Gijre-Giesie (Spring-Summer)

It’s mid-May, the Sami season of Gijre-giesie (spring-summer) has arrived, and I couldn’t be happier. There are buds on all of the trees and green things have sprung up positively everywhere. While winter crawled along here, spring moves furiously, making up lost ground. The outdoor tables outside my window are uncovered, and Swedes can regularly be found outside, eyes closed, faces turned smiling towards the sun. It’s been days now since I have seen true darkness with the sun rising at 3.30am and not setting until after 10pm.

It’s safe to declare that, on the whole, Swedish winter did not agree with me. That said, there were some amazing moments. Standing in the majestic silence at Lake Torneträsk, in Sápmi (Lapland) in the midday twilight, dwarfed by the surrounding peaks was one.

Torneträsk

Witnessing the most resplendent display of Aurora Borealis in the midnight forest at Abisko, I will never forget. My first proper snowball fight amidst the pines in the Stadsliden (State Forest) at Gammlia. Enjoying a full Swedish Julbord on Christmas Eve complete with 30+ varieties of sill (pickled herring). Sampling semlor (traditional Swedish pastries) with new friends. Winter was magical in brief snippets, but on the whole, those months were some of the most difficult I have experienced; away from home, in near-constant darkness, the temperature below -20 most days, and none of the usual respites available, like a walk outside, or time with family.

Semlor

Final months

The arrival of spring-summer marks the beginning of my final three months in Sweden. While I welcome the sun and light, it is bittersweet knowing my time in Sweden is coming to an end. The main objective of my project at Umeå University, the Historical Justice and History Education Symposium, is a mere three weeks away (4-5 June). Together with my colleagues, we’ve put together an exciting program of international researchers working in different contexts; academic, school, museums, on the challenges of historical justice. The contents will be available as a book volume in 2020. If you want to follow along on the conference days, I’ll be live-tweeting during the sessions where I’m not presenting or moderating via the hashtag #hjhed19.

After that, I’m very privileged to be heading to Toronto for the Curriculum Inquiry Writing Fellowship and Writers’ Retreat. I’ve an amazing opportunity to develop an article-length manuscript with mentoring from OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) faculty, the Curriculum Inquiry editors and in dialogue with other fellows. The article will extend ideas I published last year on the topic of history curriculum and historical justice. In this article, I’m looking closely at the relationship between disciplinary approaches to history curriculum and the contemporary demands and challenges of historical justice in established democracies. All going well, the article will eventually be published in Curriculum Inquiry.

In mid-July, I’m off to Porto for ISCHE41, the international standing conference for the history of education. Together with fellow-Aussie, Beth Marsden, I’m hosting a symposium on ‘Educational History and the Challenges of Justice: Contested Spaces and their Legacies.’ We’re fortunate to be collaborating with an awesome team of early-career and doctoral researchers who, in various ways, are interrogating questions of injustice and education in the past/present. Not to mention, the dynamic duo of Julie McLeod and Mette Buchardt, who are participating as discussants. ISCHE provides an opportunity to develop the historical, rather than didactical, aspects of my research; to think about how education has contributed to injustice in the past, and more recently, how education has been tasked with making amends. The plan is to develop the papers presented into a journal special issue, so keep an eye out for that!

I return to Sydney and UTS in mid-August to begin the task of preparing my thesis for submission in early-2020. After all the excitement abroad, it will be a time to focus all energies on condensing, polishing, grinding out and generally letting go of what’s been an all-consuming, five-year project. Thanks for reading, until next time!

Where does an article begin?

In mid-August 2017, in a cafe on Schellingstraße opposite Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilian University Library, I wrote what became the first of many drafts of my first peer-reviewed article ‘History Education for Transitional Justice? Challenges, Limitations and Possibilities for Settler Colonial Australia’, which has just been published in the International Journal of Transitional Justice.Or did I? Rewind to November 2015, and early in my PhD candidature I was working on the draft of an invited paper for the HERMES research group seminar at Newcastle University. There, Freud’s Nachträglichkeit (belatedness, afterwardsness), which describes the retrospective process of synthesising troubling knowledges back into narratives after the fact, was a major theme. So too, was Walter Benjamin’s allegorical method of rescuing the fragments ‘left-behind’ in the wake of conventional historicist narratives. ‘What time do we live in?’, my August-2017 draft began, taking up those temporal themes once again.

Yet in writing this post, I mined my notes from as far back as 2014 and found traces of ideas that had made their way into the final piece. In a note entitled ‘Ideas from UK Trip 2015’ I wrote, ‘Why are we having students emulate professional historians? Why only some of them?’ In one from 2016, which I wrote while in attendance at a History Teachers’ Association of Victoria conference, I asked; ‘Why do we teach revolutions as consecutive causal events?’ The note was entitled ‘Revolution as Ultimate Contingency’.

All of these ideas, present an alternate narrative of this article’s genesis. It made me wonder, where does an article begin?

dsc_1004
Finding my supervisor’s (Marnie Hughes-Warrington) book in the bookstore on Schellingstrasse in Munich

Earlier in 2017, I read a great piece by former-La Trobe PhD, now Durham University Post-Doc, James Kirby, about the ‘Challenges and rewards of submitting your paper to an academic journal’. At the time, I recall being immensely frustrated. I was positively overflowing with ideas but was not able to articulate them well, nor direct them to an interested audience. My digital ‘desk’ was littered with unfinished drafts. Enter, the concept: historical justice.

Prompted by a comment from my ever-astute supervisor Marnie, who possesses the uncanny ability of understanding exactly what it is you’re trying to say before you do, I began to apply my thinking on history and education to the field of historical justice. Historical justice describes the widespread expectation to redress past injustices, something which is increasingly seen to be the responsibility of the state even when the alleged wrong occurred in a distant past, under a different regime. In Australia right now, episodes of historical justice are regular news. The recent national apology to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, issued by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in late-October 2018, is just one recent example.

In my reading on historical justice, I uncovered an influential article from 2007, by Elizabeth Cole entitled ‘Transitional Justice and the Reform of History Education.’ It was published in the International Journal of Transitional Justice. This unearthed a specific set of debates addressing the role of education in movements and processes of historical justice. I had found my audience.

Schöneberg, Berlin 2017

Although it will be obvious to established academics, identifying the specific debates you wish to contribute to, including the people and publications involved, is a vital but sometimes difficult step for young researchers. My thinking was transformed overnight from fragmentary ideas, to conversations regarding pressing problems. By deploying my thinking in direct response to specific arguments which were unfolding in the present, my research questions were brought to life. Once I recognised that writing is an entry into a dynamic conversation with others, from there, I was able to very quickly complete a full draft of the article in October 2017. I haven’t the space here to describe the review and rewriting process, but needless to say it was long and rewarding.

Now, I am back in Umeå working with educational historians on the urgent problems of historical justice in Swedish and Australian contexts. In June 2019, at the Historical Justice and History Education symposium that I am organising, I will get to meet many of the scholars with whom I have begun a conversation in print.

As to my question, where does an article begin? I have signalled some of the many possible points of origin, and perhaps it is only with belated insight that I can say in this case, that it began when I realised for whom and why I was writing.

What does it mean to bear responsibility for that which has never been my fault, or my deed?

In the first few pages of Terra Nullius (2005) – Swedish author and provocateur Sven Lindqvist’s book on Aboriginal dispossession in Australia – the author recounts a memory from his youth. In the summer of 1951, the young Lindqvist disembarked from the fishing vessel on which he was employed, at the Trondheimfjord in Norway on-route to Iceland. Amongst the Norwegians, Lindqvist and his Icelandic crew members were welcome visitors, and the mood in the early-summer evening was jovial as they shared refreshments together. That is until he was revealed to be Swedish. Silence ensued. Faded smiles. The ‘great-grandmother’ eventually intervened in the silence; “Swedish, eh?”, she asked. “Well what about the 1942 transits?” Lindqvist replied tongue-in-cheek; “I was ten in 1942. They didn’t ask me.” But with each passing moment, Lindqvist became increasingly uncomfortable. The great-grandmother eventually responded; “But big enough to share the booty.”

This is a recurring theme in Lindqvist’s writings, at least in the major English translations to which I am referring. He asks repeatedly; what does it mean to be responsible for past actions, in-actions and wrong-doings? What if that past is something I have no memory of? That which has never been my fault, or my deed?

I first read Lindqvist as an undergraduate in then Professor Robert Manne’s capstone course ‘Politics in the Twentieth Century’. I was fortunate to be taught by Manne in his final semester of teaching at La Trobe University. It was a formative experience which disrupted my worldview and instigated a change of life path (I decided to pursue further studies in history rather than law).  At the heart of Manne’s teaching about the history of the twentieth century as imagined through some of its foremost thinkers (Hobsbawm, Kundera, Arendt, Orwell, Levi etc.), was a moral question about the extent and nature of personal and collective culpability for the many destructive events that have come to characterise the twentieth century.

The beginnings of Lindqvist’s attention to difficult histories and questions of ethical responsibility are clear in his first publication The Myth of Wu-Tao Tzu (1967). The young Lindqvist lived in China for two years during the 1960s, not out of political commitment but rather dedicating himself to the study of calligraphy and language, seeking respite from the consumerism of the West. The myth that gives the book its title is that of an artist who painted a landscape so sublime that upon completion he stepped into it, disappearing forever. The book follows Lindqvist’s quest for truth and beauty in art, mysticism and simplicity through China, India and Afghanistan, but which is sidelined by the overwhelming impoverishment, harsh labour conditions and corruption that the young, idealised Lindqvist encounters and which spark his political awakening. The book descends into an angry, self-defeating kind of polemic, where he denounces his faith in art and its capacity for inspiring truth and beauty in life, as well as his own literary style. He subsequently announces his commitment to political writing. Lindqvist’s early encounters with Western imperialism in India and China, are the beginnings of his sustained attention to the legacies of European colonialism, racism and extermination, which culminate in a remarkable trilogy of books published during the 1990s; Desert Divers (1990) Exterminate All the Brutes (1992) and A History of Bombing (1999).

Lindqvist’s best known and most acclaimed book is Exterminate All the Brutes. The book was inspired by the young Lindqvist’s reading of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness where he was struck by Kurtz’s apparent foresight in his proclamation to ‘exterminate all the brutes’. He takes Conrad’s insight into the racist and exterminatory logic of Western imperialism, as a premonition of the Holocaust, and in tracing this complex intellectual history, argues that in exterminating the Jews and other minorities, the Germans were enacting the same imperialist logic that had been pervasive throughout Europe in the previous century

I am reminded of Lindqvist’s dilemma this week, 10-years after Kevin Rudd’s National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples. In particular, I am drawn back to Manne’s classroom wherein Lindqvist’s ascription of historical responsibility was keenly embraced by my classmates with respect to the exterminatory policies of the European powers in Africa, but had much less purchase in discussions of Australia’s own violent and destructive policies. Now, that may well correspond to some extent with the comparatively poor standard of research and argument in Terra Nullius as opposed to Exterminate All the Brutes. However, the question remains, as Danielle Celermajer has thoughtfully phrased;

“How to illuminate the wrong that lies at the feet of all us who silently or implicitly consent to a world where particular acts of grave wrongdoing are rendered normal and even invisible?”