Historical Wounds and the Public Life of History: The Stolen Generations Narrative

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Focusing on the Australian “stolen generations” narrative, this essay discusses Chakrabarty’s argument about the “historical wounds” that resist the verifying practices of disciplinary history. It argues that in Australia academic history-writing of the 1980s concerning the government’s separation of Aboriginal children became the stolen generations narrative in the 1990s because of three developments. First, the government commissioned a report on the phenomenon as part of a “therapeutic” practice in public life. Second, around the same time, the visibility of the narrative was dramatically increased by major documentaries and feature films. In these domains, rather than rendering the past as distant in the manner of professional historical practices, the distance between past and present was abrogated. Aboriginal stories, autobiographies, and other interventions intensified this effect. All these practices worked as testimony in a new sense – not a prelude to the acquisition of historical knowledge, but itself a claim to transmit the past transparently and without representation. Third and finally, through court cases and commission inquiries, the narratives were incorporated into “juridical history” – history which seeks not to understand the past in its complexity but to make it available for legal and quasi-legal judgement. Increasingly, the essay argues, the stolen generations narrative, anchored around a historical wound, became the symbol of the relations between the Aboriginals and the settler peoples of Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDipesh Chakrabarty and the Global South Subaltern Studies, Postcolonial Perspectives, and the Anthropocene
EditorsSaurabh Dube, Sanjay Seth, Ajay Skaria
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780429199745
ISBN (Print)9780367189990
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2020

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