Book Review: Secularism or Democracy? by Veit Bader

Cover of Veit Bader's book, Secularism or Democracy

‘Secularism or Democracy? Associational Governance of Religious Diversity by Veit Bader, (Amsterdam University Press, 2007).

This is a comprehensive book that explores issues of religion and state such as what role should religions have vis-a-vis the state, the role of secularism in government and society and how the state can deal fairly with the various religions.  The author, Veit Bader, is an emeritus professor of sociology and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.  This is an academically rigorous book.  It is most definitely not bedtime reading.  However, if you want a deeply thought and carefully argued book that does not shirk difficult questions or pose glib solutions this book is for you.

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The Regime of the Coin Tea Has Come…

Person holding penny over cup and saucer on a table with other coins on it.

Coin tea anyone?

“The regime of the coin tea has come”, declared ‘Sympathiser‘ in the Brisbane Courier  in 1909.  This announcement was apt.  If you do a search for ‘coin tea’ on the National Library of Australia’s  online newspaper database (Trove) you will be struck by how popular this form of fundraising appears to have been in Queensland during the early twentieth century until the outbreak of World War II.  94% of articles and advertisements containing the phrase ‘coin tea’ in the Trove database (as at 28/7/2011) were published in Queensland. Continue reading

Know Your Database

If you are interested in reading more about digital humanities, check out my other blog at

Over the last week I finally got a chance to try out the tools that Wragge (aka Tim Sherratt) has devised to mine digitised historic Australian newspapers accessed through Trove. This post is about the results of applying his tools.  If you want to do this yourself check out Wragge’s posts, Mining the Treasures of Trove (Part 1) and (Part 2). Firstly let’s look at Wragge’s graph of a topic that I have been writing about this year – floods.

Graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers, from the early 19th century to the late 1950s

Wragge's graph of the occurrence of the word "flood" in Australian newspapers since the early 19th century.

Wragge has produced the graph above  showing the occurrence of the word “floods” in Australian newspapers digitised and accessible on the Trove website.  As we would expect the word is mentioned more in years when there was severe flooding such as 1893.

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The Transformation of a Word

Dana Street2

Dana St. Primary School, Ballarat. Built in 1856. (Source: Wikimedia)

We all know that the meaning of words can change over time.  Words such as gay and cool are used in ways not contemplated one hundred years ago.  Historians need to be aware of this when reading old texts.  In my research of the  education debates in the Australasian colonies from the 1860s to 1914, I had to understand what the word ‘secular’ meant at the time.  It is much more complex than I would have ever imagined.  The word ‘secular’ has not just changed – it has undergone an extraordinary transformation. Continue reading

And the Speeches Went On and On and on and….

I had no trouble listening to Rob Oakeshott’s speech yesterday when he took over sixteen minutes to tell us he was going to support Labor in parliament.  Announcing his decision at the end of the speech rather than the beginning was a sure way to keep our attention.  Would we have listened to his comments if he had announced his decision first?

Oakeshott’s speech was nothing compared to what politicians dished up in 1910.  For the last few weeks I have been reading the parliamentary debates regarding Queensland’s Bible in State Schools referendum and the subsequent amendment to the Education Act that reintroduced religious instruction into Queensland’s schools.  We know that parliamentary debates can be lengthy but one debate on the issue in October 1910 went on for twenty three hours – yes, 23 hours!  They started at 4pm and finished at 2:20pm the next day with a 75 minute break for breakfast.  Yes, they were complaining at 2:45am but they soldiered on.

As we all know, our productivity and thought processes drop when we lack sleep.  Sometimes we get plain silly.  Take this observation from a member in the wee hours of the morning:

Mr. Murphy pointed out that religious instruction was taught in the schools in Portugal in the morning, and that might have had some influence on the revolution going on in that country.

Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 6 Oct. 1910, p. 1323.

Not suprisingly no-one responded to this comment.  Or maybe they did but the Hansard reporter was having a micro-sleep at the time.  The Hansard reporter had given up transcribing everything and had started to summarise.  The politicians chose to debate at these unusual hours.  Hansard reporters had no choice.

And in the interests of not emulating the loquaciousness of these politicians I will sign off!