HISTORIANS - CHAPS WITH MAPS ARE NO GUIDE
Chaps with maps are no guide
school subject known as Studies of Society and the Environment (SOSE) is
soon to be put out its misery. Henceforth, geography and history will
welcoming the divorce, a Geography professor condemned "SOSE"
as a mish-mash. No doubt it was, but whose fault was that, if not the
professional historians and geographers? And how will splitting them
improve matters? After all, the PM says that history is a mish-mash
without a structured narrative. What no one has told him is that
geography has long been even more of a stomping ground for
Post-Modernists, Feminists and Marxists. So, if history is the mash, is
geography the mish?
most recent issues of Australia’s two scholarly geography journals
carry articles on bushfires, rural sport, early place names, ski-ing and
global warming, river flows, racism, conservation, guest workers,
economic and social disadvantage and suburban lifestyle. There is also a
piece on the Elvis Festival in Parkes.
this material is valuable, but its sprawl is not likely to reduce
confusion among the impressionable middle-aged politicians happiest in
the realms of maps and chaps.
schools need is a critical and analytical connection around an
historical geography. Australia has an honour roll of historical
geographers, notably Oscar Spate, with his volumes exploring the Pacific
Basin as The Spanish Lake, and
Sir Keith Hancock’s Discovering
earlier model was the 1962 study of the South Australian wheat frontier
On the Margins of the Good Earth in which D. W. Meinig told of the
disaster in 1870s believing that rain followed the plough. Had his book
been a compulsory text for the past 40 years, the Murray-Darling might
be more than a piddle.
Historical geography appeases those among our betters who know that trained killers give history its structured narrative. Contingents left Sydney during 1900 to suppress the Boxer rebellion which had been enflamed by the starvation from the same El Nino that had produced the Federation drought here between 1895 and 1902. Napoleon’s dictum about armies marching on their stomachs was again proven correct by the supply of wheat to Europe after 1914.
history is fenced off from geography, either these connections will not
be taught, or they will be taught twice in an over-crowded curriculum.
The fun begins by thinking of the past spatially and of space
years back, the then leading advocate of the three Rs, Professor Dame
Leonie Kramer, deplored that kids did not know the capital of
Czechoslovakia. Instead, they were made to study the environmental
problems from damning the Danube. Today, there is no Czechoslovakia to
have a capital. The Danube’s flows remain of concern.