A harbinger of new ways

Janet McCalman brings the colonial paper trail to life
by
December 2021, no. 438
Buy this book

Vandemonians: The repressed history of colonial Victoria by Janet McCalman

The Miegunyah Press, $39.99 pb, 343 pp

A harbinger of new ways

Janet McCalman brings the colonial paper trail to life
by
December 2021, no. 438

Though a generation has grown up with online technology, we are only just starting to grasp what it means for our understanding of humanity. As a historian, I’m surprised to find that I can now trace the emotional and intellectual experience of individuals, through long periods of their lives, with a new kind of completeness. Fragments of detail from all over the place, gathered with ease, can be used to build up inter-connected portraits of real depth. A new inwardness, a richer kind of subjectivity, takes shape as a result.

This ought to improve our history-writing. Being drenched with the detail of other people’s lives should make it harder to indulge in backward-looking condescension, the historian’s original sin. Those with the skill of, say, Janet McCalman can aim to approximate, just a little, the efforts of some of the best nineteenth-century novelists – George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy – in the creation of a multiverse of human understanding and interconnection. It is a wide-open prospect.

Alan Atkinson reviews 'Vandemonians: The repressed history of colonial Victoria' by Janet McCalman

Vandemonians: The repressed history of colonial Victoria

by Janet McCalman

The Miegunyah Press, $39.99 pb, 343 pp

Buy this book

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