The Work of History edited by Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

The question is often asked if written history should be subjective or objective. Answering this question has led to many debates and discussions. Those debates and discussions include whether history as a discipline should be taken seriously or removed from the fabric of society entirely.

It is therefore good to come across a volume such as this one edited by Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski celebrating and honouring the legacy of Stuart Macintyre one of Australia’s leading historians. Macintyre’s contribution to Australian history stretches over forty-five years. Beilharz and Supski have brought together a wide range of contributors who either worked or were taught and supervised by Macintyre during this part of his academic career. They also reached out to include colleagues and former students who worked with him when he was studying and writing while at the University of Cambridge where he gained his doctorate where he focused on Marxism, communism and labour history.

On his return to Australia, Macintyre chose to focus solely on Australian topics within these fields and others such as the humanities and social sciences. Through the book, the picture emerges of a committed historian who never forgot the roots that shaped his thinking. Macintyre was also generous with both his time and expertise. This is shown in many of the contributions that make up the chapters of this book. This generosity, though it is never mentioned, may have limited time he could spend with his wife Martha and their family. We often don’t think of this part of life when we honour someone whose professional life is as dominant as Macintyre’s was.

As well as teaching, researching and writing Macintyre was also a department head at the University of Melbourne. This meant a constant round of meetings and decision-making which too often went beyond the boundaries of the university into the wider realms of civic society. According to some of the contributors, he managed to fit everything in. He was either very good at time management or he was one of those people who seem to have time for everything that comes their way.

Macintyre knew about this book and supported its production to the extent of writing a response that is included towards the end. Unfortunately, he died in November 2021 before it was published.

As someone who is interested in history I enjoyed reading about the contribution and legacy that Macintyre offered students, colleagues and the wider community during his academic life and career. Each contributor spoke highly of his supportive and collegiate nature that helped them shape their own careers and thinking. For Macintyre, history was very important for the health and wellbeing of society.

Australia’s narrative has depended on history writing and telling. What Macintyre showed was that we, as a nation, must continue to nurture and refine the stories for history to give us a better understanding of our past so we can positively engage with the present and prepare for the future.

The Work of History – Writing for Stuart Macintyre

Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski (Editors)

(2022)

MUP

ISBN: 978 052287 860 8

$39.99; 392pp

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