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Celebrating 40 years of a journal which redefined Aboriginal History

Image shows cover of 2016 edition of Aboriginal History Journal

The idea for the Aboriginal History journal was first mooted in late 1975 by a small group of scholars at ANU

Friday 27 October 2017

Four decades ago, a team of scholars published the first volume of a journal that documented a new field that has blossomed into a discipline in its own right: Australian Indigenous history.

They’re gathering at The Australian National University on 27 October to celebrate 40 years of Aboriginal History with a symposium, and to share their adventures of how they struck out into the great beyond.

The idea for the journal was first mooted in late 1975 by a small group of scholars at ANU, says Dr Maria Nugent of the ANU School of History.

“This was at a time when the ‘great Australian silence’ about historical relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people was only beginning to be broken.

“Key figures in founding the journal were Diane Barwick and Niel Gunson.”

Since then, the journal has been published continuously and has sought to retell Australian history through the experiences and perspectives of Indigenous Australians.

“The remit of the journal, since its foundation, has been to present articles and information in the field of Australian ethno-history, particularly the post-contact history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” says Dr Nugent, who was co-editor from 2010 to 2012. 

One of the original contributors, Lyndall Ryan, recalls her excitement at being involved in the unique endeavour.

“What was so exciting was that it was an interdisciplinary journal,” the Professor of History at the University of Newcastle recalls in a video interview with ANU PhD candidate, Annmarie McLaren.

“It was bringing history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology and Aboriginal oral history all together.

“That was the first time it had been done on a scale to make it into a proper interdisciplinary field.”

Professor Ryan says the original contributors were aware they needed to ensure the new field of Aboriginal history was open and different to anything they’d worked on before.

“We felt we were pioneers, but not quite sure what direction we were going in.”

The symposium — Aboriginal History: Past, Present, Future – will celebrate those pioneers, showcase exceptional writing, and help guide the next generation.

A number of historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists, both those who contributed to the journal in its early years, and those who have helped to sustain it since, will join us,” Dr Nugent says.

“The symposium is preceded by a masterclass for young scholars from across Australia who represent the upcoming generation.

“It provides an opportunity for the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, as well as a forum for debate about where Aboriginal history is at now and where it is going next.”

Browse the Aboriginal History Journal archives at ANU Press.

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Updated:  22 November, 2017/Responsible Officer:  College Dean/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications