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Alan Hollinghurst and public history

2012 July 27

We have just submitted the draft of our Public History Reader to the publishers. We explore the ways in which the past is never fixed and is being constantly re-written and contested. We have discussed examples of Australian historians, such as Peter Read, looking at landscape anew from an indigenous perspective or the work of public historians in New Zealand working with Maori communities challenging western historical orthodoxy of interpretations of the past – and land ownership – through the Waitangi tribunals.

stranger snapshot

However, if I had read Alan Hollinghurst’s book The Stranger’s Child before this week I am sure that I would have included it as another fascinating example of the fluidity of the past. This wonderful and engaging book explores different interpretations over a hundred years of linked fictional events from the summer of 1913. This is not an unravelling as such in whodunit mode but rather an exploration of the ways that different personal and historical circumstances influence the way individuals interpret the past. Moreover ‘external historical events’ such as the Great War or the 1967 Sexual Offences Act are not included as obligatory add-ons to indicate ‘history’ but are employed to explain the way that actions, behaviour and ways of seeing change over time. Apart from being a great read it is also a wonderful introduction to the ways that the past gets made into history – and is constantly re-written, reinvented – or forgotten.

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