Academics collaborate on new history of Australia

16 October 2013

Cambridge History
11 University of Sydney researchers have contributed to a newly-released history of Australia, the first written since the bicentenary in 1988.

The decision to set up a penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia's involvement in the Great War and how Australian became a nation are among the topics traversed by University of Sydney academics in a newly-released history of Australia.

Co-edited by Professor Alison Bashford from the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, The Cambridge History of Australia brings together contributions from 67 respected historians, including 11 from the University of Sydney. Among them are the Provost, Professor Stephen Garton, who wrote a chapter on the Great War, and Professor Helen Irving from the Sydney Law School, who examines the law, politics, and culture of Federation.

The two-volume, 1500 page history is the first comprehensive and collaborative history of Australia written since the bicentenary in 1988. The first half of each volume is written chronologically, with the second half ordered thematically.

"We cut it two ways and are really happy with the structure," says Professor Bashford. "The Cambridge University Press national history series is one of the world's most prestigious lists, and we think this is the first of its histories to be structured this way."

Economics, the environment, law, gender, education and indigenous relations are among the thematic chapters in The Cambridge History of Australia. PhD student Peter Hobbins is one of the thematic contributors; this chapter looks at science and medicine in 20th century Australia.

The historians involved in the making of this history came together over three meetings. "The second was in semi-tropical Sydney where February weather saw intellectual tempers and temperatures rise - too much is at stake in writing a national history for this not to be so," reflects Professor Bashford.

Currently available in hardback the first edition of this book, published earlier this month, is aimed at high school and university libraries, and offshore historians who need a sound introduction to Australian history. A paperback edition, targeting the general public, will be published next year.

"It's an accessible history that also catches complex interpretations," she says.

Former High Court of Australia Justice Michael Kirby launched The Cambridge History of Australia at the University earlier this week.

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