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Colonial networks, Australian humanitarianism and the history wars
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-07, 17:24 authored by Alan LesterAlan Lester
The ‘History Wars’ have brought contests among Britons over the colonisation of Aboriginal land and people to the forefront of public consciousness in Australia. These contests, however, were the result of trajectories that criss-crossed British imperial spaces, connecting Australia with other settler colonies and the British metropole. A number of historians and historical geographers have recently employed the notion of the network to highlight the interconnected geographies of the British Empire. This paper begins by examining the utility of such a re-conceptualisation. It then fleshes out empirically the networked nature of early nineteenth century humanitarianism in colonial New South Wales. Both the relatively progressive potential of this humanitarian network, and its complicity in an ethnocentric politics of assimilationism are analysed. Settler networks, developed as a counter to humanitarian influence in the colony, are also examined more briefly. This account of contested networks demonstrates that they were never simply about communication, but always, fundamentally, about the organisation and contestation of dispossessive trajectories that linked diverse colonial and metropolitan sites. The paper concludes by noting some of the implications of such a networked analysis of dispossession and assimilation for Australia's ‘History Wars’.
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