Facts of History: The revisionism of Andrew Bolt
I confess I belong to the school of postmodern history. I look at facts circumspectly. I wonder through what systems of
knowledge, and through which investments of power facts came to be known,shared and have significance for people.
Even worse, I am a 'cultural historian', I look at things such as beauty competitions in the 1920s Herald newspaper, and I write about how the photograph, print media and beauty culture forever changed the way women were seen and saw
Tellingly, I'm writing this response to Andrew Bolt's claim that contemporary histories are not grounded in fact, from the foyer of the State Library of Victoria. What would a cultural historian, schooled in reams of critical theory yet unable to
name the exact date of the Gallipoli landing, be doing sending this missive from a terminal at the State Library of Victoria?
Waiting on the other side of the foyer is my trolley order of the entire journal Oceania, in which anthropologists wrote all manner of 'facts' about Australian aborigines and their childbirth, grieving, kinship structures,breastfeeding and initiation rites.
Why would a postmodern historian wade through all these 'facts'? To see if they fit in with a vast web of other 'facts' being made at the time about Aboriginal maternity, and whether all these 'facts' might have influenced state policies of child removal.
I'm also researching the Piccaninny, on tea towells,ceramics and garden ornaments in order to think about how they all might have played a role in widespread acceptance by white Australians of the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and commnunities.I'm asking why the Piccaninny was almost always figured alone in the bush,and why were white Australians so fond of this figure?
Worse again, none of this history will ever be taught in the classrooms Mr Howard wants to create, because I don't believe that I'm arguing 'fact'. I think it's one way of looking at Aboriginal child removal, a way that might make connections across these vast webs of 'facts' about aboriginal maternity that haven't been made before. Along the way I have been dealing in
many historical facts, some presently disputed, such as the removal of Aboriginal children at all.I will be making a certain interpretation of our past, and therefore I will be 'making history'.
I have a challenge for Mr Bolt.
In the spirit of objective historical empiricism, let's put his theory - that postmodern histories are devoid of facts - to the test.
I would like him to read my decidedly postmodern book, 'The Spectacular Modern Woman', and count all the things that for him count as 'facts': let's limit it to just dates, events and names.
I bet Mr Bolt doesn't take up my challenge, because in my impressionistic historical book there are more facts than he will have time for and be able to accomodate.