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What if? What might have been? What could have been?

What if? What might have been? What could have been?

These are interesting questions when considering the big questions about the past.

This area of history writing involves speculation about the past and the way history is interpreted and understood.  One young historian who has addressed these questions is Wollongong independent scholar Amy Penning. She has written a critique of counterfactual history. This is a controversial area of history theory and practice. Penning has written a lively discussion that analyses a contested area of historiography.  In deciding whether to publish this essay I considered editing the text and decided against it. I feel that the essay is worth reproducing here in full.

The aim of publishing the essay on this site is to give the essay and its author a wider audience. I hope you enjoy reading this very interesting and worthwhile contribution to history theory and practice.

Counterfactural Penning 2 2020
What if? (mega)

 

What if? What could have been? Counterfactual history

Amy Penning

 Counterfactual history is the historiographical method premised on hypothetical alternatives about outcomes of the past events and circumstances which actually occurred. Through questioning and speculating upon what could have happened, the past becomes reinvigorated.  As counterfactual history allows for a deeper understanding of the reconstruction of history; as not simply a set of predetermined contingencies but rather an examination of the causation of events and the role of human agency. However, counterfactual claims without historical evidence are simply fantasying and are thus frivolous to historical study. Therefore, historians who employ a counterfactual paradigm have a scholarly responsibility to distinguish the conditions under which these ‘what if’ events are probable with accurate evidence to make these claims plausible and valid for the reconstruction of history.

 

A contested debate

As with all historiographical philosophies, counterfactual history has been subject to great debate, especially in recent years. Scottish historian Niall Ferguson a foremost proponent of counterfactual history deems virtual history as a necessity for understanding the past. He contends that through using empirical evidence, counterfactual analysis can enable a holistic and rigorous understanding of the past. Conversely, traditionalist historians, including academic Sir Richard J. Evans maintain that because counterfactuals are imaginative reconstructions, questioning the past using ‘what if’ scenarios are futile. He argues that personal speculation and curiosity is not history; that truth is truth and fact is a fact.  Evans is right to insist on the primacy of facts in any historical inquiry – to do otherwise would render historical works fictitious. This does not, however, invalidate the potential merits of a counterfactual approach. By examining the conflicting views of Ferguson and Evans (among other historians) the contentions but also potential regarding counterfactual history is clearly illustrated.

 

Reconstruction of history

Counterfactual history has significant value in the reconstruction of history as it allows for a re-examination of causation, however many historians have interpreted this as a disregard of the past.  It has thus been neglected among most academic historians across time and political ideologies ‘as having little epistemic value’. [1]

 

A definitive opponent to counterfactual history is E.H Carr (an English historian and opponent of empiricism) who in his famous book What is History? (1961) responded to Isaiah Berlin’s (British- Russian philosopher) criticism of those who do not give ‘priority to the role of the individual and accident[2], thus those who neglect counterfactual history, the role of human agency (humans action) and chance.  E.H Carr responded to this by the dismissive phrase that ‘counterfactual’ history is a mere ‘parlour game’, a ‘red herring’.[3]  This was because for Carr, an investigation of causes and to suggest that something other than what did happen, might have occurred was a violation of the historical discipline. Strangely, ‘despite (Carr’s) denial of the value of counterfactual history in the book, it remains a landmark for understanding counterfactual history’. [4]  As What is History ‘became the most influential text to examine the role of the historian…in the 1960s and is still widely read today’. [5] This is supported by the sheer amount of historians who use his definition of counterfactuals. [6]

Counterfactural Penning 2020
What if I went this way or that way? (Shutterstock)

 

The issue is that Carr’s definition of counterfactualism is not conclusive nor does it provide a true understanding of what counterfactual history is: a deeper look into causes, effects, and actors through questioning the past.  It can be argued, therefore, that ‘for a long time, Carr’s criticisms made ‘what-if-history’ suspect for serious scholars’. [7] That is not to say, all historians of recent times disagree with counterfactual history as a result of Carr.  However, his basic argument that reevaluating the past as more than predetermined contingencies poses a threat to the historical discipline, unfortunately, sums up the attitude of generations of historians on the subject.

 

The validity of the counterfactual inquiry

Further, many other influential historians have disregarded the validity of counterfactual inquiry in understanding history by dismissing it’s questioning into known historical events and causes as unhistorical practice. As counterfactual history ‘ambition to be consequential’ (aim to have important value in the historical discipline) is often misunderstood academic historians ‘(as a) distortion (of) scholarship‘. [8]

 

Therefore, questioning and reconstructing the past is threatening to some academic historians whose own study and understanding of history which have been cemented in traditional deterministic history (predestined nature of the past).[9] Historian Marxist E. P. Thompson once famously called counterfactuals ‘Geschichtswissenschlopff, unhistorical garbage’.  Furthermore, conservative philosopher and historian Michael Oakeshott ‘who rarely agreed with Thompson’ (Sustein, 2014) said that the ‘distinction between essential and incidental events does not belong to historical thought at all’.  This reveals the ignorance and unwillingness of many historians to understand what counterfactual history is actually is; the assigning of the importance of events, understanding the significance of human actors and a deeper look at the causation of all which are important principles of historical study.

 

Further, this demonstrates that prominent and scholarly historians of varying ideologies and beliefs have labelled counterfactual history as a historical tool unworthy of study or use. The impact of this is significant on the study and use of counterfactualism in history, as Niall Ferguson reveals when he states ‘hostile views from such disparate figures’ could explain why counterfactual inquiry ‘has been provided by writers of fiction (rather than).. historians’.[10] Therefore, revealing that academic historians who simply denounce counterfactual history as unhistorical fantasy, have failed to understand the definition of counterfactuals (as counterfactual principles do align with historical practice) and consequently have been unable to see counterfactualism’s value and use in history.

 

Contentions

The contentions surrounding the worth of counterfactual inquiry in reconstructing history have been debated by the two leading historians Richard Evans and Niall Ferguson in recent years. Sir Richard Evans a widely renowned historian agrees with Thompson and Oakeshott, as he insists that counterfactual history is ‘speculation, not history.’ Evans laments that this fantasizing ‘threatens to overwhelm our perceptions of what really happened in the past, pushing aside our attempts to explain it.’[11]  However what Evans neglects is Ferguson’s point, that counterfactual hypotheses are ‘only legitimate if one can show if what if your discussing is one that contemporaries seriously contemplated’ by showing evidence.’ [12] Ferguson explains this through the example of ‘what would have happened in 1948 if the entire population of Paris had suddenly sprouted wings’[13] where he argues that this offers no historical insights, as this is not a realistic conjecture.[14]  Therefore, the basis for counterfactual arguments to be valid in reconstructing history must be provable plausibility through historical evidence.

 

Another counterfactual hypothesis which demonstrates the importance of historical evidence is provided by John Keegan a British military historian who contributed an essay to the military history journal[15]  about how Hitler could have won World War II ‘In 1941, Hitler controlled the world’s biggest tank fleet, and one of the biggest air fleets, and if he had decided to use them differently…he could have won’. Therefore, revealing how with factual evidence (the number of tank and fleets Hitler had), the counterfactual hypothesis can provide a greater understanding of the past; as through this inquiry, Keegan highlights the significance of the human actor in historical outcomes, particularly in military history. This is because ‘outcomes of battles were so often determined by the actions and decisions of a single leader’[16]. Therefore, through providing historical evidence counterfactual claims are plausible and are useful as they provide a deeper understanding of the significance of causation and the role of human agency on historical outcomes.

Counterfactural Penning 2 2020
What if? (mega)

 

Predetermined nature

Additionally, the predetermined nature of the past or determinism is a controversial issue for Evans and Ferguson when evaluating counterfactuals use and value in history. Ferguson sees counterfactual history as the ‘necessary antidote’ to the close-mindedness of historical determinism.  In Ferguson’s words, ‘the past does not have a predetermined end. There is no author, divine, or otherwise only characters and a great deal too many of them’.[17] Therefore, Ferguson reveals the non-deterministic and true complex contingency of the past as a result of human agency (human action and ability to alter history).

 

However, Evans contends that the very idea of determinism is too broad, as in terms of history moving towards an end ‘counterfactuals can only cast doubt on theories of history’ but can’t ‘undermine history as a whole because we don’t know where that trajectory will end’.[18] Thus, he argues that since we already know the course of history, historical speculation on what might have occurred is pointless because it didn’t happen.  However, Evans ignores that the unpredictable nature of human actors and that chance itself can both be significant factors in historical outcomes. Therefore, although ‘what if’ questioning will always remain hypothetical, chance and human agency do play a significant role in history. Consequently, study into alternative outcomes will always remain important and relevant for deepening the reconstruction of history.

 

Reconstructed history

Furthermore, throughout time counterfactuals have been used and will be continued to be used to reconstruct and understand history. This a result of the innate human desire to re-examine the past and to wonder ‘what if?’. In daily life, humans often speculate about what might have happened: ‘either grateful things worked out as they did or regretful that they did not occur differently’.[19] As Niall Ferguson explains ‘(counterfactuals) is a vital part of how we learn’, because ‘decisions about the future are usually based on weighing up consequences of alternative courses of action’.[20]  As a consequence, of counterfactual questioning being innately human, historians throughout time have employed counterfactualism in their historical inquiry: sometimes unknowingly.

 

The origins of posing counterfactual historical questions date back ‘to the beginning of Western historiography ‘when Thucydides and Livy wondered how their own societies would have been different ‘if Persians had defeated the Greeks or if Alexander the Great had waged war against Rome’.[21] In modern history, an anthology published in 1931 included an essay by Winston Churchill called ‘If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg’, which imagines a world in which the Confederacy had won the Civil War. [22]

 

A further recent example is Robert Cowley, the editor of the military history quarterly who in 1998 used the counterfactual of ‘the fog on the East River on the night of Aug. 29, 1776, which permitted Washington to escape unnoticed by the British and save the Revolution from a Dunkirk. What if no fog?’. [23]  Thus, as a consequence of counterfactual questioning being a part of human nature, it has been used and will be continued to be used throughout time, to better understand the complexity of the causation and events of the past.  The innate human quality and use of counterfactuals in history further reinforced by historian and author Aviezer Tucker’s specialist in the philosophy of historiography and history. He reveals how to a certain extent, all historians use counterfactualism ‘when they assign cause, effects and the degree of importance to these causes’ because ‘The assignment of necessary causes assumes that had the cause not occurred, neither would the effects’.[24]  As all claims of causation, require the historian to give importance and necessity to events, people, and factors and their subsequent influence on the final outcome.  As Jon Elster (Norwegian social and political theorist) explains historians ‘have been talking counterfactually all the time without knowing it’.[25]

 

An interesting argument regarding the human quality of counterfactualism is put forward by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld a Professor of History, who uses examples of counterfactual history throughout time to reveal how ‘alternate history has consistently functioned as a means of using alternate pasts to expose the virtues and vices of the present.’ [26]  That is to say, the counterfactual questions asked throughout time reflect contemporary’s fears, attitudes and beliefs.  Rosenfeld uses the example of American authors’ common use of the Nazis winning World War for to demonstrate this ‘For the first three decades of the postwar era most allo- historical (alternative) narratives.. depicted a Nazi wartime victory. This reflects the postwar history of the United States…(glorifying) the American decision to intervene in the war against, and ultimately defeat Nazi Germany’. Thus, (counterfactual history) ‘reflects its authors (current) hopes and fear.’ [27] This reveals that counterfactual history is extremely useful to the historical discipline, as counterfactuals are inherently presentist. Therefore, counterfactual history gives insight into the evolution of historiography which makes it very useful to historians as documents of attitudes, values, perspectives and belief systems of individuals from that particular time.

 

Utilising the pre-existing conditions

Further, counterfactual claims can be valid through utilising the pre-existing conditions of the event developed over time. An example that demonstrates this, is the Greek’s defeat over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. The battle ended with a Greek victory, in which the swifter and far more numerous fleet of the Persian emperor Xerxes was destroyed. ‘However, this victory was dependent on a subtle manoeuvre by admiral Themistocles’. [28] A Persian win would have prevented the emerging Greek conceptions of freedom and the individual and thus ‘the great strengths of present-day Western culture is due to Themistocles September victory off Salamis’. [29] In approaching this ‘what if’ historical question one must neglect the ‘anything could follow anything’[30] mentality. As this kind of counterfactual narrative is based on speculation and is consequently problematic as to ‘extend counterfactual history speculation is to exhaust the connection between facts and realities’. [31]

Counterfactural Penning 2020
What if I went this way or that way? (Shutterstock)

 

A stronger counterfactual inquiry instead uses pre-existing conditions as it’s basis. ‘The Persians could not have been defeated in any other battle, Salamis was the Greeks only opportunity. Had Alexander not lived to build a Macedonian Empire, no one and nothing else could have replaced him. Consequently, the individualist culture that flowered in Greek city-states could not have emerged anywhere else.’[32]  In this version, the counterfactual questioning is a historical inquiry into contingency as it is grounded in the pre-existing conditions of the ‘event developing over diverse conditions across large expanses of geographical and social territory’ [33]. Thus, through the utilising existing circumstances and conditions, the counterfactual hypothesis can be valid in historical practice.

 

A deeper understanding of the reconstruction of history

In conclusion, a deeper understanding of the reconstruction of history can be achieved through speculation into the ‘what if’ questions of the past. The contentions and potential regarding counterfactual history are illustrated by examining the conflicting views of historians Ferguson (argues is necessary for holistic understanding) and Evans (argues it is imaginary and thus futile). Furthermore, influential historians such as E.H Carr dismissal of counterfactualism as unhistorical fantasy makes evident that counterfactual history’s definition has been skewed; as assigning importance to cause and effect are important historical practices. Through Evans and Ferguson’s arguments, it can be deduced that although counterfactuals claims will always be hypothetical in nature, they can be valid with historical evidence. These plausible counterfactual scenarios can then provide a deeper understanding of history. Historian John Keegan demonstrates through the counterfactual that ‘Hitler could have won World War II by acting differently’ the significance of human agency on historical outcomes. Moreover, counterfactual questioning and has been used by historians throughout time (e.g Thucydides, Livy, and Churchill) as it is inherently human. Consequently, counterfactual claims give insight into the memory and belief systems of individuals throughout time.  Finally, through utilising existing circumstances and conditions counterfactual hypothesis can be valid historical practice.  Therefore, counterfactual history has important value in the reconstruction of history, as questioning and rethinking the past reinvigorates and opens history; to not simply a set of predetermined contingencies but rather an examination of the causation of events and the role of human agency.

 

Author Biography

Amy Penning is an independent scholar based in Wollongong, NSW. She is interested in the philosophical nature of history.

Amy Penning can be contacted by email amypenning@y7mail.com

Counterfactual Amy Penning Portrait 2020
Amy Penning, Independent Scholar

 

References

[1] Maar, A., 2014, ‘Possible Uses of counterfactual thought experiments in History’, Principia vol.18, no.1, pp. 103-103, accessed 25 March 2019, State Library of New South Wales.

[2] Talbot, A., 2009, ‘Chance and Necessity in History: E.H. Carr and Leon Trotsky Compared’, Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 88-96 accessed 10 May 2019, JSTOR.

[3] Ferguson, N., 1997, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals p.4

[4] Rodwell, G., 2013, ‘Counterfactual Histories and the Nature of History’, Whose History?: Engaging History Students through Historical Fiction, pp. 83, accessed 29 Jun. 2019 University of Adelaide Press, South Australia, JSTOR.

[5] Godfrey, K ‘BBC Radio 3 – The Essay’, What Is History, Today?, Episode 1, BBC, 2011, accessed 29 June 2019  <https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017575t&gt;.

[6] For example, Martin Bunzl a professor of philosophy article ‘Counterfactual History: A User’s Guide’, Richard Evans in his book Altered Pasts and Professor of history Peter J Beck in Presenting History: Past and Present all refer to and use Carr’s definition.

[7] Hekster. O., 2016, ‘The Size of History: Coincidence, Counterfactuality and Questions of Scale in History The Challenge of Chance Springer’, pp. 215-232, accessed 28 June 2019, Springer, Cham.

[8]  Gallagher, C., 2018, Telling It Like it Wasn’t, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

[9] Ferguson, N., 1997, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals

[10] Ferguson, N., 1997, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals p.7

[11]  Sustein, CR., ‘What If Counterfactuals Never Existed?’, The New Republic, 21 September 2014, accessed 27 February 2019, <https://newrepublic.com/article/119357/altered-pasts-reviewed-cass-r-sunstein&gt; .

[12]  University of California Television (UCTV) 2004, Conversations with History: Niall Ferguson, online video, 15 February 2008, accessed 10 November 2018, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtEwupxygBo&gt;.

[13] Ferguson, N., Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals1997 p.83

[14] B FitzSimons., ‘How do Ned Kelly’s murderous intentions at the Siege of Glenrowan support this statement?’, Teaching History, pp.37

[15] Cowley, R., (ed.) 2001, What If Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been?, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

[16] Honan, H.W., ‘Historians Warming To Games Of What If’, The New York Times, 7 Jan 1998, accessed 13 June 2019, <https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/07/us/historians-warming-to-games-of-what-if.html >.

[17] Ferguson, N., 1997, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, p.68

[18] Evans, R., 2014, Altered Pasts Counterfactuals in History, p.58

[19] Gavriel, R., 2002, ‘Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Function of Alternate History’, History and Theory, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 90-103, accessed 1 March 2019, Wesleyan University, JSTOR.

[20] Ferguson, N., 1997, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, p.68

[21]  Gavriel, R., 2002, ‘Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Function of Alternate History’, History and Theory, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 90-103, accessed 1 March 2019, Wesleyan University, JSTOR.

[22] Sustein, CR., ‘What If Counterfactuals Never Existed?’, The New Republic, 21 September 2014, accessed 27 February 2019, <https://newrepublic.com/article/119357/altered-pasts-reviewed-cass-r-sunstein&gt; .

[23] Honan, H.W., ‘Historians Warming To Games Of What If’, The New York Times, 7 Jan 1998, accessed 13 June 2019, <https://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/07/us/historians-warming-to-games-of-what-if.html >.

[24]  Tucker, A., 1999, ‘Historiographical Counterfactuals and Historical Contingency’, History and Theory, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 264-276, accessed 3 March 2019, Wesleyan University, JSTOR.

[25] Sustein, CR., ‘What If Counterfactuals Never Existed?’, The New Republic, 21 September 2014, accessed 27 February 2019, <https://newrepublic.com/article/119357/altered-pasts-reviewed-cass-r-sunstein&gt; .

[26] Gavriel, R., 2002, ‘Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Function of Alternate History’, History and Theory, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 90-103, accessed 1 March 2019, Wesleyan University, JSTOR.

[27]Gavriel, R., 2002, ‘Why Do We Ask ‘What If?’ Reflections on the Function of Alternate History’, History and Theory, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 90-103, accessed 1 March 2019, Wesleyan University, JSTOR.

[28]  Laibman, D., 2008, ‘What if? The Pleasures and Perils of Counterfactural History’, Science & Society, vol.72, no. 2, pp.131-135 accessed 12 November 2018, ProQuest, State Library New South Wales.

[29] Cowley, R., (ed.) 2001, What If Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been?, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

[30]  Robinson, R., 2002, The Years of Rice and Salt, Bantam Books, United States.

[31] Woolf, D., 2016, ‘Concerning Altered Pasts: Reflections of an Early Modern Historian’, Journal of Philosophy of History, vol. 10, no.3, pp. 418-428, accessed on 18 February 2019, JSTOR.

[32]  Laibman, D., 2008, ‘What if? The Pleasures and Perils of Counterfactural History’, Science & Society, vol.72, no.2, pp.131-135, accessed 12 November 2018, ProQuest, State Library New South Wales.

[33] Laibman, D., 2008, ‘What if? The Pleasures and Perils of Counterfactural History’, Science & Society, vol.72, no.2, pp.131-135, accessed 12 November 2018, ProQuest, State Library New South Wales.

 

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What is Camden’s heritage, does it really matter and what does it mean?

What is Camden’s heritage?

 

Journalist Jeff McGill wrote an oped in April 2017 in the Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser opening with the headline:

Camden heritage worth saving

McGill continued:

Such a pretty tree-lined streetscape, full of old-world charm. I’ve often stood at that green paddock next to the church, with its views across the valley…  locals are up in arms as online rumours swirl about moves by the church to sell the land…Right next to Camden’s most famous heritage landmark, an 1840s gem described by one government website as “a major edifice in the history of Australian architecture”.

In May 2017 the views of Wollondilly Councillor Banasik on heritage were reported in the Camden Narellan Advertiser by journalist Ashleigh Tullis with respect to greater urban development at Menangle.

Cr Banasik said this development opposed the shire’s ethos of rural living. The heritage of the area is amazing – there is Camden Park, Gilbulla, Menangle Store and the rotolactor site,” he said. This development just ain’t rural living.

Camden Park 1906 (Camden Images)
Camden Park House and Garden in 1906 is the home of the Macarthur family. It is still occupied by the Macarthur family and open for inspection in Spring every year. (Camden Images)

 

Journalist Kayla Osborne reported  the views of town planning consultant Graham Pascoe on heritage and the Vella family’s new commercial horticulture venture at Elderslie in the Camden Narellan Advertiser in May.

Mr Pascoe said the heritage nature of the site and its proximity to Camden had been well-considered by the Vella family…the land was ideal for farm use…the land has been farmed in the past…We believe we will provide a model…farm at the entrance to the Camden town centre.

Camden Community Garden 2018 IWillis
Paths, plots and patches at the Camden Community Garden 2018 (I Willis)

 

The views on heritage expressed in these stories do not actually define heritage.

There is an assumption or a presumption that the reader understands the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these contexts.

So what was the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these articles?

To answer that question another must be asked: What is Camden’s heritage?

 

What is heritage?

 

The term heritage is not that straight forward. There are a range of definitions and interpretations. The term is not well understood and can raise more issues than it addresses. Jana Vytrhlik, Manager, Education and Visitor Services, Powerhouse Museum (Teaching Heritage, 2010) agrees and says:

I think that heritage is one of the least understood term[s], it’s like culture, it’s like art, it’s like tradition, people really don’t know exactly what it means. http://www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au/section09/vytrhlik.php

Camden Whitemans Building 2018 IWillis
The Camden Whiteman’s building shown here from the street frontage in Argyle Street. The building has undergone adaptive re-use in accordance with the Burra Charter (ICOMOS) and continues to be busy retail outlet as it has done since the Victorian days. This means that their has been a retail outlet continuously occupying this site for over 130 years. The current building usage continues to contributed the delight and charm of the Camden town centre that attracts thousands of tourist every year. (I Willis, 2018)

 

To start with it is a useful exercise to say what heritage is not. Heritage is not history. Historian David Lowenthal says that

Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth… Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error… Prejudiced pride in the past… is its essential aim. Heritage attests our identity and affirms our worth.

David Lowenthal “Fabricating Heritage”, History & Memory Volume 10, Number 1. <https://muse.jhu.edu/article/406606/pdf&gt;

 

What is history

 

The word ‘history’ comes from the Latin word ‘historia’, which means ‘inquiry’, or ‘knowledge gained by investigation’.

History tells the stories of the past about people, places and events. History is about what has changed and what has stayed the same. History provides the context for those people, places and events.

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. (Camden Show)

 

History is about understanding, analysing and interpreting the past based on evidence. As new evidence is produced there is a re-examination and re-interpreting of the past.  History is about understanding the why about the past.

 

Meaning of heritage

The meaning of heritage is not fixed and historian Graeme Davison maintains that the history of the word heritage has changed over the decades.

Initially heritage referred to what was handed down from one generation to the next and could include property, traditions, celebrations, commemorations, myths and stories, and memories. These were linked to familial and kinship groups, particularly in traditional societies, through folkways and folklore.

In the 19th century the creation of the nation-state, capitalism and modernism led to the creation of national myths, national stories and national heritage.

Camden Narellan Advertiser HAC 2017June7 lowres
Camden-Narellan Advertiser 2 June 2017

 

ln the 1970s, the new usage was officially recognised. A UNESCO Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted the term ‘heritage’ as a shorthand for both the ‘built and natural remnants of the past’.

(in Davison, G. & McConville C. (eds) ‘A Heritage Handbook’, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards NSW,1991)

 

Graeme Davison defines heritage in The Oxford Companion to Australian History as

inherited customs, beliefs and institutions held in common by a nation or community’ and more recently has expanded to include ‘natural and ‘built’ landscapes, buildings and environments.

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195515039.001.0001/acref-9780195515039

 

In New South Wales heritage has a narrower legal definition under the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) as:

those places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects, and precincts, of state or local heritage significance.

http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ha197786/

 

Heritage can be categorized in a binary fashion: cultural heritage/natural heritage; tangible heritage/intangible heritage; my heritage/your heritage; my heritage/our heritage.

Cooks Garage 1936
Cooks Service Station and Garage at the corner of Argyle and Elizabeth Streets Camden in the mid-1930s. This establishment was an expression of Camden’s Interwar modernism. (Camden Images)

What is significant about Camden’s heritage?

In 2016 the Camden Resident Action Group attempted to have the Camden town centre listed on the state heritage register. The group obtained statements of support which outlined the significance Camden’s heritage. Statements of support were from Dr Ian Willis (UOW), Associate Professor Grace Karskens (UNSW) and Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson.

Camden Town Centre Significance Ian Willis 2016
A statement of significance by Dr Ian Willis 2016.

 

Camden Town Centre Significance Alan Atkinson 2016
A statement of significance by Emeritis Professor Alan Atkinson 2016

 

Camden Town Centre Significance Grace Karskens 2016
A statement of significance from Associated Professor Grace Karskens 2016

 

 

Camden Whitemans Store 1978[1] CIPP
By 1978 Whiteman’s General Store had undergone a number of expansion and provided a range of goods from mens and boys wear to haberdashery and hay and grain for local farmers from the Hill Street entrance. The mid-20th century building extension is to the left of the image. Upstairs were a number of flats that were leased out to local folk. (Camden Images)
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Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter Extracts by Ian Willis

90.3.3 Camden: Launch of a new regional newspaper

Ian Willis, of Camden, writes (19 November): This week a new masthead appeared in the Camden Local Government Area called the Independent South-West published by King Media Regional based in Bowral, NSW. It was launched at Camden’s annual Light Up Festival. Editor Jane King and other staff handed out copies of the free monthly to families and friends who had come to see Santa, watch the fireworks and see the Christmas lights on the town’s Christmas tree.

The 20-page tabloid is printed in colour on glossy paper and is sure to give the other three free Camden weeklies, the Macarthur Chronicle, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and the District Reporter, a run for their money. King says in Issue 1 that it “is an exciting new title…family owned and managed business”. She says that the paper will serve the local community and employ local people.

The first issue certainly lives up to these promises by reporting the proceedings of the Moss Vale Local Court. Two matters dealt with involved Camden identities. Local court matters are now heard in Moss Vale since the closure of Camden and Picton court houses. The robust reporting of local court proceedings has largely disappeared from the other three Camden weeklies.

A feature page, “Ark” Up, is written by journalist Juliet Arkwright who in another life was a councillor on Wollondilly Shire Council. This edition profiles the Acting President of the Camden Chamber of Commerce Maryann Strickling. The chamber states ‘we look forward to working with a truly independent newspaper’.

The first edition also has copy provided by the local federal member, a photo feature of a fashion launch at Campbelltown, and content shared from the newspaper’s stablemate LatteLife Wingecarribee, which claims to be the “Heartbeat of the Southern Highlands”.

King Media also publishes City Circular which, according to Miranda Ward at Mumbrella, replaced a void left by the closure of News Corps mX in 2015 and is distributed at railway stations. The first newspaper published by King Media group was the masthead LatteLife Sydney which started life in the Eastern Suburbs in 2010. King Media then expanded to publishing the Southern Highlands edition in 2014.

The Independent’s print run of 10,000 will be distributed across localities from Cawdor to Leppington through local retailers, surgeries, real estate officers and other outlets. The print run is modest by comparison to its competitors in the Camden LGA and the publisher’s promises seem ambitious. King Media will support the print edition by managing a Facebook page.

The conservative reporting of local matters by the Independent’s three Camden competitors certainly leaves a niche in the market place if controversies surrounding Camden Council continue as they have done in recent months. King has promised to “hold the Council to task” and take it up to other local papers. If she sticks to her promises the Independent South-West will fit in well with Camden’s fierce parochialism and localism.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 90, December 2016— 11

 

Newspaper Image IndepSW 2016 Iss1
The first edition of The Independent South-West that appeared in Camden (I Willis)

 

89.4.10 Tahmoor’s once-a-century publication

Ian Willis, of Camden, writes: On 1 September 2016 the local independent weekly, the District Reporter, published an eight-page wraparound supplement under the banner heading of the “Tahmoor Times Souvenir Edition”. It was “edition 1, volume 1” of a special edition that was “published every 100 years”. The supplement celebrated the centenary of the naming of Tahmoor NSW and the Back to Tahmoor celebrations. It was sponsored by the District Reporter and the Tahmoor Chamber of Commerce under its president Bob Clayton.

The District Reporter is a free 16-page weekly published by a family owned company, Wombaroo Publishers, of Camden. The newspaper was launched in 1998 and has a distribution of 16,900 primarily across the Camden and Wollondilly Local Government Areas, including Tahmoor. The publication has a popular weekly local history feature on the back page called “Back Then” under the direction of newspaper editor Lee Abrahams. Volunteers read aloud the supplement to some of the residents at the local Carrington Convalescent Home.

The idea of the supplement and its promotion were the brainchild of Bob Clayton who is variously described as a team of one taking on roles from journalist and political editor. Clayton’s editorial stated that he only published the supplement “every one hundred years” with the next edition in 2116. Clayton supplied the content with layout done by the District Reporter’s sales manager Noel Lowry.

The supplement’s feature article “Bridge to Bridge – Tahmoor a History” presented an interesting collection of images with a short story of the history of the town. Past extracts from the Picton Post supported the story. For example, in 1933 local character Barney Abbot spotted a UFO from his farm paddock one night. Then there was an offer in 1934 to take a Ford V8 for a drive with a recent sighting of Elvis Presley in Tahmoor.

Mr Clayton said, “It was all to have a bit of fun and to tell tales from the past. History is a bit dry and you need to make it interesting.”

Other centenary celebrations were outlined in the supplement and are a “Back to Tahmoor Day”, a history publication, a photographic exhibition, the development of a history walk and a time capsule for Tahmoor Public School.

Storytelling occurs in all cultures and the “Tahmoor Times” supplement adds to some of the colourful yarns about the local area. Clayton said he would send a copy of the supplement to the National Library. The supplement provides an insight in to the area’s sense of place and its cultural landscape.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 89, September 2016— 15

 

Camden Show Signage 2018
The Camden Show attracts over 40,000 people to the two day festival in the country town of Camden. (I Willis)

 

67.3.4 CAMDEN: SHOW COVERAGE HIGHLY COMMENDED

Ian Willis from Camden writes (31 March): The Camden press excelled itself in recent weeks with an incredible coverage of the 2012 Camden Show. The show always gets strong support from the local weekly newspapers – Camden-Narellan Advertiser, Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition) and the District Reporter – and this year was no different.

The amount of page space devoted to the show is worthy of special examination. Between January and March over 6300 column centimetres were devoted to the show matters, peaking in the weekly editions before the show. The Advertiser had an eight- page wrap-around, the Chronicle had a 12 page wrap-around while The District Reporter had a 24-page special edition, as well as its regular weekly edition. This was supplemented with extensive photo galleries on the newspaper websites and in their print editions after the show. In addition the Macarthur Chronicle offered to print a special front page for showgoers with their image at their show stall. The show committee supported this coverage with posters, pamphlets, programs, and television (first time 2011) and radio advertising.

The Camden Show illustrates one of the key strengths of the local press, which in the case of Camden is becoming increasingly the local suburban press, its localness. The Camden community is in a period of transition located on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe and undergoing a crisis of identity. The role of the local press in the success of this annual festival cannot be understated. The annual show (23-24 March 2012) is the premier cultural festival for the community, runs over two days and in 2012 attracted over 38,000 people. The constant theme in all material related to the show was its role as ‘still a country show’. The event had all the trade mark features of the stereotypical country show from cakes to show bags to cattle and wood chopping. The relationship between the Camden press and the show juggernaut is mutually beneficial and illustrates the strength of Camden’s sense of place, community identity and local parochialism.

The 2012 press coverage of the show illustrates the dynamic vibrancy of the local newspaper. In these days when the metropolitan press are increasingly under pressure the local press goes from strength to strength. Camden’s newspapers add to the resilience of the local community in the face of constant change on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe from urbanisation.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No. 67, May 2012 — 12

 

Missingham, Di: D. 18 February, aged 63; former manager of the Macarthur Chronicle; was appointed manager of the Chronicle in 1985, not long after the newspaper was established; spent nine years at the newspaper “building relationships in the community’ and laying the foundations for the success of the newspaper”; was also a Camden councillor between 1995 and 1999 and deputy mayor in 1998; most recently she was Lifeline Macarthur’s sponsorship manager (Source: Ian Willis, Camden.)

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 57    May 2010                Page 3

 

57.2.2 DISTRICT REPORTER GOES DIGITAL

Ian Willis reports: The District Reporter had its first digital edition on 15 March. The Reporter is an independently owned 16-page free weekly published by Wombaroo Publishers. Established in 1997, it circulates in the Camden and Wollondilly local government areas. One of its most popular features is the “Back Then” history page. The website has an archive of editions from the previous 12 months. It can be viewed at http://www.tdr.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58&Itemid=1

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 57  May 2010               Page 3

 

61.4.9 LIFE AS THE EDITOR OF A SMALL COMMUNITY PAPER Ian Willis reports from Camden: The editor/proprieter Lee Abrahams of the District Reporter addressed the Camden Historical Society on the life of an editor of a small community newspaper on 9 February at the Camden Museum. The District Reporter is owned by Lee Abrahams and Noel Lowry, of Camden. It is a 16pp free weekly published in Camden NSW each Monday. Abrahams maintains that it has a ―quirky style that concentrates on local and rural news. The most popular sections are the back page feature, ―Back Then, on local history, followed by ―The Diary, which is a summary of local community events. The paper has a print run of 17,000 which is circulated in the Camden and Wollondilly Local Government Areas. It is printed at Marrickville.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 61 February 2011 Page 18

 

Newspaper TDR 2018July6 Cover
The front page of The District Reporter which is a local independent newspaper in the Macarthur region of NSW. (The District Reporter)

 

62.3.1 CAMDEN, NSW (1): FOOTY’S BACK Ian Willis reports from Camden: On 8 March two of Camden‘s weekly newspapers, Fairfax Media‘s Camden-Narellan Advertiser and Cumberland Newspaper Group‘s Macarthur Chronicle, both published eight-page wraparounds featuring the Wests Tigers Rugby League teams. Under the banner headline, ―NRL Glory Calls‖ player Loti Tuquiri was featured in a full-page feature in the Chronicle, complemented by a season draw. The Advertiser went further and had two popular players, Chris Lawrence and Gareth Ellis, in a double page spread, while the inside two pages featured a ―Footy Tipping Guide for the die-hard fans. All for the start of the official footy season!

62.3.2 CAMDEN, NSW (2): THE SHOW Ian Willis reports from Camden: Camden‘s three free weeklies each had a major feature on the 125th 2011 Camden Show. The show is a yearly event and is promoted as the largest regional show in Australia, with expected attendances in excess of 30,000. The District Reporter, an independent, published a 24-page special advertising feature for the event, which is ‘still a country show‘. Items ranged from the opening by the Governor-General, to entertainment, horse events, grand parade, Miss Showgirl, and a guide to community groups performances (schools, community band) and local artists.

The Cumberland Press‘s Macarthur Chronicle had a 12-page wraparound and noted that the show was still going strong‘ after 125 years, and the appearance of the ―G-G was the ―icing on the cake. It was reported that the inaugural show in 1886 was ―met with enthusiasm and approval‖ by those attending. Fairfax‘s Camden-Narellan Advertiser had an 8 page wraparound ‗souvenir edition‘ and featured a double page spread of an attractive young bloke‘ from the show organising committee, Daniel Dickenson. Daniel stated that he was ‘dedicated to making sure the country show continue[d] for many years‘, while the Advertiser assured its readers that the show was ―an age-old event that stop[ped] Camden in its tracks.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 62 May 2011 Page 9

 

Camden Show 2018 promo
The Camden Show is an annual celebration of things rural in the township of Camden for over 100 years. (Camden Show)

 

CAMDEN (NSW): AN EDITOR’S LIFE

63.4.4 Ian Willis reports from Camden: An account of life as the editor/proprietor of the District Reporter, Lee Abrahams, was published in the March journal of the Camden Historical Society, Camden History. The District Reporter is a 16pp free weekly published each Monday in Camden. Lee Abrahams and her husband Noel started the newspaper as a monthly in 1997 in the Austral area. They moved the paper to Camden to fill a vacuum left by the closure of the Camden Crier, a free weekly. The Reporter has a circulation of 17,000 and a footprint of 37,000 homes. It has been online for 12 months with around 200 weekly downloads. The most popular feature is the weekly history page, Back Then‘.  According to Abrahams the masthead colours of blue and green reflect the rural landscape of sky and grass.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 63 July 2011 Page 15

 

56.3.3 CAMPBELLTOWN AND CAMDEN: DIGITAL EDITION

Ian Willis reports: The Macarthur Chronicle announced a complete digital edition of the newspaper in its issue of 23 February. The online edition also provides access to archives of the newspaper containing issues for the last two years, an online index and a host of live hyperlinks.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 56     February 2010     Page 4

 

56.4.1.3 CAMPBELLTOWN, NSW: 25 YEARS

From Camden, Ian Willis writes: The Macarthur Chronicle (Cumberland Courier Newspapers, with Campbelltown and Camden editions) recently had a 16-page wrap-around to celebrate its 25th anniversary.  The feature reproduced a number of the front pages from over the last 25 years. These illustrated the changes to the masthead (nine all up), the introduction of colour photographs on the front page in 1991 and the changing format of the presentation with the greater emphasis on images and less on text. The foundation editor Chris Wharton (now chief Western Australian Newspapers) recalled how Greg Evans and Debbie Newsome of the top rating TV show Perfect Match launched the first edition. The cover story of the 36 page first edition was the arrival of baby Andrew James Packer, a healthy baby delivered at Camden Hospital. The current editor Mandy Perrin, who assumed control in 1993, recalled how she started as a cadet journalist nine months after the Chronicle was launched. Under her leadership the Chronicle has grown and in 2006 split into three editions for Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly and had its first online edition. The 25th commemorative edition had 128 pages and according to Bob Osburn (editor-in-chief of Cumberland Courier Newspapers) 123,000 readers. There were many tributes on the anniversary from civic leaders. Michael Knight, former Campbelltown State Labor MP, stated that “local newspapers succeed best when they become part of the fabric of their community… And that’s precisely what the Chronicle has done”.

 

Newspapers Image Pile
Newspapers provide a trove of information about events, personalities, stories, businesses, sport and a host of other matters. (Wikimedia)

 

56.4.1.4 CAMDEN, NSW: 130 YEARS

Ian Willis again: The Camden Advertiser issued on 10 February a 16 page wrap-around celebrating 130 years of newspaper publishing from 1880 to 2010. The supplement had the genealogy of the newspaper and its antecedents. In all, the newspaper family tree identified 20 different mast-heads that were related to the Camden Advertiser. These included local newspapers published in Camden, Campbelltown, Picton and Ingleburn. The birth of the newspaper group took place with the Campbelltown Herald first published on 14 February 1880 by William Webb.

The history of the newspaper group in the feature was divided into a number of sections: 1. The Great Pioneers 1880-1900, 2. The Builders 1900-1920, 3. The Sidman Supremacy 1920-1938, 4. The War Years 1938-1949, 5. Goodbye to the Sidmans, 6. The Heyday of S. Richardson Newspapers, 1952-1982, 7. The Hard Years 1982-1987, 8. From Strength to Strength, 8. Modern, But Traditional. Since 2006.

The publishers of these newspapers were colourful local identities and they all made an indelible mark on their communities. The feature provides an interesting glimpse, if brief, into the role of the local newspaper in a small community, with their parochialism, localism and parish pump politics.

The feature has 17 photographs with a number of reproductions of front pages. There are also interviews with a number of surviving staff who worked for some of the newspapers in the group.

The front cover of the feature is an interesting juxtaposition between then and now, with a reproduction of the 1880 Camden Times, with a local reporter, MIchelle Taverniti reflecting on an 1880 version of herself.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter, No 56  February 2010         Page 5-15

 

29.61 THESIS

Ian Willis, “The Women’s Voluntary Service: A Study of War and Volunteering in Camden,  1939-1945”, PhD thesis, Department of History and Politics, University of Wollongong,  The thesis is a local study of wartime Camden through an examination of a war-specific  voluntary organisation, the Women’s Voluntary Service. The aim of the thesis was to unravel  the social processes and cultural traditions at work in the town’s female philanthropy, and, by  so doing, tease out the main threads of Camden’s wartime experience. The thesis  encompasses the involvement of Camden’s press in these processes.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 29 September 2004 Page 17

 

12.42 Research

WILLIS, Ian (Camden, NSW): Work in progress – PhD, “The Women’s Voluntary Services: a case study of war and voluntarism in Camden, 1939-1945”; principal source dfocuments, Camden News (owner George Sidman) and Camden Advertiser (owner Arthur Gibson).  Address: PO Box 304, Camden, 2570.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 12 May 2001 Page 15

 

Newspapers Local 2018Aug6
A selection of newspaper mastheads from the Macarthur region in 2018. (I Willis)

 

41.33 FOR THE HOLIDAYING AUDIENCE

Ian Willis writes from Camden, NSW: Fairfax Community Newspapers issued a special edition of their Sydney suburban newspapers on 26-27 December 2006 and 2-3 January 2007  called the Holidayer. The issue covered 14 suburban newspapers across the south, south-west  and western parts of Sydney. Titles included: Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser, Camden  Advertiser, Wollondilly Advertiser, South Western Rural Advertiser, Liverpool City  Champion, Fairfield City Champion, Parramatta Sun, St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, Penrith City Star, Hawkesbury Independent, Blacktown Sun, St Mary’s-Mt Druitt Star, Hills News, Northern News. The Camden edition carried local stories and advertisements from local businesses. There were also stories on holiday activities across western, south-western and southern Sydney under the heading “Get out, go do it”.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 41 February 2007 Page 10

 

1.2 LOCAL NEWSPAPERS – LOCAL IDENTIES CONFERENCE

A very successful Conference was held at Chiltern, North East Victoria, on the  weekend of 1-3 October 1999. About 60 participants enjoyed papers on:

  • The history of the Chiltern Federal Standard (Ross Harvey)
  • Dynasties in the NSW provincial press (Rod Kirkpatrick)
  • The Shepparton News’ recent history (John Tidey)
  • Newspaper preservation (Wendy Smith)
  • Old Journalism at Moreton Bay (Denis Cryle)
  • The Barrier Daily Truth’s women’s column in 1910 (Liz Macnamara)
  • The effect of the introduction of radio on the Dimboola Banner (Leigh Edmonds)
  • Newspaper trade directories (Dennis Bryans)
  • Circulation figures for nineteenth-century Victorian country newspapers (Tom Darragh)
  • Newsprint in nineteenth-century Australia (Carol Mills)
  • Weekly and monthly papers in the nineteenth-century (Peter Dowling)
  • Country Catholics and the Melbourne press (Victoria Emery)
  • Patriotism reflected in WWII Camden News and Camden Advertiser (Ian Willis)
  • Community, identity and the ethnic press (Sonia Mycak)

ANHG No 1  October 1999  p1

 

Newspapers Image
Newspapers are an important means of communication and have been around for centuries in print and most recently digital form. (Wikimedia)

 

10.19 COMMUNITY PAPERS (2): ALLIANCE TOWN CRIER FOR BERRY

Ian Willis, of Camden, has sent us a copy of The Berry Alliance Town Crier, a quarterfold produced by the Berry Small Towns Alliance Inc. which sets out to “provide communication to the people of Berry about community activities and to generate a small income for the Berry Alliance to cover administrative costs”. Editor is Bonnie Cassen. Issued monthly, it has a distribution of 1800. The September issue carried 24 pages.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 10 December 2000 Page 7

 

37.50 CAMDEN ADVERTISER BACK COPIES

Camden Public Library is trying to find a good home for originals of the Camden Advertiser in a broken run from the 1930s to the 1950s. Ian Willis writes: “I convinced the library to put them on microfilm when I was doing my PhD. It was one of my principal sources. Our historical society cannot house them.”

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 37 May 2006 Page 15

 

39.27 CAMDEN ADVERTISER 30 AND 20 YEARS AGO

From Ian Willis, of Camden, NSW: The Camden Advertiser (23 August 2006) had a 16-page wrap-around on the theme “Living in the 70s”. It included a series of three articles that recalled the front pages of the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, the Camden News, and the Picton Post in 1976. The stories related to local issues surrounding planning and the new Macarthur Growth Centre, parking, a new bridge over the Nepean River, and Camden retaining its “rural charm”. The Camden Advertiser (20 Sept. 2006) carried a 12 page advertising feature liftout on “Living in the 80s”. The feature carries an overview of the newspaper stories of the period, with a concentration on 1986. It features the front-page stories of that year including a “heated war of words” between the mayor of Campbelltown, Guy Thomas and Campbelltown’s Labor MP Michael Knight.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter No 39 October 2006 Page 10

 

51.3.1 SMALL PAPERS

Ian Willis reports from Camden, NSW: Our local newspapers treat the men and women who contributed to the Victorian Fire situation as local “heroes” in the finest tradition of the bushman and Anzac legends. The front page of the Camden Advertiser of 18 February reads “FACES OF GENEROSITY” with the story starting: “As bushfires wreaked destruction on lives in Victoria, Camden sprang into action. Our firefighters flew in to meet the flames, and thousands of dollars of donations have poured in to support relief.” The story ran through to pages 2 and 3 with photographs of RFS volunteers, school children holding fundraising events and other community fundraising events.

Our weekly independent, the District Reporter led on 16 February with a story “COMMUNITY SHOWS IT HAS A BIG HEART”, outlining the efforts of a local Catholic independent high school and its fundraising effort with photographs of the young people at the school. This was supported with a page 5 story about donations collected at a local shopping centre.

The Cumberland Newspaper Groups is represented in our local area by the Camden Edition of the Macarthur Chronicle. On 17 February it led with a story headed “OUR FINEST”. The story outlined the efforts of the Macarthur RFS unit and stated “the Macarthur region’s exhausted firefighters arrived home last week into the arms of loved ones after experiencing hell on earth”. The story outlined the efforts of efforts of our local heroes defending homes, electricity switching stations, and general fire fighting. Colin Spinks, the deputy group officer and member of the Camden West RFS brigade stated: ‘(the fire) would come down and the wind would turn back again. There was no saying where the wind was going to come from”. This was supported with extensive coverage of local fundraising events on pages 4, 5 and 6. David Campbell reported that “the heartbreaking plight of the bushfire victims in Victoria has prompted a generous response from the Macarthur region”.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter  No 51  February  2009      Page 7

 

43.26 MACARTHUR NEWSPAPERS

Ian Willis writes: The Macarthur Chronicle, which is part of the Cumberland Newspaper Group, has launched a new website for its local Macarthur newspapers. These are Macarthur Chronicle (Campbelltown Edition), Macarthur Chronicle (Camden Edition), Macarthur Chronicle (Wollondilly Edition). The three newspapers are on the front page of the website then linked to local stories for each edition. The site is located at http://www.macarthurchronicle.com.au/.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter  No 43  July 2007      Page 8

 

Newspapers WW1 Country Mastheads
Local newspapers were an important part of all country towns across Australia. (Trove/IWillis)

 

39.27 CAMDEN ADVERTISER 30 AND 20 YEARS AGO

From Ian Willis, of Camden, NSW: The Camden Advertiser (23 August 2006) had a 16-page wrap-around on the theme “Living in the 70s”. It included a series of three articles that recalled the front pages of the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News, the Camden News, and the Picton Post in 1976. The stories related to local issues surrounding planning and the new Macarthur Growth Centre, parking, a new bridge over the Nepean River, and Camden retaining its “rural charm”. The Camden Advertiser (20 Sept. 2006) carried a 12 page advertising feature liftout on “Living in the 80s”. The feature carries an overview of the newspaper stories of the period, with a concentration on 1986. It features the front-page stories of that year including a “heated war of words” between the mayor of Campbelltown, Guy Thomas and Campbelltown’s Labor MP Michael Knight.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter  No 39  October 2006       Page 8

 

Willis, Ian, presented a paper at the Australian Historical Association 2006 Biennial Conference at the Australian National University on Genres of History. The paper title was “Looking at Regional Identities on the Homefront” and concerned the role of country newspapers as an important historical source. He used the case study of the Camden News and Camden Advertiser, during World War II. The paper examined the regional identity of conservatism and its representation in the wartime reporting in Camden press as patriotism.

Australian Newspaper History Group Newsletter  No 39  October 2006     Page 8

 

Attachment to place · Australia · Camden · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Family history · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · History of a house · History theory and practice · House history · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Media History · Medical history · Motoring History · Moveable Heritage · Place making · Sense of place · Storytelling · Women's history

History is nice, but…

What is the value of history?

A group of American historians asked this question in 2012. They were concerned about the profile of history in the USA and its branding.
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 (A Bailey)

 

What resulted was the Value of History statement which is a statement of 7 principles on how history is essential to contemporary life. It provides a common language for making the argument that history should be part of contemporary life. They are seeking the support of US historical institutions and provide a tool kit for the implementation of the statement.

The American campaign is centred around this impact statement: “People will value history for its relevance to modern life and use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues.”  They are convinced that history is relevant to contemporary communities.

I would argue that the 7 principles are just as relevant in Australia as they are in the USA. The principles are centred around 3 themes.

  1. To ourselves (a) identity (b) critical skills
  2. To our communities (a) vital places to live and work (b) economic development
  3. To our future (a) engaged citizens (b) leadership (c) legacy.

While the Value of History statement is written for an American audience it has just as much relevance in Australia.

Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914
A Princess Mary Christmas Gift Tin 1914 that was on loan at Camden Museum in 2015 (I Wills)

 

The supporters of the US campaign want to change the perception that while history is nice is not essential.

There is certainly support for history in Australia as Dr Anna Clark has shown in her book Private Lives Public History that there is general support for history in Australia. But as American historians have found history is ‘nice but not essential’.

 Value of History statement

The Americans who are leading this campaign are seeking the development of a ‘set of metrics’ for assessing the impact of historical projects and thus prove their worth. It is their view that ‘funders ought to view history, historical thinking, and history organizations as critical to nearly all contemporary conversations’.

The US promoters of ‘Advancing the History Relevance Campaign’ maintain that the disparate nature of historical work means that there is the lack of a unified voice for the value of history.

Australian historians need to similarly speak with one voice from the many corners of the discipline. From local community history, to scholarly work in academia, to commissioned work, to work in archives, museums and galleries as well the heritage industry.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s at Kirkham NSW (Camden Images)

 

Australian historian could learn a thing or two from their American colleagues. The statement of 7 principles of the Value of History statement has as much relevance in Australia as the US. Similarly the US desire for a set of assessible metrics would be a useful part of the Australian toolkit for historians of all ilks and backgrounds.

History is consumed on a vast scale in Australia. The American Relevance of History project has much merit and would be very useful in Australia.

Adaptive Re-use · Camden Historical Society · Community identity · Cultural Heritage · Education · Family history · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · History · History of a house · History theory and practice · House history · Industrial Heritage · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Media History · Medical history · Military history · Monuments · Motoring History · Moveable Heritage · Myths · Place making · Public art · Re-enactments · Sense of place · Social media · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Theme Parks · Women's history

Being a Historical Detective

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at the corner of Argyle and John Street Camden

Be a Historical Detective Conducting Historical Research

Overview

Steps involved in being a historical detective and conducting an investigation (historical research).

Like any good TV detective, you should proceed through several steps while conducting your investigation (historical research). You will then be able to solve the historical mystery. These steps are:

1. What is a historical detective?
2. What is historical research?
3. What has to be done in historical research?
4. Plan of action
5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?
6. Conduct background research.
7. Gather evidence.
8. Evaluate the evidence.
9. Analyse the evidence.
10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.
11. Present the evidence.
12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.
13. Conclusion.

These steps outline a journey ( a voyage of discovery) you can undertake while conducting a historical investigation.

These steps are only a guide and another detective (researchers) may take a different approach.

There are many paths to the ‘truth’ and ‘enlightenment’. Which one are you going to going to take?

Description of each stage of the historical investigation

1. What is a historical detective?

The proposition that I want you to imagine is that you are a detective and that you are going to go on a voyage of discovery.

To be a historical detective assumes that there is a historical mystery of some sort.

History is full of good mysteries.

What is a historical mystery? A historical mystery is a secret, hidden story or an inexplicable matter that happened in the past. For example, there have always been stories and mysteries about Grandad, Aunt Ethyl and cousin Gertrude.

Exercise:
Consider a historical mystery you might investigate.
What is your historical mystery?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

2. What is historical research?

You will solve your historical mystery by conducting an investigation (historical research) and discovering what is involved in unravelling the mystery’s secrets.

During your investigation, you will collect lots of information (eg, facts, statistics). This is the evidence. You will use the evidence to build a picture that will, hopefully, solve your mystery.

While undertaking your investigation you will be involved in finding out lots of stories.

Which story is the ‘truth’? Your version of the ‘truth’ may be different from someone else’s version of the ‘truth’.

3. What are you trying to find out?

Before you start your investigation you should know (at least have an idea about) the question you are trying to answer.

The starting point for your research will involve asking simple questions about the mystery:

• What is it (event)?
• When did it happen (time)?
• Where is it (location)?
• Who is involved (participants, suspects)?
• What are the circumstances (events)?

Then moving to more complex questions:

• Why did it happen (motivation)?
• How did it happen (modus operandi)?

Exercise:
What is the question you are trying to answer?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

4. Plan of action

Before you start your investigation you should draw up a plan of attack.

You should make a timeline with the steps involved in the investigation.

This is the modus operandi for your research.

This may involve questions like:

• Why am I undertaking this journey in the first place? (motivation)
• Where am I going to start?
• Where am I doing this research project?
• What resources do I need to undertake the research?
• How long will my journey of discovery take me (man-hours)?
• What am I going to do along the way?
• Where am I likely to finish up?

A well-planned investigation will help you from retracing your steps or leaving something out. Do not leave any stone unturned in your investigation.

Exercise:
Where are you going to start your research?
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

How long your investigation going to take?
………………………………………………………………………………………….

Once you have estimated the time needed to complete the research. You might find it useful to set several small goals or mileposts. You can tick off each milepost as you reach that particular point in your research.

Exercise:
What are your mileposts?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Once you have estimated how long the research will take and the steps involved, you need to ensure that you stick to your timetable as much as possible.

5. What time and resources will be needed to undertake the research (including costs)?

You will need to make a list of the resources that are required for your investigation.

These resources could include:
• Administration and office expenses
• Research expenses
• Travel expenses
• Research fees
• Computer hardware and software

6. Conduct background research.

Before you start your investigation you should find out has anyone else been there before you. If there has been previous research you need to know:

• What did they find out?
• Are you re-inventing the wheel?
• Are you actually doing something new?
• Are you simply re-hashing old material? If so you might be wasting your time and energy. Find another historical mystery to solve. There are lots around.

A good historical detective could examine the physical scene of the mystery and obtain the ‘lay of the land’. This could involve a field trip to a site or local study area. You could make observations of the scene (location) and record your observations. It helps you ‘get the feel’ of the investigation.

7. Gather evidence

You should gather the evidence in several forms:

• Written evidence from a variety of sources,(eg, libraries, museums, archives, organisational records, newspapers); or making a field trip and recording your observations (eg, memorials, cemeteries, artefacts, objects)

• Oral evidence by interviewing the participants.

• Pictorial evidence, eg, photographs, illustrations, ‘mud maps’.

8. Evaluate the evidence

This part of your research involves deciding:

(a) Firstly, the type of evidence that you have gathered to solve the mystery.

This will be either primary or secondary evidence (sources)

(i) Primary evidence (sources)

This is evidence drawn from the time of the mystery.

This can include:

Diaries
Letters
Posters
Official records – government records (eg: birth certificates, death certificates)
Newspapers Memoirs Personal records
Maps Sketches Paintings
Photographs Artefacts Objects
Site Anecdotes Ephemera
Songs Poems Cartoons
Advertisements Human remains – skeletons Oral testimony – interviews

(ii) Secondary evidence (sources)

This is evidence that is reconstructed by others about the mystery.

This can include:

• Books,
• TV programs,
• Reports.

(b) Secondly, evaluation involves the validation and verification of evidence.

(i) Validation is confirming the details of the evidence. Is it correct?

(ii) Verification will involve cross-checking evidence.

9. Analyse the evidence.

Now you have all the evidence, what are you going to do with it? You will have to:

Organise and arrange all of the evidence. To do this you will need to summarise the evidence. This could be achieved by:

• Completing a timeline (date order of events), a table, maps, lists, tables, mind maps, charts, storyboards.

• Completing a profile of suspects (participants) involved in the mystery.

• Reconstruct scenarios of the mystery and answer questions like:

  • Why were the participants involved, that is, what was their motivation?
  • Why did these events occur?
  • How did these things happen?

• Taking an empathetic approach to help gain an appreciation of what the situation was like in the past to assist in solving the mystery.

10. Conduct periodic revue of the research process.

Every now and then you need to pause and re-assess your progress. You need to ask yourself several questions. These could include:

• Are you sticking to your timetable?
• Are you staying to your budget?
• Are you getting side-tracked?
• Are you running up to many dead-ends?

You may be forced to take a step back and make some critical judgements about the progress of your research. If you are not achieving your goals, why not?

Be flexible. Take advantage of the unexpected. Adjust to dead ends. Follow unanticipated leads.

11. Presentation of the research.

Once you completed your investigation (gathered all your evidence and you have organised it, verified its authenticity and validated it) you will have to present it.

The results of your investigation could be presented in several ways:

(a) Written:

• Reports
• Essays
• Poems
• Newspaper articles

(b) Audio-visual

• Charts
• Graphics
• TV documentary
• Film
• Drawings
• Photographs
• Poster

(c ) Oral

• Speech
• Play

Within each of these types of presentation, there are different alternatives. For example, you could consider presenting the written component of your research by using any number of different text types:

• Description – to describe a person, place, object or event.
• Recount – to retell past events, usually in date order.
• Explanation – tells how (process) and why (reason) something occurred.
• Exposition – present one side of an issue.
• Information Report – to present information in a general rather than a specific subject.
• Discussion – to give both sides of the issue (for/against).

12. Acknowledge the sources of the evidence.

When you have used material and ideas that are not your own you must acknowledge them. If you do not this it is theft and is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is the theft of another person’s ideas or intellectual property.

Acknowledgement of sources may involve using:

• Footnotes
• Endnotes
• Bibliography
• Reference List
• Further reading

An acknowledgement will involve using a referencing system of some type, for example:

• Oxford
• Cambridge
• Chicago
• Harvard
• MLA (Modern Language Association of America)

The referencing system you chose will depend on your audience and other considerations. Most publications will put their requirements in a style guide.

13. Conclusion.

Finally, at the end of your investigation (historical research): did you find out the ‘truth’?

References and further reading.

Anderson, Mark & Paul Ashton, Australian History and Citizenship, South Yarra: MacMillan Education, 2000.

Black, Jeremy and Donald M MacRaild Studying History, 2nd Edition, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000.

Carr, EH, What is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican, 1964.

Clanchy, John and Brigid Ballard, Essay Writing For Students, A Guide for Arts and Social Science Students, Melbourne: Longman and Cheshire, 1981.

Coupe Sheena, Robert Coupe and Mary Andrew, Their Ghosts May Be Heard, Australia to 1900 2nd Edition, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1994.

Eschuys, Joe Guest and Phelan, Discovering Australian History/Eschuys, Guest, Phelan, South Melbourne: MacMillan, 1996.

Mabbett, IW, Writing History Essays, A Student’s Guide, Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

McCullagh, C Behan, The Truth of History, London: Routledge, 1998.

Warren, John, History and Historians, in series Access to History, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999.

Curthoys, Ann & John Docker, Is History Fiction? University of New South Wales: University of New South Wales Press, 2006.

 

Updated 21 April 2020