What sorts of concerns are captured in the notion of Contemporary Histories and can this flexibly-used concept be further sharpened in ways that have purposive or explanatory value?
Although temporal definitions of contemporary histories are still used to define missions of groups around the world, there seems to be a growing interest in the contemporary referring to a sense of engagement with the public sphere. Indeed, John Tosh has recently argued that we need to enlarge the idea of ‘public history’, which has sometimes been construed as what non-academics do; and Dipesh Chakrabarty has written of the importance of addressing ‘the public life of history’, contrasting it with what he calls history’s ‘cloistered life’ in universities. At Deakin we have also signalled our orientation towards ‘Provoking the Present through the Past’, and we continue to build our provocations thematically, bringing to bear a range of historical and literary approaches.
The dismantling of a universal concept of knowledge has enabled a democratic pluralism, and a healthy suspicion of dogmatism, on the one hand, but has also been destabilising in ways that impact on public conversations, on the other. The need for robustly-constituted signposts and narratives underpinning conversations about our pasts and futures is paramount. The modern concept of Contemporary Histories, therefore, captures a concern for high quality academic work that leads logically to highly communicable engagement with public and policy debates over the nature of change, and the challenges we face.