A fresh approach to modern history

01 NOVEMBER 2017
In a series of short interviews, our Modern History Transformed authors – Daryl Le Cornu, Christopher Bradbury and Kay Carroll – discuss how this text encourages students to become historians and to see the relevance of history to the contemporary world.

CUP: What makes Sydney’s Quarantine Station an interesting topic for The Nature of Modern History? 

Kay Carroll: The Q station (the Quarantine station) over at North Head is really intriguing to students. It’s a story and a site that tells us about our past, about our migration story. It tells us about disease and death. It traces our development way back from when we were a convict colony into the Gold Rush era and then to more modern twentieth century times. It tells a story of white Australia and what happened during Federation. It also tells us what happened after that, how we perhaps were very xenophobic and racist at the time, but then the Q station was also a place where migrants were actually housed, where we have Operation Baby Lift during the Vietnam War. Throughout the Quarantine Station is a whole range of physical sites and buildings that students can explore and begin to understand what it may have been like to come to a new place, to start their life in Sydney, but being quarantined and secluded and isolated. There are also 1600 inscriptions written into the sandstone as people arrive, which have been etched and carved and painted, which tells their story: what ships they may have came on, when their journey commenced, how many people survived. It also tells us of their hopes and fears and sometimes of their despair and I think those stories are incredibly intriguing. So, for Modern History students, it’s an opportunity to actually investigate archaeological as well as the written records and to start to see how should we commemorate, how we should preserve these sites and engage with the ethics, and to think about adaptive reuse. But more importantly, it allows students to actually get out and explore and DO history and actually undertake a site study and I think that’s fascinating and exciting.

CUP: Why is the decline and fall of the Romanov Dynasty a great case study for Investigating Modern History?

Christopher Bradbury: The decline and the fall of the Romanov Dynasty has always been a very popular option for senior students and with the changes that have been made to the syllabus I think it’s going to be more popular…What we’ve tried to do with Modern History Transformed is provide a detailed analytical account as to what happened during that period. But there is also a strong link to the importance of the history in regards to the current day, and I think it’s really important that students understand Russian history and obviously how that connects to what’s currently happening in regards to world affairs. The Romanov Dynasty essentially is about the personality study of Tsar Nicholas II, a complex, great debatable topic in regards to his leadership and it looks at the fact that you have a tremendous dynasty that has essentially built Russia into a great empire that now falls to Tsar Nicholas II in terms of how he is going to manage and handle these particular elements. And it really looks at the political nature of making decisions and the effects that all decisions can make on a nation. So, students are obviously captivated and engaged by the relationship between Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. They are definitely interested with the arrival of Rasputin, the mad monk, when he comes into the equation. I think the topic enables students to become historians and to evaluate how this particular great dynasty has come to a point where it will end and ultimately Russia will descend into a Communist state.

We have the opportunity to look at social and economic conditions within Russia. We look at how Russia almost came to collapse with the 1905 revolution, and ultimately the impact of the first World War, which we know had incredible consequences in regards to the political structures within Europe, but most significantly to Russia. Some of the decisions that Tsar Nicholas II made during that particular episode in regards to becoming Commander-in-Chief and leaving the political matters to his wife Alexandra who was under the influence of Rasputin is captivating history to study. And sadly, for the Tsar and the Romanov’s those particular decisions effect the leadership of that particular time and ultimately the Bolshevik’s who will eventually come to power in 1917. But history is about drama. And this is what the decline and fall the Romanov’s is all about and students are absolutely interested in those particular areas and I think in light of the fact that we’ve now approached the centenary of the 1917 revolution, I think it’s an absolutely appropriate time for students to engage in this particular area of history and to understand how Russia has developed and transformed since this particular time 100 years later.

CUP: How is World War I covered in Year 11?

Daryl Le Cornu: In Modern History Transformed we have chapters 10, 11 and 12 on World War I. Chapter 10 looks at the historical context, helps us understand what the world was like in 1914, helps us understand the historical forces that were at play at that time and helps us understand why the war started.

Chapter 11 looks at the nature of the war. It gives us a chronological framework to better understand the war, to look at the various stages in the war, and to also look at how people at the time saw the war from their eyes, whether it’s soldiers in the trenches, political leaders or activists, to look at it from their view of the time.

Chapter 12 looks at the legacy and the modernity of World War I, at the lessons not learned at the end of the war, and the lessons that were learned; at the lessons that were then relearned again at the World War II and perhaps learned better in fashioning the post-World War II settlement, so it creates a link between World War I and the core in Year 12. And, of course, we also look at modernity. There are certain aspects of World War I that are still with us, so we try and shine a light on those and think about how does World War I still affect us today.

CUP: What makes the Meiji Restoration a great case study for Investigating Modern History?

Kay Carroll: In Modern History Transformed we’ve chosen to focus on the Meiji Restoration because it’s incredibly interesting to students and it has such an important connection with the Core (People Power and Authority) that they study in Year 12. So, when we look at the Meiji, we’re talking around nineteenth century, we’re talking at a time with steamships and we’re talking about foreign relations between Japan that had been excluded under the Tokugawa, and with Samurai culture and with Shoguns. So, it’s incredibly fascinating and visual for students and they have that link with modern day contemporary society and the way of the warrior and Bushido. But then you have the story of Matthew Perry arriving with his gunboats opening up Japan, opening up Edo Harbour, and we have that continuation of that story into the twentieth century when we look at events such as Pearl Harbour, when we look at the rise of Japan in the twentieth century…it was a very militaristic society, an authoritarian society, that is partly explained by the Meiji Restoration. And in that Meiji Restoration we’re talking around how society changed from the Charter Oath, how, of course, everyone was able to be educated, the massive industrialisation that occurred in the very short period of time and modernisation. But we are also talking about, how Japan retained its traditional culture, the belief in the Emperor, and that return to traditional religion and values and the rise of Nationalism. So, it’s an important and intriguing study because it gives us an Asian and nineteenth century perspective, but it also gives students an insight and an opportunity to develop the scaffolds and the links into their Core Study for Year 12 which makes it critically important.

CUP: Tell us about the Cuban Revolution and its impact on Latin America

Christopher Bradbury: I’ve always found the case study on the Cuban Revolution and its impact on Latin America to be a tremendous one for both teachers and students. But in light of the death of Fidel Castro at the end of last year, this adds great relevance to this topic and I think it’s an absolute must for the history classroom. Students find it incredibly intriguing how long Castro was able to lead Cuba, the fact that this is a leader who came to his death at the end of last year but had been involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, had been involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, came to power in 1959. And Castro was a polarising figure, he divides the community. Some see him as a crusader for social justice who addressed education reform through literacy, healthcare, whereas others see him as a bloodthirsty tyrant no better than any other dictator that has been represented on the world’s stage in regards to twentieth century history. So, there’s a really good opportunity for debate.

The other key area in regards to study is understanding the notion of revolution. The Cuban Revolution is a fascinating event. We’re able to see the rise of Castro, the fall of the Batista Regime, which was linked to America, and ultimately how Castro sought to transform Cuba. And we need to make an assessment on how successful he was in doing so.

The third component of the study, which is very important and where I think Modern History Transformed does a fantastic job, is the ability to address the impact on Latin America (what did the Cuban Revolution represent in Cuba, but also in the broader context of Latin America.) We go into great detail on this particular area and we also extend to its influence in Africa and Europe. Fidel Castro was a well-known leader and as a result other countries were quite intrigued with what had developed in that area. This is a topic that has drama, it’s engaging, it’s again captivating like many of the other chapters that we have, but it’s highly relevant to the contemporary world. Students are able to make that link between major historical events and the current political state of the United States of America and Latin America.

Name *
Email *
Comment *
Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.

Be the first to leave a comment