The Making History initiative and Australian popular history

Michelle Arrow*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In 2004, the Australian Liberal-National Party Coalition Government promised that, if re-elected, they would commission Film Australia to produce ten documentaries on Australia's history. The fruit of this promise was the Making History initiative, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the resulting ten documentaries during 2007-9. The Making History initiative represented a significant funding boost to the documentary sector, and to history television in particular. The films were distinctive in their presentation of a largely masculine narrative of public achievement as Australia's past. Yet they were also noteworthy for their reliance on dramatization: like much of history on television, the Making History films offered audiences the possibility of 'knowing' the past through emotions, empathy and images, rather than through the expertise of the historian. This paper explores the genesis and development of the Making History initiative in its industrial, televisual and political contexts. It argues that, in order to understand why interpretation of the past has become so contested in contemporary Australia, one needs to pay close attention to the ways in which popular histories communicate and understand the past. Dramatization has the potential to offer an emotional connection to history, and while this might make historians uneasy, its centrality to the popularity of television histories requires close analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-174
Number of pages22
JournalRethinking History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


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