Thursday, 30 October 2014

Shaping a historiography: Crawford and Hancock

The most sophisticated expressions of the liberal interpretation of Australian history in the inter-war years were provided by R.M. ‘Max’ Crawford (1906-1991) and Keith Hancock (1898-1988). A former student of Wood’s in Sydney and Oxford’s Balliol College, Crawford took over the chair of history from Ernest Scott at the University of Melbourne in 1937 and set about establishing what would become known as the Melbourne School of History. Crawford reformed both the department’s programmes and the secondary school curriculum to include the study of Australian history. He also significantly expanded the staff and research skills of the department and the Melbourne School came to represent ‘history as a truly liberal education’.[1] At the University of Sydney, Stephen Roberts undertook a similar renovation of university and school history programmes and the study of Australian history benefited, but perhaps not to the extent that occurred in Melbourne. Roberts, with an interest in European history, did not make the national story a high priority.[2] The establishment of the scholarly journal Historical Studies in 1940 also stimulated the professional development of the discipline.[3]

Crawford developed a ‘synoptic view’ of history, which broke with both conventional empiricism and the determinism of Marxism to advance a sophisticated liberal humanism. He argued that historians must engage with the complexity of human activity and conflict and that history was a process of critical analysis and an expression of moral judgements. The historian should be a philosopher.[4] Crawford’s willingness to explore new territory included his own region. Ourselves and the Pacific introduced the history of the Pacific region to an Australian audience. Published in 1941, just as Australia faced an unprecedented threat posed by Japan’s rapid military conquests across the Pacific, Crawford and his collaborators invited Australians to consider their geographic place in the world, rather than to dwell in the imagined homeland of Britain:

To-day, Australians and New Zealanders have no doubt that their destiny is to be influenced by the fact that they border the same ocean as China, Japan, the United States and Russia.[5]

However, as Ourselves and the Pacific acknowledged, immigration restriction of Asians and Pacific Islanders had helped the British dominions delay their destiny. Excluding Chinese immigrants reflected ‘…their desire to shut out the Pacific and to preserve their own European character.’[6] Australians may have wished to preserve their European character, but Crawford was willing to accept and promote a legend of that character transformed by its national experience. His liberalism celebrated the character of the Australian, an unromantic, individualistic type who persevered through the challenges of settling the land and war, challenges that created a nation:

The heroism of the Anzacs was not different in kind from the courage and endurance of the early pioneers. Australia became a nation [at Gallipoli] because for the first time she was plunged into the responsibilities of nationhood.[7]

Methodological sophistication did not deter Crawford from cultivating a mythological account of Australian experience. In Australia, published in 1952, he was the first historian to employ the term, ‘the Australian Legend’, to describe a ‘national myth’ drawn from life on the land and of a need to distinguish Australian experience and achievements from that of the ‘old world’ of Europe.[8] Crawford described Australians facing the trials of the outback with a willingness to ‘have a go’, often disrespectful of pretentiousness and drawn to a cynical and often grim brand of humour.[9] This portrait of the Australian type neatly fused with Crawford’s liberalism. Australians cherished their individual independence and hoped to build a nation where liberal freedom might flourish:

…the essence of Australian democracy has been a belief in the rights of the individual, without thought of status. The very demand for state action has in some part sprung from this belief – to secure equality of opportunity, a fair and reasonable livelihood, and political rights. The call for state intervention in Australian democracy has often been, in short, an expression of its individualism.[10]

Crawford understood that he was distorting the truth to produce a mythic explanation of the past in order to reinforce the values that Australians shared. As he observed

The Australian Legend is not necessarily a picture of the Australians; but it is a picture of ideals that have been dominant in Australia, and ideals may at least take part in moulding character.[11]

Crawford hoped that his transmission of the national myth would play its own role in shaping the national character, and like Scott, he reinforced the lesson of the Australian legend by concluding his discussion with a final testimony to the plain heroism of the Australian character as it faced the test of war. He cited a long quotation from the Charles Bean’s history of the Australian Imperial Force in France in 1918 on the individualistic nature of the Australian soldier.

It was understandable that Crawford would defer to the official historian of Australia in the First World War. In Charles Bean, the myth of Anzac had its most vigorous champion, a cause that Bean pursued in a multi-volume history and several other works from The Anzac Book in 1916, through to the multi-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 published between 1921-1942 and in his advocacy of the establishment of the Australian War Memorial in the nation’s capital, which when it opened in 1941 included a museum that celebrated Australian military heroism.[12] The extract that Crawford selected included all the defining elements of that peculiar mix of Australian individualism, egalitarianism and mateship that Bean felt was intensely expressed in war writing that the ‘incorrigibly civilian’[13] Australian soldier had maintained his volunteer status by almost perversely exercising his democratic right to reject conscription in the 1916 and 1917 referendum ballots. The digger was never really reconciled to military discipline, yet he was bound to his fellow soldiers: ‘a man must “stand by his mates” at all costs.’ He rejected the English ‘social class’ distinctions evident in the British Army; the Australian soldier ‘…knew only one social horizon, that of race’[14] and even Australian officers could be included in that category. The Australians were, Bean concluded, ‘masters of their own lives.’[15]

Like Crawford, Keith Hancock was Oxford trained, although Hancock’s liberalism had a harder and more self-critical edge, driven by the tensions of a young man caught between the metropolitan culture of Britain and provincial Australia and his compulsion to test the idealised character of Australian national life against the reality of experience.[16] In Australia, published in 1930, ‘intellectual detachment’ struggled with an ‘emotional attachment’ to the Australian people to produce an innovative interpretation and structure, focusing on themes rather than chronology.[17] Hancock employed an inventive use of language that provocatively clarified and redefined the national narrative: colonial Australians were ‘transplanted British’ who became ‘independent Australian Britons’ is not impossible for Australians, nourished by a glorious literature and haunted by old memories, to be in love with two soils.’[18]

Hancock offered some shrewd insights into the myths of mateship and egalitarianism: while Australians ‘intolerance of oppression and sympathy with the under-dog’ were attractive character traits, they could conspire to create a monochrome culture of mediocrity.

The passion for equal justice can so easily sour into a grudge against those who enjoy extraordinary gifts…the ideal of “mateship” …springs not only from [the Australian’s] eagerness to exalt the humble and meek, but also from his zeal to put down the mighty from their seat.[19]

Hancock was the first Australian historian to offer an incisive critique of the nation building project that successive Commonwealth governments had pursued since Federation. Most Australians and their historians had broadly welcomed policies to protect Australian industry and culture and to offer its workers some measure of security at work and in retirement through immigration restriction of non-Europeans, tariff protection, compulsory arbitration and social welfare initiatives including the old age pension. Hancock tartly concluded that Australians had ‘an excessive dependence on the state.’[20] He maintained that Australians sought both ‘fiscal’ and racial protection. In this culture of protectionism, ‘[t]he policy of White Australia is the indispensable condition of every other Australian policy.’[21] White Australia was the central defence of national identity and this, in Hancock’s view, justified the restriction of non-Europeans.

What [Australians] fear is not physical conquest by another race, but rather the internal decomposition and degradation of their own civilisation. They have gloried in their inheritance of free institutions, in their right to govern themselves and freely make their own destiny.[22]

Hancock believed that tariff protection had not only to be analysed on economic grounds, but also for its ‘emotional and ideological flavour.’[23] His analysis had been influenced by his contemporary, Edward Shann, whose Economic History of Australia was also published in 1930.[24] Like Shann, Hancock criticised the fiscal impact of protection, to which Hancock added a cogent analysis of its cultural consequences. Protection in Australia was a ‘faith and a dogma’ that had triumphed ‘because it appealed irresistibly to the most ardent sentiments of Australian democracy’.[25] Prime Minister Alfred Deakin’s New Protection programme in the period 1905-1908 had drawn the incipient Australian Labor Party into support for his administration by requiring manufacturers to provide ‘fair and reasonable’ wages in exchange for tariff assistance. Despite the mounting cost of tariff protection in the 1920s, Australians clung to it as a defence of their standard of living and a bulwark against ‘frugal and unscrupulous foreigners’, particularly the populous Asian neighbours to the north.[26] This faith in protectionism also inclined Australians towards the paternalistic and utilitarian ‘state socialism’ of which the Labor Party had emerged as the leading advocate by the 1920s.[27]

Describing how drought and the search for arable land had compelled colonial exploration of the continent, Hancock revealed a perceptive awareness of the importance of environmental factors in Australian history and their implications for nation building.[28] He punctured the nationalist and economic expansionist delusions represented by the ‘strange gospel’ of Australian Unlimited, fashionable in the post-World War I years, by noting the ‘Saharan latitudes’ of Australia’s arid interior citing figures of sparse rainfall to dispel ‘…the vanity of imagining that Australia’ of comparable geographic size to the United States, could ‘…ever compare with that country in wealth and power.’[29] The ‘invasion of Australia’, as Hancock bluntly characterised the waves of exploration and pastoral expansion, also had a ‘devastating’ impact on the indigenous population. Hancock was not blind to liberal hypocrisy over the ‘natural progress of the aboriginal race towards extinction’

Australian democracy is genuinely benevolent, but is preoccupied with its own affairs. From time to time it remembers the primitive people whom it has dispossessed, and sheds over their predestined passing an economical tear.[30]

Hancock presented Australian government ‘as the instrument of self-realisation’ through which the people sought ‘…to put the collective power of the state at the service of individual rights.’[31] Despite widespread support for state intervention, Hancock believed Australia’s national mission remained fundamentally liberal, if inward-looking. Tim Rowse has identified Hancock’s radical ‘New Liberalism’, an advocacy of a free market approach to trade and industrial relations, as an essential but largely unacknowledged theme of Hancock’s text:

What distinguishes Australia is the subtlety with which its politico-economic meaning is buried within an apparently non-partisan survey of Australian civilization and nationhood.[32]

Hancock sought to defend the interests of British and Australian capital at a time of global economic crisis. Yet it seems apparent, as he implicitly acknowledges, that Hancock’s hope that Australians would one day realise the ‘spiritual achievement’ of a distinctive nationality compelled Hancock to embrace ‘radical liberalism’, as a means of urging Australians from their habits of economic dependency while he remained undisturbed by Australia’s continuing attachment to Britain.[33] Perhaps because he continued to invest a hope in the future potential of a mature liberal Australian society, Gregory Melleuish suggests that Hancock failed to push his analysis to its logical conclusion: that protection might also equal selfishness. Hancock resorted to ironic observation.[34] As it stood, Hancock’s astringent survey of Australia’s isolationist and ‘homogeneous egalitarian society’ did not sit comfortably with a country plunging into the devastating global depression of the early 1930s that only encouraged nations, including Australia, to erect further tariff protection.[35] Australia exerted considerable influence over subsequent generations of Australian historians, inspiring a repetition of his characterisations and provoking a rejection of them.[36]

Hancock’s dislike of Australian provincialism led him back to Britain in 1933 where he exerted an influence on British perceptions of Australia. Like Scott’s and Crawford’s short histories, Hancock’s Australia was published by a British publishing house. Hancock’s influence over the interpretation of the British Empire and the emerging post-Second World War British Commonwealth and Australia’s place in the Commonwealth narrative was established in his Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs.[37] Hancock revealed himself as an idealistic advocate of a ‘liberal commonwealth’, tempered by instinctive realism. Amid fractious ‘procession’ of the various nations united only by the lingering but increasingly frayed ties of empire, he found his ‘fellow countrymen’ emitting unqualified, unreflective ‘cries of joy’ as they marched along.[38]

[1] Macintyre, Stuart, ‘The Making of A School’, in ibid, Crawford, R.M., Clark, Manning and Blainey, Geoffrey, (eds.), Making History, pp. 3, 9-12.

[2] Fletcher, Brian, ‘Australian History’, in Caine, Barbara, et al (eds.), History at Sydney, Centenary Reflections 1891-1991, (Highland Press), 1992, p. 162.

[3] Macintyre, Stuart, ‘The Making of A School’, in ibid, Crawford, R.M., Clark, Manning and Blainey, Geoffrey, (eds.), Making History, p. 7.

[4] Crawford, R.M., The Study of History, a Synoptic View, (Melbourne University Press), 1939; Dare, Robert, ‘Max Crawford and the Study of History’, in ibid, Macintyre, Stuart and Thomas, Julian, (eds.), The Discovery of Australia, 1890-1939, pp. 188-190.

[5] Crawford, R.M., (ed.), Ourselves and the Pacific, (Melbourne University Press), 1941, p. vi.

[6] Ibid, Crawford, R.M., (ed.), Ourselves and the Pacific, p. 221.

[7] Crawford, R.M., Australia, (Hutchinson’s University Library), 1952, p. 166.

[8] Ibid, Crawford, R.M., Australia, pp. 145, 148.

[9] Ibid, Crawford, R.M., Australia, p. 153.

[10] Ibid, Crawford, R.M., Australia, p. 154.

[11] Ibid, Crawford, R.M., Australia, pp. 154-155.

[12] The Anzac Book, (Cassell & Co.), 1916; Bean, C.E.W., Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, 12 Vols. (Angus and Robertson), 1921-1942; for Bean’s mythic intentions see Ball, Martin, ‘Re-reading Bean’s Last Paragraph’, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 24, (2003), pp. 248-270.

[13] Bean, C.E.W., Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol. 6, (Angus and Robertson), 1934, p. 5.

[14] Ibid, Bean, C.E.W., Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol. 6, p. 6.

[15] Ibid, Crawford, R.M., Australia, p. 155.

[16] Melleuish, Gregory, Cultural Liberalism in Australia, (Cambridge University Press), 1995, pp. 118-120.

[17] Hancock, W. K., Australia, (Ernest Benn Ltd.), 1930, p. vii.  See also, Davidson, Jim, The Three-cornered Life: The Historian W. K. Hancock, (Melbourne University Press), 2010.

[18] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 68.

[19] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 74.

[20] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 69.

[21] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 77.

[22] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 80.

[23] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 82

[24] Shann, Edward, An Economic History of Australia, (Cambridge University Press), 1930.

[25] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, pp. 83, 89.

[26] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, pp. 89, 102.

[27] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, pp. 127-188, 140.

[28] A theme not seriously re-examined in Australian historiography until the 1970s: Tom Griffiths ‘Environmental History’ in ibid, Davison, Graeme, (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Australian History, p. 221.

[29] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, pp. 17, 19.

[30] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 33.

[31] Ibid, Melleuish, Gregory, Cultural Liberalism in Australia, p. 122.

[32] Rowse, Tim, Australian Liberalism and National Character, (Kibble Books), 1978, p. 89.

[33] Ibid, Rowse, Tim, Australian Liberalism and National Character, pp. 80-81.

[34] Ibid, Melleuish, Gregory, Cultural Liberalism in Australia, pp. 123-126.

[35] Ibid, Hancock, W. K., Australia, p. 67.

[36] Macintyre, Stuart, ‘‘Full of Hits and Misses’: A Reappraisal of Hancock’s Australia’, in Low, D.A., (ed.), Keith Hancock, The Legacies of an Historian, (Melbourne University Press), 2001, pp. 36-38.

[37] Hancock, W.K., Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, 2 Vols. (Oxford University Press), 1937-1942; Low, D.A., ‘Imperium et Libertas and Hancock’s Problems of Nationality’, in ibid, Low, D.A., (ed.), Keith Hancock, The Legacies of an Historian.

[38] Thomas, Julian, ‘Keith Hancock: Professing the Profession’, in ibid, Macintyre, Stuart and Thomas, Julian, (eds.), The Discovery of Australia, 1890-1939, p. 149.

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