history, heritage, politics, transnational studies, education, law and Indigenous studies will produce a nuanced and contextualised analysis of Australian history today.
The proposed workshop offers a significant contribution to Australian history by bringing together leading scholars to produce critical, collaborative and interdisciplinary research at the intersection of national and transnational histories.
A significant outcome of the workshop will be the foundation of an interdisciplinary network among established and emerging scholars of Australian historiography. This network will generate significant discussion on key issues facing Australian history in an inclusive, interdisciplinary and dialogic way. ASSA Fellows from several disciplines, emerging scholars, as well as academics and historians from different educational and public institutions give a thoroughly diverse voice to this discussion. It will be a workshop in the truest sense of the word, as works in progress and contributions are delivered and discussed in relation to the guiding research question: How has the turn to transnational and international histories impacted on national historiography?
The development of a national discussion around current Australian historiography, particularly the themes of national and transnational narratives, offers a critical opportunity to evaluate the state of the discipline today.
At a time when centenary of the Anzac landing is about to be commemorated in Australia and abroad, and the national history curriculum is on the verge of implementation, critical discussion about the relevance of the national narrative is as important as ever. We hope that this workshop will stimulate further discussion and debate about Australian history in the academy and beyond.
For more information, please contact:
Mrs Nurdan Kulluk-Rennert
Manager, Executive and Workshops
Nurdan.Kulluk-Rennert [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788