“Hope, Fear, Promise”, these are human responses that we ponder upon in our history writing. They are also emotions that each of us have experienced at some time in our career as a professional historian, and surely they are questions that we have for the future of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland).
Recently I have been talking to several members who have done excellent work in educational history in Queensland over many decades. In spite of their professional efforts, we have seen the collapse of educational history in Queensland. The fall is in no way related to anything that our members did or could have done. We have a state of affair in Queensland where a major area of history research and writing has been left to wither due to government policy from a peak period in history production for this field in the mid-1970s to somewhere in 1990s. Many of you would have known that the history unit in Education Queensland was closed down some years ago. That is yesterday’s news, but it is the historical point. Nothing has changed and it has simply got worse. Recently, the only official historian for Education Queensland lost her job. And this is on top of the fact that the Society for Educational History in Queensland had also folded. Surely, this is an appalling state of affairs. We have a major area of Queensland life where there is no recognised educational historian by the state, albeit there are professional historians who have been actively working in educational history without any support from the wider society that keeps mouthing how important the writing of history is.
As the Professional Historians Associations (Qld) I think we have a duty not to be silent on these matters. Among our many roles, we ought to play the role of advocate and pressure group for the research and writing of history upon the state government and the society that elects the government of the day. Of course, we ought to be smart about the tactics we employ. Being positive, I am sure you’ll agree, is part of the trick. We need to be able to demonstrate the value that the writing of history by professionals can offer if it is supported both by government policies and the discipline’s commercial value in the marketplace, and that has to do with changing attitudes of the general public towards our profession.
For a while now I have suspected that general public apathy for the history profession has to do with the abstract notion of history. When people rave about “history”, what they’re thinking is not history in any general sense, they are thinking about a particular interest they have in history because it connects in some way with own sets of passions. This is probably why family history has taken off.
The positive message that has to get out there into public perception is one which connects professional history with major areas of Queensland life. Education has to be one area. Family history which picks up on notable Queensland persons could be another. And there are the important issues of law & order, health (nursing and hospitals), and local communities, where many of our members have produced publications and other presentations.
Have a think about this. The New Year is full of hope, fear, and promise. Perhaps, there is something you can do to help yourself and your colleagues to build the public profile of professional history.