Australian History’s Last Stand: An Audit Of Australian History Teaching At Universities

Written by:
27 December 2018
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Key Research Findings

This report examines the way in which the history of Australia is currently being taught in Australian universities. It is based on a systematic review of all 147 Australian history subjects taught in 2018 at the 35 Australian universities that offer programs of study
in history.

This audit builds on research which was commenced by the Institute of Public Affairs in 2015. These were published as The End of History…At Australian Universities (2015) and The Rise of Identity Politics. An Audit of History Teaching at Australian Universities in 2017

The three most common themes in the 147 Australian history subjects offered in Australian universities in 2018 are, in order:

Identity Politics: Class, Race, and Gender (102 subjects)

Indigenous History and Studies (57 subjects)

War and Conflict (53 subjects)

1. Identity Politics

Students are being offered a range of subjects dominated by identity politics. Of the 147 Australian history subjects, a total of 102 treat the theme of ‘class’ (15), ‘race’ (37) and ‘gender’ (50). These themes appear in a significantly higher number of subjects than for example, ‘democracy’ (4), the ’Enlightenment’ (3), or ‘capitalism’ (1).

2. The Role of the Individual

This audit reveals that the role of the individual in Australia’s past is almost entirely absent from the history curriculum.

A total of just three individuals are mentioned in the 147 Australian history subjects taught in 2018. 

Charles Wentworth and Henry Lawson are mentioned in one subject

Pauline Hanson is mentioned in three different subjects

No Australian Prime Minister is mentioned in any subject

This reflects the notion that Australian history as a discipline is being taught as social commentary on current affairs rather than as a study of the nation’s past. It also reflects the notion that historians are more interested in the collective and group identity than they are the individual. 

3. The Liberal Foundations of Australia’s Democracy  

The story of Australia’s success as a modern nation based on the ideas of liberalism is omitted from the curriculum. In the 147 Australian history subjects, there is not a single mention of either the words ‘liberal’ or ‘liberalism’.

There is no recognition of the fact Australians laid the foundations of one of the world’s most successful liberal democracies which has achieved unprecedented levels of personal freedom and social equality.   

Students of Australian History are not being taught the basic concepts which explain the origins of Australian society and its successes as a modern nation. 

Download the full report here.

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