Insights from Quadrant

‘The demise of
academic history’

Readers of the Weekend Australian will have enjoyed Geoffrey Blainey’s feature essay on Captain Cook and his voyages — a theme also addressed by Quadrant‘s Keith Windschuttle, at left, in a column we first published in 2018 and reprise today for the Australia Day holiday.

Blainey’s article has inspired a series of spirited debates in The Australian‘s comments thread, with readers arguing the toss about everything from anti-scorbutics to Aboriginal “civilisation”. In the ink-and-paper Letters page, however, a missive from historian Greg Haines made it only so far as the editor’s spike — a pity, as it makes some cutting points about historians and the teaching of history in Australia’s universities. That letter, is reproduced below:

Geoffrey Blainey has well-served Australian History for over half a century. The intellectual pygmies of Melbourne University’s History school, led by careerist Stuart Macintyre, who replaced him as professor, have done so little. They have also pioneered the demise of academic history.

But these relatively irrelevant academics will continue to write their own obituaries, thus continuing the dreary life of their obscurantism. Their demise will have as its memorial empty lecture halls and tutorial rooms. It has already yielded a dearth of sound history tomes by academics, save fanciful, doubtful ones about Aboriginal history, pre-history too. Professorial chairs will remain empty as jobs disappear.

Australia’s imperilled history could well disappear for one or so generations. With it could go knowledge of Australia’s discovery and exploration and development and engineering, of its cultural evolution, of its science and wars and sport and music and schools and government and writing and the stories of its people, their songs of joy and of sorrow.

Compared with Blainey’s wonderful, continuing gifts to our culture, the legacy of these Melbourne (and other) anti-intellectual, academic historians looks like the wasteland of which T S Eliot wrote. A disgrace. Shame on our universities, their leaders especially.

Gregory Haines Ph.C., B.A., Ph.D.
Pharmacist and Historian

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