Issue Details: First known date: 2011 2011
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'In recent years debates about the ethics of portraying Indigenous subjects and subject matter have almost been superseded by circular debates about 'true' Australian history and who has the right to tell it. This has been disappointing in a context of the morally and formally imaginative speculations of historians such as Tom Griffiths, Fiona Paisley, Stephen Kinnane and Greg Dening, and also in a context of Indigenous studies Professor Marcia Langton's evidently too-hopeful calls for the activation of a shared cultural space. But as this local debate has become more heated, more public, the oddest spectacle of all in recent years was the recent lambasting of historical novelists.

Novelist Kate Grenville was a particular target of attack. Notable historians such as Mark McKenna, John Hirst and Inga Clendinnen vociferously condemned dramatic accounts of the past as anachronistic, unethical and, most curious of all in relation to the fictioneer's job description, untrue. I revisit the 'history wars' stoush to argue that these historians overlooked the suasion of broader, local political battles to determine and culturally enshrine particular narratives of Australian pasts; I argue that they also eschewed the linguistic turn of postmodernism and the contributions made therein by prominent historical scholars in their own field such as Hayden White and Dominic LaCapra. The paper finally shows how Grenville, Kim Scott and other novelists have engaged with colonial archival materials, deploying particular narrative techniques that enable them to generate compelling postcolonial dramatisations of colonial pasts. (Author's abstract)

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  • Appears in:
    y JASAL Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature; Archive Madness vol. 11 no. 1 Special Issue 2011 Z1813373 2011 periodical issue 2011 pg. 1-21
Last amended 6 Mar 2012
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