Building on Sand: Nation, Borders, Myth and History

Heather Goodall

Abstract

Building on Sand brought together scholars with high profile roles as public intellectuals whose work is engaged in three very different geographic areas: Australia, Israel/Palestine and India/Pakistan. Each of these, as the conjoined names of two suggest, are sites of conflict over the nature of the civil and social authority which holds power and the peoples who claim to belong there. History has been a central theme in the rhetoric of these political conflicts, in which a unitary and authoritative history for a ‘nation’ and a ‘state’ has been built on the shifting sands of always-emerging historical evidence and its interpretations. In each of these three regions, a history which celebrated national formation and unity was challenged by ‘new’ historians in the 1970s [or 1980s or 1990s]. They used a similar set of methodologies like oral history, popular culture and the built environment: the toolkit of researching ‘history from below’ for a generation of social and cultural historians. Such new histories have been now been challenged themselves by a reassertion of the validity of a celebratory ‘national’ history based on unproblematic, ‘factual’ evidence. These recent conflicts between the ‘new’ historians and the (even newer) re-asserters of a ‘national’ history have been bruising encounters, with high stakes in terms of individual reputations, public emotions and the real, personal safety in some cases of the participants and, more importantly, of vulnerable oppositional communities.

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