Populate an Australian history department

[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

Mark Grimsley has an interesting post up at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age / Cliopatria asking people how they would fill out a history department of 15 full-time equivalent positions. I thought it would be fun to try this exercise for an Australian history department.

Rather than trying to specify both (a) the period/region and (b) the historical approach employed by each staff member, I see these as mostly independent variables -- so having a political historian of 20th century Australia and a military historian of early modern Europe is just as satisfactory as having a military historian of 20th century Australia and a political historian of early modern Europe.

So, with that in mind, here's the list by period and region.

  • 2 x 20th century Australia
  • 1 x 19th century Australia
  • 1 x Aboriginal
  • 1 x modern Britain
  • 1 x early modern Britain
  • 3 x Asia (at least 1 modern)
  • 1 x 20th century United States
  • 2 x Europe (at least 1 modern)
  • 1 x Middle East
  • 1 x Africa or Latin America
  • 1 x classical

So my reasoning here is that three positions in Australian history is really the bare minimum to get a decent coverage of the subject, and one in Aboriginal history because you need a specialist to do it justice. Two in British history is perhaps a bit generous :) but I think it can be justified on the basis that Australia's history was so intimately bound up with Britain's between the late 18th and the mid 20th centuries. And Britain is important in its own right too, world-historically speaking. Three positions in Asian history (the obvious choices would be China, Japan and India, though something south-east Asian would be good too) because Asia is a region of vital interest to Australia -- even leaving aside the old are-we-part-of-Asia-or-not debate, just from the point of view of trade, security and migration issues, Australians need to know about Asia, beyond the occasional footy club trip to Bali. 1 And of course, many Australians are descended from Asian immigrants and will be curious to learn more about their heritage. This last comment also applies to the two European history positions; and as well as Europe's central role in creating "the West", Australia has been dragged into two wars in the place, so our students need to understand that context. One for the United States -- it would be pretty hard to get away with less than that! And maybe it's not enough. Ditto for the Middle East. One position in African or Latin American history to bring in a bit more global perspective, at bit more South to balance out the North. Finally, one in classical history because it's the foundation of Western civilisation and because it will help people to understand the context of various movies and miniseries they might encounter.

It's very hard to choose only 15! I would have liked to put in lots more Europe, more US and perhaps one for the Pacific Islands. Certainly more pre-modern. But cuts must be made somewhere.

As for the particular historical approach/method/area employed, I originally had a list similar to the above with numbers next to each one, but it's much harder to justify the numbers I chose -- they were essentially picked more or less at random. So instead I'll just list the ones which I think must be covered, in order to give students the widest possible exposure to differing approaches to history, without giving a specific number:

  • political/diplomatic
  • cultural
  • intellectual
  • military
  • science/technology
  • gender
  • social
  • race
  • economic
  • religion

Just one comment, in respect of the controversy which is ultimately responsible for this post: having at least one military historian is a no brainer for me, no matter one's politics. You can't prevent war by being ignorant of how wars are fought or why they start. The opposite, in fact, I would argue. Certainly in the 1930s, pacifists did not shy away from studying war -- some, at least, eagerly devoured the latest books by military intellectuals, and drew upon them for their own purposes. I have no idea whether it is true or not that liberal (in the American sense) historians disdain military history because they dislike war, or, if it is true, whether it is global phenomenon or not. (I've certainly never encountered it.) But I will say that if it is true, it's an illogical position to hold.

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  1. Yes, I've been to Bali too.[]

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