Monday, 26 September 2011

Knowledge, nation and democracy in post-war Australia

Project project, coming soon!

Nestled into the heart of the old Federal Parliament House was the parliamentary library, housing the knowledge upon which the nation’s decisions would be based. Indeed, as the monumental symbols of democracy and government have been progressively constructed in Canberra’s parliamentary precinct, knowledge has consistently held a prominent place. Just beyond the treasury, signifying the wealth of the nation, sit two other important symbols of Australia’s wealth. The National Library, embodying the nation’s accumulated knowledge and Questacon, a tribute to discovery and innovation. It is apt that the old parliamentary library now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy, for knowledge was the substance upon which the nation’s wealth was built, the material that informed and legitimised its democratic process.

In the 1940s and 1950s, when nation building was a key priority and democracy seemed a precious and fragile ideal, the Commonwealth government supported several mechanisms that would nurture knowledge. That is what this project is about.

The National Archives of Australia – itself a monument to the significance of knowledge to democracy – holds records of key knowledge institutions. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Council for Education Research, the Australian National Research Council, the Australian Pacific Territories Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Atomic Energy Commission are among the archives that will be studied in this project. These organisations combine in the 1940s and 1950s with a new Federal focus on the universities, which the files of the Australian Universities Commission and the 1957 Murray Review will support. The project will seek out the common elements of nation building that cross these disparate activities as well as acknowledging their individual contributions to Australia’s development. In particular, it will look for connections between the economic goals of this corpus of initiatives and Australian hopes for its democracy.   

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