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Echoes from the past: Oral history in the National Museum of Australia


Zarmati, L, Echoes from the past: Oral history in the National Museum of Australia, MuseumEdu, 2, (Autumn) pp. 53-62. ISSN 2408-0748 (2015) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright © 2015 by Museum Education and Research Laboratory, University of Thessaly

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When the National Museum of Australia opened in 2001 it was severely criticised by right-wing politicians, historians and journalists for being too negative and ‘too politically correct’, especially in its depiction of Aboriginal history. The target was the Contested Frontiers display in the First Australians gallery which presented the view that particular frontier conflicts had resulted in massacres of Aboriginal people. Conservative historian Keith Windschuttle claimed that Aboriginal oral history accounts of the massacres were unreliable, fabricated ‘mythology’, and was appalled that the Museum would exhibit such a spurious story. Defence came from the progressive left, and was led by academic historians Stuart Macintyre, Graeme Davison and Bain Attwood, who endorsed the Museum’s postmodernist methodology, and its multivocal interpretations that tackled differing perspectives of the treatment of Aboriginal people. In this paper I will show how the National Museum of Australia responded to criticisms of its use of oral history, and how it used this negativity in a positive way to educate the public, particularly school students, not only about Australia’s frontier conflict, but about the problems of using oral history as a source of evidence in museums.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:history, Aboriginal, museum, Australia, oral history, education
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Curriculum and pedagogy
Research Field:Humanities and social sciences curriculum and pedagogy (excl. economics, business and management)
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Other education and training
Objective Field:Other education and training not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Zarmati, L (Dr Louise Zarmati)
ID Code:105580
Year Published:2015
Deposited By:Education
Deposited On:2016-01-08
Last Modified:2016-08-25
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