J.A. Raftis. British Historiography Decentralizes.

Journal of British Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Nov., 1969), pp. 143-151.

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From this reading we get a sense of how far behind Queensland has been in historiographical developments when Raftis declares as the opening line: “One of the most remarkable features of the British historical scene since World War II has been the rapid professionalization of local history”. Raftis is initially referring to the building of local history archival collections. The development of local history archives in Queensland, and for other Australian states, has had much less time to mature. The loss of decades in the archival work has had detrimental effect in that many historical records were lost in a culture which tended to uncritically praise selected memory and conveniently depose of the retrospectively-embarrassing written records. Even today with legislation to protect archival work, bureaucrats and politicians are easily motivated to allow certain records to be lost.

Raftis’ survey of the British scene from 1945 to 1969 also had implications for local history research and writing. His comments revealed how far the evolving British model had gone in creating a synergy of volunteer-amateur and paid professional work, and also how much more had it to go in the light in gains made after 1969:

The Standing Conference for Local History, brought into being by the National Council of Social Service in 1948, gave an immense boost to the development of local history societies. These societies have been increasingly elevated from antiquarian clubs to adult education groups by a regular rota of lecturers from university departments and the publication of the quarterly journal, Amateur Historian. On the whole, however, this was a response largely beyond the pale of the historians’ establishment. The superbly organized and successful Essex Record Office, for example, flows over into primary and secondary levels of education, but the wave of interest has not yet met the university student of history.

In Australia the interest of the younger generation was picked up in the 1980s and early 1990s, with record-breaking history undergraduate classes of several hundred in enrolments for a single university department. The late 1990s saw clawing-back in undergraduate numbers and a very high number of retrenchments in humanities academic staff members. The signs, though, for the future are promising. The 2015 ANZAC commemoration, as part of a wider World War I commemoration, has seen a phenomenal public response, much like that in the Australian Bicentennial of 1988. Whether a similar pattern of resurgence can happen for academically-based local history scholarship depends on how much the public can be enticed from their love-affair of fiction, in literature and cinema, to again read actual history. It has to be remembered that novels and film can inspire social reform and community well-being, but it is solid history scholarship that creates the ethical lessons, and thus, the real deal. Much of the Raftis reading demonstrates how the academically-based local historian integrates skills and knowledge from regional (equivalent to ‘state’) and national historiography as well as from the wider social sciences (particularly in the 1960s from sociology).

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Neville Buch

Professional Historian at Qld Historians
Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He is a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch is the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and is a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.

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Neville Buch
Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He is a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch is the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and is a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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