Clare Corbould

Lerone Bennett Jr, bestselling author of Black history, ruffled feathers with a 1968 article in the glossy monthly magazine Ebony. ‘Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?’ the piece’s title asked provocatively. The title of Bennett’s later book on the topic proclaimed that Lincoln was Forced into Glory. Mainstream media either ignored or denigrated Bennett’s work, but his insights about Lincoln’s racism paved the way for a host of historical works that have revised our understanding of who should be credited with ending slavery in the United States.

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When I taught African American history at the University of Sydney, students read the words of Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King Jr. They discussed the relative merits of each leader’s strategies. In every class – mostly white students ...

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'The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,’ said historian David Lowenthal in 1985, adopting L.P. Hartley’s famous opening line from The Go-Between. Most historians agree, proceeding from the premise that the past is remote and in need of discovery, and that there is no automatic link between people in the present and those in the past. It is a supposition in complete contradistinction to non-professionals’ ideas about the past, according to historians Paul Ashton and Paula Hamilton, directors of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology, Sydney. For most Australians, history takes place where they ‘feel at home’. That is, it is a domesticated pursuit, consumed in familiar surrounds, and more often than not related most intimately to family and genealogy.

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