It is disturbing for an Australian to discover that debates about genocide often do not move very far beyond the classic area of study – Europe under the Nazis – before someone mentions the antipodes. Genocide is a crime, in other words, for which Australia is listed among the usual suspects.
The bowels of university libraries are often cluttered with the remnants of past historical approaches. The Cambridge History of the British Empire (1929-59) is one such work.
Over the past few decades New Zealand has undergone a unique process of historical reappraisal. A nation that at one time liked to boast of having the finest ‘race relations’ in the world is today learning to come to terms with a rather different reality. For many Maori the process of colonisation left behind an enduring trail of dispossession, marginalisation, poverty and bitterness.
In Ocean Under Steam Frances Steel explores the impact of the 19th-century sea transport revolution in one of the extremities of the British Empire, the South Pacific Ocean. Published as part of the Manchester University Press ‘Studies in Imperialism’ series, under the general editorship of John MacKenzie, this is a self-consciously ‘de-centred’ imperial history.
A top-notch monograph in the Cambridge imperial and post-colonial studies series, this book reflects the kind of thorough coverage of issues plus analytical depth that one has come to expect from doctoral research in Commonwealth history at Oxford University.
Angela Woollacott’s new book is a good example of the ways in which Australian historians are being influenced by recent approaches to British imperial history. Just as importantly it shows how the interests of scholars working in these hitherto largely separate fields have converged.