No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.
In this landmark book, eminent historian and award-winning author Tom Griffiths explores the craft of discipline and imagination that is history.
Through portraits of fourteen historians, including Inga Clendinnen, Judith Wright, Geoffrey Blainey and Henry Reynolds, he traces how a body of work is formed out of a life-long dialogue between past evidence and present experience. With meticulous research and glowing prose, he shows how our understanding of the past has evolved, and what this changing history reveals about us.
Passionate and elegant, The Art of Time Travel conjures fresh insights into the history of Australia and renews our sense of the historian’s craft.
In The Art of Time Travel, Tom Griffiths discusses 14 ‘historians and their craft’. While some of these are academic historians and anthropologists, others are novelists or poets such as Eleanor Dark, Judith Wright, and Eric Rolls; but all are distinguished by their literary skills and imaginative depth. While adhering to the strictest requirements of disciplined scholarship and objectivity, these historians also convey their wonder, astonishment, and feeling for the often strange but always authentic worlds they bring to the reader’s understanding and delight. Like Doctor Who’s Tardis, their writing is a historiographical machine which enables them to travel into the past, and like the Doctor himself, they can’t resist stepping into and experiencing those other worlds.
Those other worlds may be distant in time, but understating them is crucial to our ‘life, death and meaning’ as Griffiths has said in an interview. Griffiths (a master storyteller and literary stylist himself) recuperates indigenous antiquity as a narrative fundamental to contemporary identity in his subtle and digressive readings of his subjects. Alongside this central theme, many other unique and exotic episodes show how history is to be read in many discourses: in our art, in our language, in our environment, in our cities, in our culture, and in ordinary and extraordinary experience.
Tom Griffiths is the W K Hancock Professor of History at the Australian National University and the author of Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History (2001) and Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia (1996). His books and essays have won prizes in literature, history, science, politics and journalism, including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, and the Douglas Stewart and Nettie Palmer Prizes for Non-Fiction.