Ian Ravenscroft reviews 'Historical Justice and Memory' edited by Klaus Neumann and Janna Thompson

On 10 June 1838, eleven men – ten whites and an African – slaughtered about thirty indigenous people at Myall Creek in northern New South Wales. The victims were hacked down with swords, and the killers returned a few days later to dismember and burn the bodies. The existence and interpretation of events like this have been deeply controversial since the publication of Keith Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002). In part, what is at stake is the reliability of memory – not merely in the sense that individuals' memories are fallible, but also in the wider sense that public memories are contested. Public memory can be informed by historical and archeological scholarship, but at its core are personal memories and family stories, verbal traditions, artistic representations, and myth-making.

Public memories can be distorted or manufactured for political ends. In their contribution to Historical Justice and Memory, Elazar Barkan and Belma Bećirbašić detail extraordinary examples of memory divergence and corruption in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina. The corruption of memory has dire consequences for reconciliation as all sides, unwilling or unable to respect their opponents' understanding of the past, keep revisiting the same events from radically opposed perspectives, often with violent intent.

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Published in November 2015, no. 376

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