Do you think that historians have a duty to tell the truth about the past


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I'm a historical novelist and I do my best to get the history right, until it gets in the way of a good story, I then declare the bits of history that I've changed or made up in a historical note at the end of the book. My job is to entertain rather than educate but I’m not out to knowingly deceive anybody about the past.

I've recently had a few dealings with the University of Tasmania History Department and they don't appear to share my scruples and are passing off fiction as legitimate history.

For example, Prof Henry Reynolds claims that the Queensland Native Mounted Police were a large formation of unscrupulous killers and were responsible for 10,000 black deaths. It appears that his professional colleagues have jumped on the bandwagon and I have read estimates of a death toll of up to 60,000 being passed off as 'history'. However, I noticed that whilst these historians state it was a “large force”, they don’t specify the actual size of the unit.

It was actually a cavalry squadron sized formation and over its history from 1848 to 1900, numbers rose from around one hundred on establishment, peaked at about 170 officers and men in the 1870’s and then declined back to one hundred as the force was wound down for disbandment. It appears that there was approximate ratio of one white commissioned officer to eight Aboriginal Troopers.

Consistent with these rough orders of magnitude, it appears that there were about 200 commissioned officers who served in this unit throughout its history. From the 200 blokes, it appears that duty was both dangerous (5 subalterns were killed in combat with Aboriginals) and there were high levels of accountability (25 subalterns were dismissed or required to resign their commissions for various forms of misconduct including brutality to the Aboriginals). These figures come from a book by Jonathan Richards which gives the impression that the Mounted Police operated in the same manner as a South American Death Squad but since he fails to quantify the force, the significance of these statistics is buried. However, I’m pretty certain that I’d be reluctant to join a peace time force where there was a 2.5% probability of getting killed in the line of duty, and a 10% dismissal rate indicates that the leadership were keeping a very close eye on junior officers.

In other words, we're being asked to beleive that a squadron of irregular police, many of whom, according to current literature, were coerced into service; armed with carbines (presumably single shot breech and muzzle loaders) killed up to ten times as many people in battle, as half a million British troops deployed during the Boer War. The numbers just don’t stack up, even Rambo couldn’t kill that many.

I'm pretty sure that many of the blokes in the mounted police weren't choir boys and an article I found in Hansard and the proceedings of an official enquiry by the Queensland Parliament in 1861 seems to support this view. I imagine that a lot of ‘interviews without coffee’ occurred after that discussion in Parliament and the leadership of the unit ‘pulled their socks up’ pretty rapidly. (25 dismissals would seem to support this view)

The Australian public are being fed a myth of an officially sanctioned sustained campaign of genocide by ostensibly respectable academics which dishonours the victims of real genocide and ethnic cleansing campaigns.

There is also a myth being spread that the records were deliberately destroyed in 1940, therefore there's no information on the Native Police available. However, I am pretty certain there would be a lot of information in Hansard, financial statements, personnel returns and other official records.

The historical establishment in Australia are trying to perpetrate the myth that the British Committed Genocide as “fact” and a historian called Keith Windschuttle, who attempted to expose this phenomenon was regarded in the same manner as the lunatics who deny the Holocaust.

I’m not sure what course of action I’ll take in this matter, but I feel a strong moral imperative to “do something about it.” Can anybody make any SENSIBLE suggestions?
 
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I'm a historical novelist and I do my best to get the history right, until it gets in the way of a good story, I then declare the bits of history that I've changed or made up in a historical note at the end of the book. My job is to entertain rather than educate but I’m not out to knowingly deceive anybody about the past.

I've recently had a few dealings with the University of Tasmania History Department and they don't appear to share my scruples and are passing off fiction as legitimate history.

For example, Prof Henry Reynolds claims that the Queensland Native Mounted Police were a large formation of unscrupulous killers and were responsible for 10,000 black deaths. It appears that his professional colleagues have jumped on the bandwagon and I have read estimates of a death toll of up to 60,000 being passed off as 'history'. However, I noticed that whilst these historians state it was a “large force”, they don’t specify the actual size of the unit.

It was actually a cavalry squadron sized formation and over its history from 1848 to 1900, numbers rose from around one hundred on establishment, peaked at about 170 officers and men in the 1870’s and then declined back to one hundred as the force was wound down for disbandment. It appears that there was approximate ratio of one white commissioned officer to eight Aboriginal Troopers.

Consistent with these rough orders of magnitude, it appears that there were about 200 commissioned officers who served in this unit throughout its history. From the 200 blokes, it appears that duty was both dangerous (5 subalterns were killed in combat with Aboriginals) and there were high levels of accountability (25 subalterns were dismissed or required to resign their commissions for various forms of misconduct including brutality to the Aboriginals). These figures come from a book by Jonathan Richards which gives the impression that the Mounted Police operated in the same manner as a South American Death Squad but since he fails to quantify the force, the significance of these statistics is buried. However, I’m pretty certain that I’d be reluctant to join a peace time force where there was a 2.5% probability of getting killed in the line of duty, and a 10% dismissal rate indicates that the leadership were keeping a very close eye on junior officers.

In other words, we're being asked to beleive that a squadron of irregular police, many of whom, according to current literature, were coerced into service; armed with carbines (presumably single shot breech and muzzle loaders) killed up to ten times as many people in battle, as half a million British troops deployed during the Boer War. The numbers just don’t stack up, even Rambo couldn’t kill that many.

I'm pretty sure that many of the blokes in the mounted police weren't choir boys and an article I found in Hansard and the proceedings of an official enquiry by the Queensland Parliament in 1861 seems to support this view. I imagine that a lot of ‘interviews without coffee’ occurred after that discussion in Parliament and the leadership of the unit ‘pulled their socks up’ pretty rapidly. (25 dismissals would seem to support this view)

The Australian public are being fed a myth of an officially sanctioned sustained campaign of genocide by ostensibly respectable academics which dishonours the victims of real genocide and ethnic cleansing campaigns.

There is also a myth being spread that the records were deliberately destroyed in 1940, therefore there's no information on the Native Police available. However, I am pretty certain there would be a lot of information in Hansard, financial statements, personnel returns and other official records.

The historical establishment in Australia are trying to perpetrate the myth that the British Committed Genocide as “fact” and a historian called Keith Windschuttle, who attempted to expose this phenomenon was regarded in the same manner as the lunatics who deny the Holocaust.

I’m not sure what course of action I’ll take in this matter, but I feel a strong moral imperative to “do something about it.” Can anybody make any SENSIBLE suggestions?
Yes. Forget it and get on with your life. History is a collection of myths passed off as fact in order to back up the agenda of whoever is peddling the lies. Arguing against them is as futile as Canute giving orders to the tide.
 

llech

LE
Yes, but be ready for the onslaught of Faux Patriotic whingers who are ready to call you a revisionist lefty tree hugging hippy mind.
 
I take great pleasure in putting lefties right. It's hard work and often fruitless. No matter how much hard fact you fire at them they pointedly refuse to believe that the British managed to pull off ruling a third of the planet by simply teaching the locals a few games here and there and machine-gunning the odd riot on an as-and-when basis.

I doubt we would have had such an easy time of administering an empire if we'd stormed through Africa, India and places further afield acting like the Dirlewanger Brigade. That's not how one wins friends and influences people. Millions today look back on their time under the Union Flag with fondness. Millions who remember their time under the hammer & sickle less so.

These university types are insufferable. Most colonial era police formations were relatively small outfits. Some were irregular auxiliaries and some constituted the permanent force in lieu of regular garrisoned troops. You're quite right that to accrue such death tolls with .45 carbines would've been hard graft and I think the locals would've got a bit miffed rather than sit there and be slaughtered.

I would opine that the University of Tasmania are using works such as that featured below to further their twisted and warped vision of education.

Zulu 1000 - ARRSEpedia
 

Auld-Yin

ADC
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
History is written by the winners...........








.....and apologised for by the lefties!
 
These days there is so much disinformation spread about the past and the hippies, lefties, do gooders, racists, PC wallahs, apologists etc etc (I shall group them up and call them mongs) lap it up like its going out of fashion and use it for their own aims and cause things such as "white guilt" etc.
The problem is that when they learn the truth it really doesn't matter because its too late and the truth just doesn't matter. How to combat this? I am not sure, but provide actual documentation of events and shout louder than the mongs.
 

Zulu_w

Old-Salt
My father served in the Colonial Police in the 60s in Africa as Britain was divesting itself of empire.

Very strict controls to the extent that as a young subaltern in charge of a platoon of locals it was very much frowned on for him to carry a rifle, having to make do with a Webley and a swagger cane.

In fairness the cane that he used for crowd control was a piece of steel tension cable wrapped in leather by the tailor in Blantyre. Needs must I suppose.

He could be expected to control a crowd of thousands with his one platoon with little other than a stiff upper lip, the authority of the crown and an ability to pick out the main agitators early and arrange for their swift incapacitation.
 
D

Deleted 60082

Guest
I'm a historical novelist and I do my best to get the history right, until it gets in the way of a good story, I then declare the bits of history that I've changed or made up in a historical note at the end of the book. My job is to entertain rather than educate but I’m not out to knowingly deceive anybody about the past.

I've recently had a few dealings with the University of Tasmania History Department and they don't appear to share my scruples and are passing off fiction as legitimate history.

For example, Prof Henry Reynolds claims that the Queensland Native Mounted Police were a large formation of unscrupulous killers and were responsible for 10,000 black deaths. It appears that his professional colleagues have jumped on the bandwagon and I have read estimates of a death toll of up to 60,000 being passed off as 'history'. However, I noticed that whilst these historians state it was a “large force”, they don’t specify the actual size of the unit.

It was actually a cavalry squadron sized formation and over its history from 1848 to 1900, numbers rose from around one hundred on establishment, peaked at about 170 officers and men in the 1870’s and then declined back to one hundred as the force was wound down for disbandment. It appears that there was approximate ratio of one white commissioned officer to eight Aboriginal Troopers.

Consistent with these rough orders of magnitude, it appears that there were about 200 commissioned officers who served in this unit throughout its history. From the 200 blokes, it appears that duty was both dangerous (5 subalterns were killed in combat with Aboriginals) and there were high levels of accountability (25 subalterns were dismissed or required to resign their commissions for various forms of misconduct including brutality to the Aboriginals). These figures come from a book by Jonathan Richards which gives the impression that the Mounted Police operated in the same manner as a South American Death Squad but since he fails to quantify the force, the significance of these statistics is buried. However, I’m pretty certain that I’d be reluctant to join a peace time force where there was a 2.5% probability of getting killed in the line of duty, and a 10% dismissal rate indicates that the leadership were keeping a very close eye on junior officers.

In other words, we're being asked to beleive that a squadron of irregular police, many of whom, according to current literature, were coerced into service; armed with carbines (presumably single shot breech and muzzle loaders) killed up to ten times as many people in battle, as half a million British troops deployed during the Boer War. The numbers just don’t stack up, even Rambo couldn’t kill that many.

I'm pretty sure that many of the blokes in the mounted police weren't choir boys and an article I found in Hansard and the proceedings of an official enquiry by the Queensland Parliament in 1861 seems to support this view. I imagine that a lot of ‘interviews without coffee’ occurred after that discussion in Parliament and the leadership of the unit ‘pulled their socks up’ pretty rapidly. (25 dismissals would seem to support this view)

The Australian public are being fed a myth of an officially sanctioned sustained campaign of genocide by ostensibly respectable academics which dishonours the victims of real genocide and ethnic cleansing campaigns.

There is also a myth being spread that the records were deliberately destroyed in 1940, therefore there's no information on the Native Police available. However, I am pretty certain there would be a lot of information in Hansard, financial statements, personnel returns and other official records.

The historical establishment in Australia are trying to perpetrate the myth that the British Committed Genocide as “fact” and a historian called Keith Windschuttle, who attempted to expose this phenomenon was regarded in the same manner as the lunatics who deny the Holocaust.

I’m not sure what course of action I’ll take in this matter, but I feel a strong moral imperative to “do something about it.” Can anybody make any SENSIBLE suggestions?
I can't comment on the particulars of your case, but about 12 years ago I undertook a research fellowship at Cambridge, looking at human intelligence aspects of the Emergency in Malaya. I presented a 'work in progress' seminar to the SCR (PhD and academic staff) of my college, and I was asked whether the write-up would be 'politically responsible' ie tell both sides of the story and be not be perjorative. I also commented that the Colonial authorities did not resort to torture during the Emergency; a junior lecturer guffawed and said 'nonsense' as I said this so I challenged him. I provided him extracts from interviews I had conducted, from JIC reports, observations by the CIA station chief (from US National archives) who was incredulous that 'third degree' measures were not needed. The lecturer had the good grace to listen, but I doubt that his paradigm shifted.

On a more related issue, I've been reading widely on the history of the Land Wars in New Zealand (1840-1872ish), and luckily ahve access to an archive of contemporary accounts, collected by my late brother. What strikes me about the contemporary accounts is their brutal honesty and even-handed reporting. The further you move away from the conflict, the more jingoistic the reporting became (as in most wars). However, revisionist history from the late 1970s depicts the Maori tribes as simple, peaceful agrarian folk who were unmercilessly exploited by the nasty English.

In reality, the Maori were a war-like (and on occasions) cannabalistic people who were shrewd traders, skilled warriors and opportunists. Many sided with Government forces out of self-interest and also an opportunity to settle old tribal scores. After the fighting subsided in the early 1870s, an uneasy peace ensued, with those opposed to Pakeha ('European') rule withdrew to the King Country in the centre of the North Island, and stayed relatively unmolested until WWI - when many thousands of Maori volunteered for overseas service. However, most Maori tribes slowly integrated (although their numbers were decimated through violence and disease); the tragedy is that they are still over-represented in negative population indices (teenage pregnancy, prison populations, deaths through violence, health indices etc). But that wasn't necessarily due to the violent guerilla war that raged for over 30 years, a century and a half ago. Sadly, though, few modern historians are prepared to accept that many of the Maori involved in the conflict were cruel and violent, too.

Oh, and those into gun porn, the British and Colonial troops used Muskets, P-53 rifled muskets, Snider-enfields, Terry carbines. 'Bowie' style knives and bayonets and those new-fangled revolver thingies from America. The Maori used what weapons they could capture and the 'Tupeka' - double -barrelled shotguns filled with ball, scrap lead, iron or stones. Plus the patu - a jade club with razor-sharp edge.
 
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It would seem simple. A two-phase operation so to speak.

Research your position. Secure as much credibly sourced information, preferably primary. Write a peer-reviewed piece. Get it published somewhere credible.

Once that's done, get a piece published by some sort of socio-political scientist that compares your 'true' version of events to their 'skewed version'. Get the academic to use the comparing process to establish the point that it is politically fashionable to put over revisionist history for political aims/ideological purposes.

Not only do you put out the correct version of events but you highlight how silly anti-colonial lefties are revising history - the fact is there are very few countries in the world better off independent of the Pax Imperialis.
 
The historical establishment in Australia are trying to perpetrate the myth that the British Committed Genocide as “fact” and a historian called Keith Windschuttle, who attempted to expose this phenomenon was regarded in the same manner as the lunatics who deny the Holocaust.
It would be a long and difficult task to change that myth. Back in the 90's I was having some good banter with our Australian client rep (who was a top bloke) on the relative merits of vegemite and marmite. I attempted a check mate with a reference to Aboriginal genocide (drink is a terrible thing) and he howled with laughter and said "Ah, but we weren't Australians then mate, we were English settlers". I doubt if that particular excuse would have gone down well at Nuremburg but it seems that plenty believe it.
 
It would be a long and difficult task to change that myth. Back in the 90's I was having some good banter with our Australian client rep (who was a top bloke) on the relative merits of vegemite and marmite. I attempted a check mate with a reference to Aboriginal genocide (drink is a terrible thing) and he howled with laughter and said "Ah, but we weren't Australians then mate, we were English settlers". I doubt if that particular excuse would have gone down well at Nuremburg but it seems that plenty believe it.
In my limited experience with Australians no matter hoe decent and balanced they are the Abo's are off topic.
 
Stick to the truth, it is the right thing to do and you will get your moral and professional satisfaction from doing so. Just ask Andy McNab.
 

old_fat_and_hairy

LE
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
History is defined as ' something that probably didn't happen and written about by someone who wasn't there' or so I was told when I did my degree. I firmly believe that - although some areas of history are terribly subjective - that it is the duty of a historian to to tell the truth as much as he is able.
I know little about Australia other than it is far away and big and I know nothing of the subject of which the OP spoke.
I will add though that there is a not dissimilar chronicle unfolding in America at present with the rather heavy handed behaviour over a Native American burial ground. There are a multitude of posters, statements and exhortations about immigrants and the fact that the native Americans were there first. This is not totally correct; the tribes - Apache, Chippewa, Chetenne et al -pushed the original inhabitants off their land and took it as their own. Much as the 'white man' did to them. There is an enormous amount of geological and historical material that shows that the people we now refer to as native Americans were also agressive immigrants.
All of which points out that it is indeed usually the winners or those who can be seen as opressed by this mysterious race of 'white men' that get to qrite their version of history.
 
I'm not trying to be a controversialist and I was somewhat surprised to see that I was only one of two voting against the motion.
The way I see it is that history beyond living memory can often be a matter of surmise based on evidence of varying quantity and quality. 'Truth' (or how we perceive it) is, in this case, a bit of a moveable feast and 'duty' is too strong a term. I quite like an historian who is prepared to suggest alternative takes on things, risking the opprobrium and ridicule of his / her peers and accusations of grandstanding from the critics. Of course the accusations might have a degree of truth but I quite like a well told story and there is usually a commonly held view with which to compare and contrast any outré newcomer.

Of course the other consideration is that the historian who strays from convention might well believe that his truth is the absolute truth and that he is doing his duty to his conscience- if not his reputation.
 
As someone whose about to challenge the Historical narrative, albeit not on such a controversial topic (Hardware gets people so less wound up... unless they're Wheraboos), then all I can say is make sure all you're duckies are lined up in a row, citing references. Preferably in a Bibliography.
That way when someone flies off the handle your point to the reference, say "If you care so much go read this", then if they don't go read it you can point out the error of their ways and maintain a moral high ground. If they do read it then all well and good, they might have a differing interpretation and the discussion that follows is how we invent our current iteration of history.
 
The controversy over the numbers of Aborigine deaths during the white settlement of Australia reminds me of the similar argument over the numbers killed in the bombing of Dresden.
Except with the facts shrouded by the nature of the action and post-war circumstances rather than time. It is an interesting subject in its own right.
 

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