The History Wars Continue: Keith Winshuttle Versus Simon Schama: A Hypothetical Trial

The History Wars Continue:

A Hypothetical Trial

by

Craig Bellamy

October 2003

History must strive to be an art before it can pretend to be a science

J. H. Plumb (1969)

Synopsis

What follows is a hypothetical case in which Simon Schama is on trial in relation to a charge brought forward by Mr. Keith Windschuttle. The serious criminal charge, as outlined in Mr. Windschuttle's provocative polemic The Killing of History is that Schama has attempted to murder History (Windschuttle 1994). Mr. Windschuttle believes that Schama has wilfully and maliciously used narrative, relativism and a dangerously reckless epistemology in an attempt to brutally murder the discipline. Mr. Windschuttle believes that the motive for this horrendous crime is little more than careerism. The prosecution for the case is the highly esteemed Eric Hobsbawn Q.C. The Defense Counsel for Schama is the somewhat unknown, Mr. Craig Bellamy. He was chosen as Defense council in this case, not because of his relatively untested knowledge of criminal procedure, but because, along with Schama, his curiosity has often caused him to push the boundaries of what is considered normal disciplinary rules. As the debate centres on the use of fiction in History it seems appropriate to experiment with the genre here. Judge Macintyre will trial the case.

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The Death of Mr Practical: The Practical man and Globalisation

The Death of Mr Practical:

The Practical Man and Globalisation

by Craig Bellamy

Synopsis

There is a prevailing historical connection between Australia's colonial experience and our dominant intellectual tradition. Throughout the nation's short history of settlement, most of our leading intellectuals and rulers have displayed a certain ‘practicality' that is an Australian adaptation of a British creation. This practicality disguises its hegemony through the doctrines of ‘commonsense' and 'factual truth'. Practical thinking has its roots in a form of Utilitarianism that is perpetuated by and primarily beneficial to a powerful Anglo elite.

Essential to Utilitarian thought are the two philosophical beliefs in Positivism and Empiricism. Positivism is the belief that facts exist outside of value and Empiricism is the belief that through experiencing these facts we learn the truth. The two proponents of this thought are the British philosophers David Hume (1711-1776) and John Locke (1632-1704). Australia was founded as a Utilitarian experiment and historically, this has been the guiding principle for most of our political, cultural, and intellectual leaders. This Utilitarian, practical mode of thinking is still the dominant discourse in Australian intellectual and political decision making. However, under the tripartite pressures of post-colonisation, post-industrialisation, and globalisation this convention will have difficulty in sustaining its cultural pre-eminence.

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