It’s Not Just a List

Women writing at desk

Photo by Nadia Perkins

“It’s just a list” I thought as I created a list of histories written by female historians. All that was required was to extract the bibliographical details of books written by women writers which had been reviewed by two Australian academic journals in the last couple of years.  I knew it would be time-consuming.  Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….  No brain work involved. I didn’t expect the process would be anything other than mind-numbingly tedious.

I was wrong.

My intention was to create a list of histories written by Australian female authors for people participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.  The journals I drew upon for my list were History Australia and the Australian Journal of Politics and History.  They are directed towards academics interested in Australian history, however, the Australian Journal of Politics and History is also interested in exploring modern European history and the history of thought. That’s great. Australians are interested in the history of places all over the world.

Then I realised that historians who are not Australian write Australian history too.  They also write histories of other places which are of interest to Australians.  The Australian Journal of Politics and History reviews histories irrespective of the nationality of authors.  While History Australia restricts its reviews to histories written by residents of Australia, it also carries reviews of histories written by residents of New Zealand.

I was curious.  Are there many people who are not Australian researching Australian history?  Australian history is included in a field known as Australian Studies. The International Australian Studies Association lists Australian Studies Associations in places such as Hungary, Japan, Germany, India and China as well as in the United Kingdom and the United States.  The list was more extensive than I had expected.  The membership of these associations are a mixture of Australians and those who are not.

But I digress – the list.  Yes, I spent hours doing repetitive tasks, but while I was doing this an intense debate was raging in my head. It went something like this:

“Are the historians on my list Australian?”

“Most are, but some are not.”

“That’s ok, I’ll just check out the profile of each historian on their university website.”

I read the short biography of a historian on a university website.

“This doesn’t say what nationality the historian is.”

“Well of course it doesn’t!  What were you thinking??? Universities want to publicise the research excellence of their academics.  The nationality of an academic is irrelevant – it doesn’t determine the quality of an academic’s research!!!”

“Perhaps there will be other websites where I can get this information?”

“Forget it – I don’t have the time to scour the web for information that is quite possibly not available.”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“Maybe I can restrict my list to those historians employed by Australian universities.”

“There are so many holes in that argument it’s not funny. If I do this I exclude all those Australians living overseas.  And Australian universities probably employ historians that are not Australian.  What about New Zealanders who are employed in Australia?  Don’t they get sick of Australians adopting New Zealanders as one of their own the moment they gain some fame?”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“Who is an Australian? How do we work that out?  I know – an Australian is someone who is recognised by the government as an Australian citizen.”

“But I’m a British citizen as well as an Australian citizen yet if I am asked what my nationality is I never say I’m British.”

“Yes, but that is because I was born in Australia, not Britain.

“So I can say that an Australian is someone who was born here.”

“But my father was born in England and moved here when he was a toddler.  He always felt that he was an Australian, not English.”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“I know – why don’t I contact the historians themselves and ask them what nationality they regard themselves?”

“WHAT AN UNBELIEVABLY DUMB IDEA!!!”

[Don’t be offended, I’m not shouting at you. I was pretty angry at myself by this stage.]

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“Let me count how many reasons I can find to strike this BAD IDEA down:

  1. “On the pragmatic level:  I want to publish this in two days.  I’m sure most academics would not reply in that time frame, if ever.”
  2. “Offence Number 1:  Why would they reply at all?  What would I say in such an e-mail? I would be effectively saying, ‘Excuse me I’m making this list to encourage people to read your work and review it on their blogs.  If you tell me that you are not Australian I’ll drop you off the list’!!!”
  3. “Offence Number 2:  What about the academics who have lived here all their lives but because of what they look like and/or their name are constantly questioned about their nationality? If I were one of these people and received the e-mail I intended to write I would be furious!”

“PERISH THIS THOUGHT RIGHT NOW!!!”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“But I need to make a list of Australian historians for those participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.”

“Face it, you can’t. And don’t think up any more stupid ideas!!!”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“Well, I am sure that most historians on my list are Australian.”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“And female writers all over the world need more people to read and review their work.”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

“And the people participating in the Challenge are deep thinkers who will understand the issues that I’m grappling with and the reasons why I can’t make this list Australian-only.”

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

Copy, paste, reformat, repeat….

Go back, place in alphabetical order, resume…

Copy, paste, reformat, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

Copy, paste, place in alphabetical order, repeat….

Go back, reformat, resume…

“I think I need to take a break….”

I’m going out on a limb here by sharing with you some awful ideas that I’m ashamed to confess entered my head.  But at least I exposed them for all their flaws.  I wanted to share this with you so that you can understand how I could not make my list exclusively of Australian historians.  I am sure that a significant proportion of the authors on my list are Australian – I’ll leave it to you to decide which books you can count for the challenge.

When embarking on this project I had no idea that I would find it so difficult.

It’s not just a list.

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2 thoughts on “It’s Not Just a List

  1. *chuckle*
    Not unlike compiling a list of indigenous authors for the Indigenous Literature Week I’m planning! I mean, listing a book implies recommendation AND membership of the group-list. Fraught with difficulty…

    Like

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