Publication Details

T. H. Irving 2013 Labour History and its political role - a new landscape Radical Sydney/Radical History Published version of an address to an academic forum on the occasion of the 100th issue of the journal, 'Labour History', at the University of Sydney, 2011.

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Radical Sydney


As I was thinking about what to say today I read an article on Manning Clark and found something that made me pause. It was a description of our venerable journal, Labour History, but characterizing it in terms that none of us would use, at least not in public. Instead of describing our field, our sources or our methods, our long list of illustrious contributors, it said that Labour History was the journal of Australia’s left-wing historians.

Well, this was in Wikipedia – but nonetheless it struck me that, yes, this is a truth I am prepared to accept. I’m sure there others here today – editors, contributors, readers - who share my acceptance. While I was editor of the journal I assumed it was part of a cluster of left-wing journals, and of course its founding editors were quite clear about its left-wing purpose. And yet, in academic gatherings today labour historians rarely talk about themselves as left-wing.

To use a very tired metaphor, left-wing politics is our elephant in the room. If that is so, perhaps with a bit of imagination we might get our gear together and move into a new landscape.