Forgetting The Past: How Post-modernist Theory Has Replaced History In Australian Universities In 2022

28 November 2022
Forgetting The Past: How Post-modernist Theory Has Replaced History In Australian Universities In 2022 - Featured image

History as a discipline as taught in Australian universities is no longer about a study of the past, as it has been replaced by post-modernist theory.

In The Idea of History, the great English philosopher Historian RG Collingwood wrote that ‘history is for human self- knowledge. The only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.’

Post-modernism, however, is fundamentally anti-historical because it posits that nothing can be learnt from studying the past. Historians should give up their claim to any special authority in the matter and should approach the field as a means of critical self-reflection. Post-modernism rejects the notion that the past must be understood “historically.”

This report contains the systematic review of 791 history subjects offered across 35 Australian universities in 2022. It builds on the research, and is an update of the IPA’s report, The Rise of Identity Politics: An Audit of History Teaching at Australian Universities in 2017.

This audit finds that of the 791 history subjects, 255 treat the theme of what is commonly referred to as ‘identity politics’ that is class, race, and gender.

In 2022, there is a slight preference towards of Gender Theory, with the top three most common themes being ‘Gender’ (97), ‘Indigenous Issues’ (95), and ‘Race’ (86). In 2017, three most common themes were, in order, ‘Indigenous Issues’ (99), ‘Gender’ (80) and ‘Race ‘(69).

That the study of history has been subsumed by post-modernist theory is demonstrated by the fact that in 2022, more history subjects were offered at Australian universities that teach about ‘Race’ than ‘Democracy’ (86 subjects compared to 33 subjects), ‘Identity’ than the ‘Enlightenment’ (64 subjects compared to 25 subjects). ‘sexuality’ than the ‘Reformation’ (54 subjects compared to 17 subjects).

In 2017, there were 13 subject which treat the theme of Critical Race Theory. In 2022, this has grown to 16. These are subjects which discuss ‘whiteness’ or ‘systemic racism.’ This indicates the growing influence of Critical Race Theory, which has come from the USA, in Australian academia.

In summary, this audit finds that undergraduates are being failed by departments of history across the country. Those who hope that a university education will enlarge their historical understanding of humanity will disappointed because what they are being offered instead is post-modernist theory which ignores facts and linear time in favour of obsessions with identity and language, and in which traditional explanations of cause and effects are discarded as everything is reduced to a study of (purported) power relations.

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