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Books that Changed Humanity: The Australian Legend
BOOKS THAT CHANGED HUMANITY
Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958) began life as a doctoral thesis in history at the Australian National University – among the University’s first – and in due course became one of the most influential books ever written on Australian history. As essentially a study of a national image, The Australian Legend codified a particular way of understanding Australian identity that has had continuing resonance in the culture. It anticipated as it influenced the ‘national identity’ debates that began in the 1960s and are still with us. It was also, in international terms, a pioneering radical social history, notably in its use of popular culture to reconstruct the consciousness of ordinary folk. There are good reasons to consider it alongside the innovative histories produced by post-war British radical historians such as Rodney Hilton, Christopher Hill and Edward Thompson – indeed, Thompson referenced The Australian Legend in The Making of the English Working Class. It is doubtful whether any Australian history book has provoked more debate. And there are few that remain so important more than sixty years after publication.
Professor Frank Bongiorno, AM, is the Head of the School of History at ANU, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is an Australian political, labour, and cultural historian and public intellectual, with a particular interest in the history of the Australian Labor Party, whose books include The People's Party: Victorian Labor and the Radical Tradition 1875-1914 (1997), The Sex Lives of Australians: A History (2012), and The Eighties: The Decade That Transformed Australia (2015).