History Goes Walkabout

Could the methods of history—and not just its objects of study—be decolonized? This essay explores analogous areas of cultural production, such as painting, to determine how historians might begin to produce work that lies outside the Western, Euro-Christian imaginary. It focuses on the case of Australia and the means by which Aboriginal artists have reanimated and recalibrated traditional forms of knowledge, offering new bases for thinking about the history and temporalities of Australia. The work of the painter Tim Johnson is then presented as an example for history in his demonstration of the ways in which indigenous methods and ways of seeing the world can be deployed by Others. The ethical, theoretical, and practical challenges that accompany such work are detailed, alongside a historiographical account of the way in which these discussions mesh with seminal debates in postcolonialism, subaltern studies, and settler colonialism as they relate to historical theory. Drawing on recent work in History and Theory, the article asks: what might be the consequences for history were it not to develop a meaningful “global turn,” arguing that a critical moment has been reached in which modes of understanding the world that come from outside the West need to be incorporated into historians’ repertoires for thinking and making.