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History wars – when history matters

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This week on Reviews in History we review History at the Crossroads. Australians and the Past by Paul Ashton and Paula Hamilton, a book which arose out of the authors’ study of the way Australians think about and use their past.

Though the histories of all nations are contested, with different narratives battling to be heard, where the outcome of a historical debate has a direct impact on contemporary life the arguements can be particularly vicious. Such has certainly been the case in Australia, where the so-called ‘history wars’ (over the nature of the British colonisation / conquest of the country) have been raging since the late 1960s. A classic feature of such debates is their expansion beyond the academy, with in this case former PMs Paul Keating and John Howard weighing in while in office.

Other countries to have experienced ‘history wars’ include Japan, Argentina, France and perhaps most violently of all, Germany.