While scholars have examined different aspects of Aboriginal people’s past since the late nineteenth century, Aboriginal history as a distinct field was not formalised until the early 1970s with the first dedicated course taught at La Trobe University and the journal Aboriginal History inaugurated in 1975. In the intervening five decades Aboriginal history, like other fields of history, has evolved in different ways, responding to new lines of inquiry, calls for the recognition of new and alternative sources of evidence, and changing theoretical and cross- disciplinary influences. Aboriginal history has also been shaped by shifting political fronts triggered by anti-racist activism, Indigenous assertions of autonomy and self-determination, momentous changes in political and legal recognition, and increasing numbers of Indigenous scholars in the academy. Despite these developments inside and outside universities, Aboriginal history arguably remains the most contested field of Australian history, often seen as posing the greatest challenge to Australia’s national history. As Anna Clark recently argued, this is history that remains ‘unfinished business, driven in part by debates over colonisation, sovereignty, injustice and decolonisation’. In this presentation I will explore the ‘unfinished business’ of Aboriginal history, what I see as perennial issues regarding who can tell Aboriginal history, the past as a source of dignity, and whether and how the discipline should be decolonised.
Associate Professor Shino Konishi, University of Western Australia
Shino Konishi is an Aboriginal historian, and descends from the Yawuru people of Broome, Western Australia. She is an Associate Professor in the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University, and her research interests include histories of exploration, cross-cultural encounter, and collecting practices. Shino currently leads an ARC project on Indigenous biography, in collaboration with the Australian Dictionary of Biography.