Another odd angry shot

My personal desire to revisit the History Wars is roughly on a par with my aspiration to experience the joys of lung cancer or leprosy. However the topic has been a perennially popular/controversial one on Troppo Armadillo, and always seems to generate acrimonious (and sometimes even enlightened) debate. Accordingly I feel obliged to record for completeness that Keith Windschuttle has re-ignited discussion in the latest Quadrant, and his fairly long article is reproduced on Sydney Line.

Despite the shortcomings of his own position, it does seem to this humble armadillo that Windschuttle makes some pretty cogent points against both Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan. Windshchuttle’s article is sufficiently long and detailed to allow conscientious objectors (like Christopher Sheil) to grapple with his arguments without breaching their own peculiar moral injunction against actually being familiar with a work before critiquing it.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

In an almost certainly futile bid to pre-empt the point, I should note that Christopher Sheil has always argued, perhaps correctly, that he only ever critiqued Windschuttle’s UNSW debate, which he (Sheil) witnessed, and not Windschuttle’s Fabrication … book itself. The problem with discussing a work on that limited basis is that the nature of the public debate genre is such that discussion of any given issue will necessarily be incomplete at best, and impressions heavily influenced by the rhetorical and theatrical skills of the protagonists, which may or may not coincide with the merits of their facts and arguments.

I suspect that Christopher’s conscientious refusal to grapple with the substantive arguments of the book itself, along with the equally stubborn determination of Norman Hanscombe and others to push their own particular barrows (often using extreme and offensive language which Christopher happly reciprocated), made a major contribution to the ultimate failure to achieve anything closely resembling an intellectually satisfying comment box discussion. I harbour a forlorn hope that Windschuttle’s publication of his case in an accessible and reasonably fulsome form on the web might belatedly enable the parties to get to grips with more of the substantive issues of detail, while resisting the temptation towards ad hominem abuse.

Chris O
Chris O
2021 years ago

Have you read Whitewash ( The reply to Windschuttle’s book) Ken? You don’t say. And if not, how can you argue Windschuttle is making ‘cogent points’ in an article which is a reply to the contents of that book.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Having read large parts of Whitewash, and in particular the chapter by James Boyce, my impression of the Quadrant article was that Keith’s now gone completely off his rocker … but I have put the two pieces aside so that I can make a forensic comparison in due course, so I won’t make any pre-emptive comment here.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Chris O,

No I haven’t read Whitewash (not because of a conscientious objection, just lack of time), but I have read Fabrication. My comment that Windschuttle seemed to be making cogent points was in the light of reading Fabrication and the seemingly interminable debate about it (and Whitewash) on this blog and elsewhere. I essentially just put up this post to give those who may be interested a forum to discuss the detailed issues in light of Windschuttle’s attempted rebuttal of Manne et al’s attempted rebuttal of Windschuttle’s rebuttal of Reynolds and Ryan!! I don’t wish to participate actively in the discussion myself (although I might make the odd passing comment), so I don’t intend supporting my passing comment that Windschuttle seemed to have made some “cogent” points.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Well I’m certainly looking forward to ol’ Keith himself not engaging in ad hominem abuse, and the same goes for the Quadrant set that gives him such regular succour.

But, let’s get real: pigs will fly before this happens.

Chris O
Chris O
2021 years ago

Ken as you say, Keith Windschuttle’s arguments ‘do’ seem cogent. They ‘do’ seem reasonable. There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ in Windschuttle’s history but declarations, denunciations and definitive statements. He has certianly convinced a lot of people.

Part of the success of Windschuttle’s radical revisionist history of not only Tasmania but Australia in general is the apparent authority with which he speaks. ( I’ve read it.) Those unfamiliar with the contents of, for example, the Tasmanian archives and the historical record, have little way of verifying the veracity of Windschuttle’s use of evidence.

The trouble with good history writing is that, in short, its bloody difficult. It’s a complex, slow and arduous process. Does it not strike you as a little odd that an individual with such a limited experience in the craft of writing history has, after some eighteen short months’ research written what he calls ‘the most exhaustive study yet done’ of colonial Tasmania? And, those historians who came before him, many who have spent a lifetime in research and study of their particular area of interest, and on whose work he relies on exclusively, are an ‘orthodox school’ of ‘fabricators?’ It’s hysterical in my books. If I were a cynic I’d suggest he writes this way with a purpose in mind. Who would have listened to Windschuttle if he hadn’t made the most radical claims possible? Who would have given a hoot about a couple of incorrect footnotes in some not too well known historian in Tasmania? Who would have bought his self published book?

If you analyse Windshuttle’s work you see his brand of empiricism is inconsistent, his use of evidence selective and often involves ‘spinning’ what the author he is attacking has actually said. His criteria for determining a death count for instance, ‘if it’s not recorded or written down as a death it can’t be counted,’ is ludicrous and grotesque.

I’ve read Whitewash and felt it simply and authoritatively destroys Windschuttle’s entire thesis. Windschuttle’s reply, the link to which you refer, is simply mystifying revealing this is a far from a normal ‘debate.’ ( attack appears Windschuttle’s best form of defence here me thinks) He not only concedes almost nothing and admits to only a couple mistakes of interpretation and fact ( when James Boyce in Whitewash states ‘the number of elementary errors in Fabrication will soon exclude it from serious historical debate’ )but continues to recycle the same claims against Reynolds and Ryan that are misrepresentations of what they have actually said anyway and have refuted in Whitewash. How can anyone reasonably compete with this ?

John
John
2021 years ago

On reading Windschuttle’s piece, it confirms my general view from a partial reading of the debate so far. He scores some reasonably strong points against Lyndall Ryan. OTOH, his criticisms of Henry Reynolds (with the exception of one minor error, trumpeted again here) are mostly dishonest quibbles. To make his attack appear substantive, he has to repeat the same points several times.

Leaving aside the quibbles, the overwhelming fact is that in the space of about thirty years, the vast majority of Tasmanian Aboriginals died, one way or another. Reading Windschuttle’s piece you would never know this.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

John,

I essentially agree. However, without wishing in any sense to be counted a Windschuttle supporter, I do think it’s important for Australians to have a reasonably accurate grasp of these historical events, as far as that’s possible from contemporary traces.

If we accept (as I do) that there were probably around 3-5,000 Tasmanian Aborigines (instead of Windschuttle’s suspiciously low 2,000) and that around 300-400 of them (not Windschuttle’s 120) died through violence inflicted by whites (whether defensively or offensively), we’re still left with the proposition that the overwhelming majority died from whitefella-imported dieases against which they had no immunity.

That sort of wholesale death by disease is no less tragic than had they died from bullets or poison, but it evokes very different modern emotional and political responses. And influencing those modern responses is ultimately what the History Wars are all about (even for many of the historians).

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

Ken,
I find myself in TOTAL agreement with everything you said.
Given that I am off to have a bex and a long laydown so I can disagree with something.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

The distinction between those Tasmanian aborigines who died from disease and those who died from gun shot wounds becomes a little blurred if the diseases were spread deliberately, or with malign indifference, or even benign indifference, does it not?

I

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Dave,

I suppose it would. But is there any cogent evidence of this? I don’t claim to be an expert, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of any such suggestions. Do you know of any research to that effect?

wen
wen
2021 years ago

But surely Dave, when you’re talking about genocide, the distinction between Benign and Malign, should never be blurred.

Richard
Richard
2021 years ago

Dave,

How on earth do you spread influenza and other diseases such as Small Pox and Syphilis with “malign indifference, or even benign indifference”

bargarz
2021 years ago

Critiquing a book one hasn’t even read (or even plans to read?) is akin to Creationists espousing their dogma without actually taking the time to learn what evolution is.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Ken, I don’t know what the evidence on this is, and I’m not saying it definitely happened. Perhaps Chris could help us out.

Richard, malign indifference is when you see people dieing from diseases, and you are happy to see it happen.

For example, in a different historical context: about 3 million Soviet POWs froze or starved to death during WWII. This was due to the malign indifference of their German captors.

Benign indifference is when you’re not particularly happy about it, but you don’t do anything to prevent it. For example, did the authorities, knowing the Aborigines were vulnerable to western disease, ever discourage the settlers with the clap from having sex with the Aborigines? If no, that is benign indifference.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Dave, apart from intending to do a close comparison of Boyce’s chapter in Whitewash and Windschuttle’s reply, I will make no pretensions to expertise in Aboriginal history. Perhaps it is of interest to note, however, that Keith’s claim that “the evidence for disease … as the major cause of depopulation is compelling” is another part of his book that cops a complete Boyce bollocking. Only from 1832 is the leading role of disease conclusive (the main period of fighting was from 1824-1832). Like a normal (i.e. un-Windschuttle-like) historian, Boyce acknowledges uncertainties, before he completely destroys Keith’s use of the term ‘conclusive’.

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

I think it is of interest to note that Chris quotes KW as saying the evidence is “compelling”, then attacks him for saying the evidence is “conclusive”.

If this is an example of the standards of research and argument used by the Australian historical establishment, it’s no surprise Windschuttle has managed to discredit the revisionist theories of “genocide”.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Sorry Evil … I was also talking on the phone while I was typing … I also meant to write ‘compelling’ the second time.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

That is … and well spotted Evil … the Boyce statement is: “Windchuttle’s claim that ‘the evidence for disease … as the major cause of depopulation is compelling’ is nonsense” … as Boyce then goes on to comprehensively establish.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Chris,

Obviously I can’t comment on the Boyce chaper without reading it, but everything else I’ve read (including articles to which you’ve referred approvingly) indicates that the total Tasmanian Aboriginal death toll by violence was in the order of 300-400, and the total original indigenous population between 3,000 and 5,000. So on a purely mathematical basis it’s difficult to see how Boyce could establish, “comprehensively” (not much historians’ uncertainty there) or otherwise, that disease was not the major cause of depopulation. Your comment appears to hint at an argument that violent death was the dominant cause only during the years 1824-32, with disease being predominant the rest of the time. If that’s all Boyce is arguing, it’s not especially earth-shattering even if correct.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Ken, no Boyce’s point is larger than that, being that the evidence of disease only begins to become clear after 1829, by which time “much of the population decrease had already occurred”, and the evidence for its position as the leading cause in the Aboriginal death rate only becomes conclusive after 1832 (i.e the case is ‘upwardly’ bounded by 1829-32, but is not at all ‘downwardly’ bounded by 1824). Certainly it is not “compelling” as the major cause of depopulation prior to 1832 … in opposition to KW and according to Boyce. Still, I’ve only made this comment on the basis of 5 minutes revisiting Boyce, and sorting through the evidence is not simple … but note that disease assumptions about Van Diemen’s Land are not transferable from Sydney/Port Arthur (as KW implies … again, according to Boyce … by citing evidence of smallpox in Sydney and other visible disease deaths in Port Arthur). In any event, clearly no aspect of this debate is fit for going into lightly … let alone for typing while one is also talking on the phone … I hope to revisit the topic before long, but only when I’m securely encased within bullet proof arguments.

Ken Miles
2021 years ago

Ken, while Boyce doesn’t attempt to tally a death toll, your figures of 300 to 400 don’t seem to be out of place (he cites Ryan as 700, Reynolds as 250 – 400 and Calder as >500).

Boyce doesn’t argue that disease wasn’t a killer, but rather that Windschuttle’s evidence for it, isn’t compelling:

“Deaths from disease might have been widespread, even the major case of the population decline, but Windschuttle’s claim that “the evidence for disease … as the major cause of depopulation is compelling” is nonsense”. [his emphasis]

He cites evidence for many of the killer diseases not being present in Tasmania during the early time period (for example, Windschuttle mentions smallpox wiping many of the Sydney Aborigines, but doesn’t mention that it didn’t reach Tasmania), and mentions the low incident of reports of diseases among Aborigines by settlers as evidence for this, and reports from settlers which mention the general good health of the Aborigines (this includes reports from a surgeon who ran a hospital for Aborigines in 1819).

Boyce argues that until 1820, disease only played a limited role in the population decline, and that it isn’t until 1832 that disease really starts to play a leading role in the decline. He hypothesizes, that the increased role of disease then was related to the conflict:

“The drastic changes in lifestyle demanded by the dramatically expanded conflict, including the constant movement, loss of fires, the need to winter inland and sometimes in sub-alpine areas, the difficulty of hunting and obtaining fresh meat, and the subsequent substitution of flour and sugar for meat and seafood are likely to have made the Aborigines more vulnerable to white disease from the mid-1820s”.

Ken Miles
2021 years ago

Ken, while Boyce doesn’t attempt to tally a death toll, your figures of 300 to 400 don’t seem to be out of place (he cites Ryan as 700, Reynolds as 250 – 400 and Calder as >500).

Boyce doesn’t argue that disease wasn’t a killer, but rather that Windschuttle’s evidence for it, isn’t compelling:

“Deaths from disease might have been widespread, even the major case of the population decline, but Windschuttle’s claim that “the evidence for disease … as the major cause of depopulation is compelling” is nonsense”. [his emphasis]

He cites evidence for many of the killer diseases not being present in Tasmania during the early time period (for example, Windschuttle mentions smallpox wiping many of the Sydney Aborigines, but doesn’t mention that it didn’t reach Tasmania), and mentions the low incident of reports of diseases among Aborigines by settlers as evidence for this, and reports from settlers which mention the general good health of the Aborigines (this includes reports from a surgeon who ran a hospital for Aborigines in 1819).

Boyce argues that until 1820, disease only played a limited role in the population decline, and that it isn’t until 1832 that disease really starts to play a leading role in the decline. He hypothesizes, that the increased role of disease then was related to the conflict:

“The drastic changes in lifestyle demanded by the dramatically expanded conflict, including the constant movement, loss of fires, the need to winter inland and sometimes in sub-alpine areas, the difficulty of hunting and obtaining fresh meat, and the subsequent substitution of flour and sugar for meat and seafood are likely to have made the Aborigines more vulnerable to white disease from the mid-1820s”.

Ken Miles
2021 years ago

Opps. Sorry for the double post.

JML
JML
2021 years ago

Ken Miles,

You seem to be shifting the goal posts. You state that Boyce concludes that there is no compelling evidence for disease being a major cause of population decline before 1832. If that’s true, so what? It has nothing to do with Windshuttle’s thesis that there was no policy of genocide and that violent black deaths have been exaggerated.

In your last quotation from Boyce, he appears to be arguing that the increased role of disease was a consequence [via dispacement of aborigines] of the frontier conflict. Again, this has nothing to do with the genocide/exaggeration of violent deaths contention.

None of what you relate about Boyce’s contribution seems relevant to KW’s main arguments.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

JML
Ken Miles, like myself, was simply picking up on a thread comment by Dvae Ricardo … it is a minor Ricardo-inspired-goalposts aspect of Boyce’s demolition of Windschuttle.

JML
JML
2021 years ago

Chris, I acknowledge that you want to spend more time on Boyce before making a comprehensive account of his critque of KW. However I’m having difficulty understanding the point about the role of disease.

Earlier you posted, in response to Ken Parish’s “mathematics”:

“Ken, no Boyce’s point is larger than that, being that the evidence of disease only begins to become clear after 1829, by which time “much of the population decrease had already occurred”, and the evidence for its position as the leading cause in the Aboriginal death rate only becomes conclusive after 1832 (i.e the case is ‘upwardly’ bounded by 1829-32, but is not at all ‘downwardly’ bounded by 1824). Certainly it is not “compelling” as the major cause of depopulation prior to 1832 … in opposition to KW and according to Boyce.”

I can’t understand this as an argument against KW. Even if we accept a higher number of violent deaths (say, 500) and an initial population of (say) 3,500, surely disease must have been a major (if not the major) cause of population decline regardless of when it occured.

Is the argument that, because disease didn’t really take hold until the late 1820s, violent death must have been the major cause before that? If that’s the case, then we need to know the rate of population decline in the 1820s (which is presumably unknowable in the absence of any census) before we can reach any conclusions that relate to the number or significance of violent deaths.

That (if true) violent deaths were more common than deaths from disease prior to the late 1820s says nothing about KW’s “no genocide/violent deaths exaggerated” thesis. Similarly, if deaths from disease were greater than violent death, it’s still irrelevant to the main argument.

I suppose a lot rests on what Boyce means (or what evidence he has) in his assertion that “much of the population decrease had already occurred” [before 1829]. He also seems to be having a bet both ways by arguing that disease was aggrevated by displacement due to the frontier conflict.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

JML,

Dave Ricardo wrote:

For example, did the authorities, knowing the Aborigines were vulnerable to western disease, ever discourage the settlers with the clap from having sex with the Aborigines? If no, that is benign indifference.

And I was merely conveying what Borce said in his chapter about disease, which is a side-point re KW, that’s all… but, as you say, I intend to do the very close comparison of what Boyce wrote and how KW has responded … when I’m not also trying to do four other things at once. I’ll email you when I’ve posted, if you like.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

JML,

Dave Ricardo wrote:

For example, did the authorities, knowing the Aborigines were vulnerable to western disease, ever discourage the settlers with the clap from having sex with the Aborigines? If no, that is benign indifference.

And I was merely conveying what Boyce said in his chapter about disease, which is a side-point re KW, that’s all… but, as you say, I intend to do the very close comparison of what Boyce wrote and how KW has responded … when I’m not also trying to do four other things at once. I’ll email you when I’ve posted, if you like.

JML
JML
2021 years ago

OK, I went and bought “Whitewash”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

JML,

An excellent, balanced and genuinely ‘centrist’ analysis.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Ken
You wouldn’t be attempting to conflate ‘centrist’ with ‘disppasionate’ by perchance? :)

Can’t help thinking the following may well be true, but is also an absolute riot:

Further, KW’s familiarity with primary sources is unknowable. In his Quadrant rebuttal KW argues that his bibliography only includes references that he has footnoted. He also emphasises his reliance on primary sources. Many of the references Boyle asserts that KW is unfamiliar with are not “primary”

JML
JML
2021 years ago

Chris,

I’m not a historian, but I use the expression “primary sources”

cs
cs
2021 years ago

JML,
Fair enough. As I said, it is an important and useful practical distinction, which I would not want to disavow. Yet it remains that there are ways in which all sources have primary and secondary dimensions, such that finally the distinction can dissolve. Writing and language themselves, for example, are also a part of history … secondary sources, handed down to us and in constant movement as they interact with the (primary) present, shaping our perceptions of the traces that have come down to us from the past, just as they contributed to shaping representations of the present in past relations … such considerations can become important in practical research, but I agree this is all somewhat esoteric and irrelevant to the matter at hand, and the conventional distinctions are important and useful.

I’m glad you’re interested to continue your mini review, and look forward to following your assessment. You may also be interested to read this article by a postgraduate at my school on Musquito, who is not dealt with in Whitewash. There is also a new review in Australian Book Review here, which I point out mainly because it illustrates that what can strike one reader as an “intemperate tone” can strike another as “written in an engaging and assertive voice” (which is actually how Boyce strikes me … if only, I lament, most historians were as lucid and creative in their composition).

For what it’s worth, my pro tem guess is that the whole ‘fabrication’ allegation will finally be judged as “exaggeratedly alarmist”, which is how Richard Evans (the distinguished historian of anti-David Irving fame) summarised KW’s earlier effort on the impact of postmodernism on the history discipline … and it;s these kinds of assessments which lead people to muse over coffee breaks on what really moves the man … but now I’m just rabbitting on.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

JML,
Fair enough. As I said, it is an important and useful practical distinction, which I would not want to disavow. Yet it remains that there are ways in which all sources have primary and secondary dimensions, such that finally the distinction can dissolve. Writing and language themselves, for example, are also a part of history … secondary sources, handed down to us and in constant movement as they interact with the (primary) present, shaping our perceptions of the traces that have come down to us from the past, just as they contributed to shaping representations of the present in past relations … such considerations can become important in practical research, but I agree this is all somewhat esoteric and irrelevant to the matter at hand, and the conventional distinctions are important and useful.

I’m glad you’re interested to continue your mini review, and look forward to following your assessment. You may also be interested to read this article by a postgraduate at my school on Musquito, who is not dealt with in Whitewash. There is also a new review in Australian Book Review here, which I point out mainly because it illustrates that what can strike one reader as an “intemperate tone” can strike another as “written in an engaging and assertive voice” (which is actually how Boyce strikes me … if only, I lament, most historians were as lucid and creative in their composition).

For what it’s worth, my pro tem guess is that the whole ‘fabrication’ allegation will finally be judged as “exaggeratedly alarmist”, which is how Richard Evans (the distinguished historian of anti-David Irving fame) summarised KW’s earlier effort on the impact of postmodernism on the history discipline … and it’s these kinds of assessments that lead people to muse over coffee breaks on what really moves the man … but now I’m just rabbitting on.

JML
JML
2021 years ago

I’ll continue my mini-review of “Whitewash”

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Folks following this story may be interested in two new reviews. There’s one in today’s Review section of the AFR by Inga Clendinnen (also a beautifully written piece, if I may say so) and another, or I should say several, in the new issue of Arena magazine (No. 67), one by Guy Rundle (Arena co-editor), another by Eve Vincent & Clare Land (history honours graduates), and an extraordinary piece called “Four out of Four Hundred: Windschuttle annotated”, which reproduces four pages of The Fabrication, circles multiple mistakes in red in the text (over 30 on just these pages) and explains the errors in the margins (Arena also makes a point of includng endnotes).

For those who couldn’t be bothered, the general message from the new reviews is pretty consistent, and may be broadly characterised as: Windschuttle may have made a minor but worthwhile contribution in discovering some errors and exagerrations in earlier scholarship, his own errors are more voluminous and much greater, the idea of a fabrication is absurd, KW has little if any appreciation of history as a discipline, James Boyce’s response in Whitewash is masterful (and perhaps the best thing to have come out of the whole affair – and, JML, Clendinnen also shares your view of Reynolds’ chapter), and, well, KW himself seems to be a seriously strange person.

Outside the heavily protected columns of Quadrant and The Australian, the dust is now settling.

Ken Miles
2021 years ago

JML, good review. I believe that Reynolds acknowledged his misquotation of Governor Arthur, stated that it was a mistake on his part, and promised to correct it in future editions. This was all shortly after Fabrication came out.

I’m not sure what else he could add to this in Whitewash.

Chris O
Chris O
2021 years ago

CS – Is the Inga Clendinnen article available on-line? if so do you have the link?

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Only for subscribers, of which happily I’m one, so I’ll email it to you.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

chris – if you’re there, would you be able to e-mail me too. (I’ve got an f2 account, but apparently the IC article’s not yet available, and all the newsagents close early sunday here – & I have a feeling fridays FR wont be around tomorrow) I think anything IC’s got to say (on just about anything) is well worth reading.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

For those who don’t have access, these are Inga’s money paragraphs:

Windschuttle is a warrior. His primary object is not the better understanding of what went on between the indigenous population and incomers in the early years of settlement in Tasmania, but to collect the scalps of a (vaguely defined) tribe of historians he has marked as the enemy, and who he believes have wilfully deceived the Australian public regarding the character of our first settlers, and of the people they encountered. He makes his unabashed present-mindedness explicit in the ferocious denunciations of his final chapter. Unsurprisingly, he is at his most implausible in his representation of the native Tasmanians, who lurk at the periphery of civilised settlement like escapees from a Swiftian nightmare, natural-born criminals so maladapted to their environment that their survival for 35,000 years could rationally be explained only by a rather extended period of good luck.

The discipline of history demands rigorous self-criticism, a patient, even attentiveness, a practised tolerance for uncertainty. It also requires that pleasure be taken in the epistemological problems which attend the attempt to recover the density of a past actuality from its residual traces. These are not warrior virtues. Windschuttle detests ambiguity, and is blind to epistemological problems, instead applying forensic modes of interrogation simply inappropriate to such delicate material. His ideological excitation adds its own airy dimension. For all the sound and the fury, Windschuttle is weaving the wind.

Let me repeat just one bit of KW’s wisdom for a touch more reflection, which many other critics have also picked up on:

… their survival for 35,000 years could rationally be explained only by a rather extended period of good luck.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

Clendinnen doesn’t only criticise KW, but objects to the whole “warrior” mentality. She also says:
There is, however, a peculiarity about the History Wars, at least in Macintyre’s telling of them. They are being fought by only one side. Despite being under constant withering fire, the historians have blamelessly got on with their historians’ duties, testing hypotheses against the records, and steadfastly narrating the results.

That is not quite how it has looked to me. Clark’s illuminating contribution to The History Wars describes the savage battles over the teaching of history in schools, with at least two sides fiercely engaged, while Macintyre himself chose Paul Keating to launch the book, with predictably incendiary consequences, and declares his own sympathies with cheerful partisanship. Nor has overstatement been restricted to one side. Some of Windschuttle’s opponents have come close to matching his casual attribution of disreputable motive, freehand psychologising and overheated ideologising. Even Robert Manne, angered by Windschuttle’s extravagant and provocative claim that in the story of the empire, Tasmania was probably the place where “the least indigenous blood of all was deliberately shed”, riposted with an extravagant claim of his own: “Ever since the 1830s, civilised opinion has regarded Tasmania as the site of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of British colonialism.” [Manne,The Age, August 25, 2003].

If that is true, “civilised opinion” is, simply, wrong. British colonialism has contrived more than a few tragedies in its long history, many bloodier and more wilful that the piecemeal and partial destruction of the Tasmanians.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

that was all Clendinnen – not me. stuffed up the italics.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Yes wen, she strongly critiques the warrior mentality, but then so does Macintyre in his book, so this side of the article is diffuse … apart from some clear but sporadic shots (Keating doing the launching, Manne’s overstatement), this theme has little real shape, to the extent that I see it really as a generalised soft casing … a casing that Clendinnen would wish was broader than, or at least a little different to, Macintyre’s account … for the inner critique of KW.

Geoff
Geoff
2021 years ago

I’ve just finished “The History Wars”, and although I think it is a reasonable summary of the story in Australia, there are a few places where Macintyre lapses, IMHO.

For example, on the Hindmarsh Island affair, Macintyre goes on to discuss at length the various positions and arguments of those on the “history warrior” side, before perfunctorily noting that two other researchers (Margaret Simmons was one, I think) who had an alternative view. But these views or dissenting opinions were never outlined in depth — just two paragraphs of bald assertion, if I recall. I got the feeling Macintyre was trying to rescue the Hindmarsh women from the History Warriors, trying to show how they had overstated their claims and shown bad history, but the payoff was basically “but others disagreed. QED”.

I also think Macintyre should have laid off the anti-Howardisms, too. One that comes to mind now is a quip on the presence of Howard associates on the National Museum board, and that Howard would have appointed, Caligula-like, a horse to the National Museum he had been an equistrian fancier. Sure, it’s amusing, but it only serves to reinforce a view that Macintyre is allying himself with one side of the “war” rather than attempting an honest and objective analysis.

Those are just little niggles, however, and mainly I found the book to be well worth a read. I’ve read “Whitewash”, and I guess now I have to tackle “The Fabrication Of Aboriginal History” (although my initial perusal at the bookstore was not encouraging — it does not look like an easy read).

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2021 years ago

Revisionism revisited

keith Windschuttle has launched another broadside against the politiicised Australian historical establishment, this time in Quadrant magazine. Ken Parish links to an online copy of this latest polemic, Whitewash confirms the fabrication of Aboriginal …

trackback
2021 years ago

Revisionism revisited

Keith Windschuttle has launched another broadside against the politiicised Australian historical establishment, this time in Quadrant magazine. Ken Parish links to an online copy of this latest polemic, Whitewash confirms the fabrication of Aboriginal …