History and Memory: Reflections of Texts

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Analyse the way in which history and memory generate compelling and unexpected insights.

The interaction between history and memory is a complex and dialectic process through which perceptions of the past are negotiated, reinforced or challenged. Despite official history’s dependency on validating its claims through documented evidence, it must be acknowledged that it is not objective and remains vulnerable to distortion of those with political power or hegemony. Similarly, the subjective nature of memory allows for official history to be vulnerable to the bias of personal experience and differing perspectives. Furthermore, although official history and subjective memory both provide adequate insights into the past, it is through the consideration and combination of the two that compelling and unexpected insights into the past are generated. Paul Keating’s ‘The Redfern Address’ offers a reasonable challenge to the dominant historical narrative surrounding the European colonisation of Australia and their acts of social injustice in regards to Indigenous Australians. Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores Australia’s wartime history through the medium of a community’s personal experiences, perspectives and memories converging to form history, and illuminates the way in which history is dictated by those with political power. Through the dialectic interplay of history and meaning, compelling and unanticipated comprehensions of the past are generated and are negotiated to form the rich fabric of historical awareness. To begin, Paul Keating’s ‘The Redfern Address’ polemically challenges the colonialist ideology traditionally associated with the history of the European settlement by illuminating the memories and personal experiences of Indigenous stolen generations. The use of the high modality terms such as ‘nothing’ and ‘truth’ in Keating’s contention that “the message should be that there is nothing to fear to lose in the recognition of historical truth” in addition to the use of collective pronouns such as “us” and “our” in his assertion that “…tells us that their failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation continues to be our failure”, challenges the dominant historical narrative surrounding European settlement, disrupting the traditional colonialist discourses used to justify the historical subjugation and oppression of Indigenous Australians, providing the audience with an interesting approach to their insight into the past. Moreover, Keating’s description of the dominant European perspective that “this continent had no owners” as “bizarre conceit” illuminates the way in which dominant civilisations such as the Europeans manipulated the meaning of history and the fact that Indigenous Australians were marginalised to the oppression of cultural imperialists. Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores the way in which those with political power are capable of dictating and marginalising history through the left to right layout of a council worker preparing his chainsaw in order to remove the tree for public safety in opening 12. Furthermore, Keating draws attention to the way in which Aboriginal contributions to society were systematically “…ignored in the history books” highlighting the distortion and bias of documented evidence, reinforcing the domination of the non-Aboriginal society and the oppression of Indigenous Australians. By correctly converging history and memory, a compelling and unexpected insight into past events is produced. Similarly, Shaun Tan’s ‘Memorial’ explores the dialectic relationship between history and memory, and the way in which they are manipulated by those with hegemonic power. The contrast between the hollowness of the official war memorial of the statue and the ‘other’ memorial of the tree which has been invested with memories and associations highlights the tension between memory and documented evidence. In this case, the statue, as an official public monument,...
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