What is History in a Settler Colonial Society? Mapping the limits and possibilities of ethical historiography

Detail of old map of Australia & New Zealand, 1870 and insert Prof. Anna Clark
Detail of old map of Australia & New Zealand, 1870 by PicturePast on Adobe Stock - Insert: Prof. Anna Clark, provided

In his 1995 study of history, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Michel-Rolph Trouillot insisted on the need to recognise the discipline’s power to curate and control. Critical, structural analysis of history-making would expose not only the past under examination, he contended, but the form and function of the discipline over time: what ‘history is changing with time and place’, such that ‘history reveals itself only through the production of such narratives’. Trouillot’s intervention reflected foundational shifts in historical practice and theory galvanised by work in postcolonial and settler-colonial studies, for example, as well as Indigenous readings of the past and historical perspectives contextualised by trans-Atlantic slavery. While this is a vast, diverse body of work, produced across continents and over decades, at its core is a vital acknowledgement that the history discipline is not neutral: archives silence as well as record; history renders some practitioners visible while ignoring others; and concepts of historical ‘truth’ can exclude Indigenous and sub-altern truths. 

That intervention has prompted a vital question: 'how do we map settler-colonial historiography if the discipline has been complicit in the settler-colonial project? Using Australian historiography as a case study, Professor Anna Clark (University of Technology Sydney) will explore in this lecture how History has been part of the architecture of colonisation, policing whose stories can be told and by whom.  Drawing on the work of Indigenous history-makers and knowledge-holders, it also points to ways that researchers might reach outside the traditional scope of historiography to map and contemplate the range of history-making that comprises history in the settler-colony.

Anna Clark is an award-winning historian, author and public commentator. An internationally recognised scholar in Australian history, history education and the role of history in everyday life, Anna’s most recent books are The Catch: Australia’s Love Affair with Fishing (Penguin 2023) and Making Australian History (Penguin 2022). She is currently a Professor of History at the University of Technology Sydney.

View more information about the Allan Martin Lecture Series here.

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Date & time

Tue 23 Jul 2024, 6.30–8pm


RSSS Auditorium (Room 1.28) 146 Ellery Crescent Acton ACT 2601


Professor Anna Clark (University of Technology, Sydney)


Maria Nugent


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