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Lessons from History

Leading historians tackle Australia’s greatest challenges

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Does history repeat itself in meaningful ways, or is each problem unique? How can a knowledge of Australian history enhance our understanding of the present and prepare us for the future?

Lessons from History is written with the conviction that we must see the world, and confront its many challenges, with an understanding of what has gone before. A diverse range of historians, including Graeme Davison, Yves Rees, Joan Beaumont, Ann Curthoys, Mahsheed Ansari, Peter Spearritt and Frank Bongiorno, tackles the biggest challenges that face Australia and the world and shows how the past provides context and insight that can guide us today and tomorrow.

‘Know the past to change the future. Insightful essays by leading historians on the complex back stories of some of our most vexed policy challenges.’ – Judith Brett

Lessons from History makes a formidable case for the contemporary real-world relevance, in both national and international policymaking, of deep historical understanding. Hugh White’s account of the lessons of 1914 and 1939 for today’s would-be warriors – just one of twenty-two invariably thought-provoking essays – is alone worth the purchase price. A rich and rewarding collection which should be read by anyone concerned for Australia’s future.’ – Gareth Evans

‘For several decades now our national mentality has been dominated by economists and culture warriors. Few dare stand up to them. In this book, our top historians begin the fightback. As the pandemics, recessions, extremism and wars of the twentieth century return, the history profession announces its intention to re-enter the public sphere to help create a better future – and not a moment too soon. Lessons from History is the statement of intent all believers in the importance of this crucial discipline have been waiting for.’ – Dennis Glover

‘When devising policies to address everything from climate change, to racial justice and gender equality, to war and conflict, history and historical thinking are not only relevant, this book shows they are essential.’ – Phillipa McGuinness

‘A book for the times – an astute contribution to public debate. In twenty-two lively and eminently readable essays leading historians present a compelling case for the importance of history to add span, depth, context and above all wisdom to our policy making repertoire.’ – Henry Reynolds

Lessons from History rejects forcing the square peg of history through the round hole of the present. It also refuses the idea that history is irrelevant in understanding or solving today’s challenges. Thoughtful, detailed and enlightening, the broad scope encompasses many of the topics our nation wrestles with daily in our media and private conversations, and readers may be surprised to discover how often Australia relitigates the same issues. This book offers suggestions, warnings, and hope, but it also engages the reader in a dialogue, asking what the past can tell us not just about our present or our future, but about ourselves. I loved this book.’ – Susan Carland

'As 'timeworkers', historians are uniquely placed to help change the story we tell ourselves about how history unfolds.' – Fiona Capp, Saturday Age