AHA 2018: Knowledges of the deep human past

Roundtable: Knowledges of the deep human past

What is the deep past and how can we know it? The discipline of history traditionally has depended on the written archive but historians now recognise the potential of non-written sources to reveal the past. Our project pushes the boundaries of history further still, drawing on interdisciplinary, scientific and Indigenous knowledges of the deep past, refusing to categorize that deep past as ‘pre’history. Yet this brings methodological and epistemological challenges, starting with the question of what the deep past is. Time can be conceived of as linear, encircling and encompassing. For historians, the past becomes ‘history’ when it is framed by narrative and meaning. Aboriginal knowledges might begin with an ‘everywhen’, a deep past that is also present and future. How then might we draw on different conceptualisations of the past to write a history of Australia’s deep human past?

It has been the nature of the writing of history to incorporate knowledge, theories and methodologies from other disciplines. In the case of the deep past the challenge is to remain true to new sources, not just the written. By incorporating Aboriginal knowledges into academic studies of the deep past, there is a risk of judging Aboriginal knowledge by the standards of Western science, reproducing a colonising power relationship. We suggest that scientific knowledge of the deep past can be brought into conversation with Aboriginal knowledge without undermining either, finding connections and shared meanings across these fields of knowledge.

Chair: Lynette Russell

Panel: Ann McGrath, Laura Rademaker, Ben Silverstein, Aileen Walsh