A Historian for all Seasons: Essays for Geoffrey Bolton
Monash University Publishing, $39.95 pb, 365 pp, 9781925495607
Traditional academic festschrifts often lack coherence and consistency, especially when the honorand’s former students and colleagues, as more or less duty-bound contributors, share little in common beyond that association. A posthumous tribute to a departed scholar can be more successful, not least because the circumstances of its compilation permit a less constrained approach to its subject’s oeuvre. The editors of this splendid collection, which had its genesis at the Perth funeral in 2015 of one Australia’s most productive and prominent historians, insist that they intend no ‘detailed examination’ of Geoffrey Bolton’s life work. Yet what they and their fellow contributors have to say about the man and his multifarious historical activities is at least as interesting as what they tell us about ‘how lines of enquiry that he pursued have been extended’.
Over six decades, Bolton variously studied and taught at ten universities (UWA, Oxford, ANU, Melbourne, Monash, Murdoch, Queensland, Cambridge, London, and Edith Cowan), while publishing fifteen sole-author books, no fewer than ninety-one Australian Dictionary of Biography entries, and the mass of edited or co-authored books, articles, chapters, and lectures detailed in the comprehensive bibliography at the end of this volume. These publications cover topics ranging from eighteenth-century parliamentary politics and British imperial history to the Aboriginal, economic, environmental, local, political, religious, and social history of Australia, plus numerous contemporary public issues. He also found time to serve on the inaugural executive of the Australian Historical Association (where I recall first encountering his impressively tall, bearded, deep-voiced presence), together with numerous other boards, committees, and organisations, national, regional, and local.