Greeks and Moderns: The Search for Culture in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918


THE Official History of Australia in the War of 1914- 1918 provided Australians with an opportunity to assert the significance of their history to an international as well as a domestic audience. C.E.W. Bean, the architect, general editor and principal author of the twelve-volume history, believed that during the war 'the Australian nation, previously almost unknown to most other peoples, won the respect of the world. The task of the Australian war historian is to record that fact and the reason for it ... ' (qtd. in Inglis 90). The various audiences imagined for the Official History raised concerns over the level of culture appropriate to the task, and debates over an appropriate literary style characterised its early production (Barker). Bean's response to these concerns selected and combined traditions of culture which were stratifYing in Britain, Europe and the United States in ways which bear out Richard Waterhouse's argument that in Australia during this period 'the division between high and low culture remained less clear and defined' (133; see also Heyck, and Levine). The search for an appropriate level of address in the Official History invokes differing perceptions of the public available to Australian cultural production between the wars, and styles which were thought appropriate to them. In this essay I want to use the debate over style in the production of the first two published volumes of the Official History, Bean's Volume 1, The Story of Anzac (1921) and H.S. Gullett's Volume VII The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine 1914- 1918 (1923) to examine the attempts to balance journalistic colour, military spirit and classical decorum, and imagine a discursive form of vernacular masculinity appropriate to official commemoration, international reputation and the Australian public.

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Published 1 October 2007 in Volume 23 No. 2. Subjects: Australian history, Historiography, World War I.

Cite as: Lee, Christopher. ‘Greeks and Moderns: The Search for Culture in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 2007, doi: 10.20314/als.4e4fc1057e.