Around 1988: History and/as Fiction and the Australian Bicentenary

Marks de Marques, Eduardo (2007). Around 1988: History and/as Fiction and the Australian Bicentenary PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History , University of Queensland.

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Author Marks de Marques, Eduardo
Thesis Title Around 1988: History and/as Fiction and the Australian Bicentenary
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2007
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Christopher Tiffin
Abstract/Summary Throughout the 1980s, Australia was preparing for its biggest national celebration yet: that of the Bicentenary of the arrival of the first European settlers. The Australian Bicentenary can be seen as a media event, which is defined as a construct, rather than a representation of the social order (Couldry 56) and, as such, this generated an interesting conflict between the many different, sometimes contrasting, versions of Australian history to be presented as official. The controversy was mainly centred on the representation of Aborigines, ethnic minorities and, to a certain degree, the involvement of women throughout history which, in turn, exposed the fragility of historical narratives as truth and fact. Academic historians were well aware of the necessity to reorient the historiographic process since the so-called poststructural turn, but as these debates were strongly connected to the Bicentenary, this was arguably the first time that the Australian public was made aware of them. An interesting consequence of the shift of these debates from academia to society was the massive increase in the writing and publication of historical fiction. Novelists became key figures in the process of reassessing and reconstructing Australian history, demonstrating, thus, the fluidity of the boundaries between history and fiction. This thesis examines the many ways in which historical fiction was used to question and undermine the “legend” form of Australian national identity (as defined, primarily, by Russel Ward) as creator and holder of history, how this dynamic connects with the political project of the Labor government of the 1980s in its attempt to promote historic heteroglossia and social polyphony in the continent, and how the Bicentenary acted as an important catalyst for these debates. Chapter One provides a context of the political and institutional making of the Bicentenary from the creation of the Australian Bicentennial Authority in 1979, also looking at the historical and broader literary projects associated with it. Chapter Two examines in more detail the changes in the discipline of history (from constructionist to reconstructionist to deconstructionist modes of historiography) and the postmodern influence of metafictional historiography. The following chapters are analytical and examine the many ways in which the classical notion of Australian identity was questioned by novelists. Chapter Three focuses on the rise and influence of second-wave feminism in history and historical fiction. Chapter Four deals with the displacement of manliness from the defining centre of identity. Chapter Five looks at the notion of Aboriginality and how it was being defined and redefined in the 1980s. Chapter Six examines the rise of ethnic literatures in the early stages of Australian multiculturalism. The conclusion briefly looks at how these debates about the boundaries between history and fiction have changed in the 1990s and 2000s, paying particular attention to the contemporary resurgence of these debates seen since the publication of The Secret River in 2005.

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