Australian History Summit Drawing Praise & Criticism

Historians in the News

[Richard Allsop is a research fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne.]

... Among all the positives the summit will produce, however, there is still some cause for concern. Speaking on ABC radio recently, Education Minister Julie Bishop said: ''Australian history should be a critical part of the school curriculum, it should at least be a stand-alone subject, and compulsory to say Year 10. I think we should have a great deal of pride in our nation's history, and to ensure we have more informed citizens, they need to have a greater understanding of our nation's past.''

The Minister is correct that history should be a critical part of the school curriculum, but should this be solely Australian history? There is no doubt a need to address, as Gregory Melleuish has done in the paper he has prepared for the summit, the perennial complaint about Australian history that it is not interesting because it lacks the wars, violence and revolutions of other countries.

Like Melleuish, my own historical interest has largely been focused on Australian history. But trying to prevent the Left having a walkover victory in the Australian ''history wars'' in the nation's classrooms, does not mean that the history of the rest of the world should be forgotten as Australian children of the 21st century take their places in an increasingly globalised environment. If a student's knowledge of World WarI is confined to Gallipoli, or of World WarII to Kokoda, the balance is definitely wrong.

If a student leaves an Australian secondary school with quite a detailed understanding of how the Chinese were treated on an Australian goldfield, but no appreciation of the significance of China as a country throughout history, then there is a problem. Space must be left in the history curriculum for Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc and Mao Zedong. It is surely more important to know about Napoleon Bonaparte than Edmund Barton....

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