‘Hand me down the book, Mum’: Australian First World War Military Unit Histories and their Readers

By Paul Skrebels.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Books about the exploits of Australian military units in World War One have been published in various forms almost continuously since the cessation of hostilities. Indeed, the surge of interest in Australia's military history, spurred on by the arrival of key anniversaries, government agendas promoting military culture, and a trend towards genealogy and heritage among the populace, has seen no let-up in the publication of new unit histories and the reprinting of old ones. Close to a century on, of course, readerships for these works have changed considerably. Produced initially for returned veterans and their families as mementoes of service, unit histories have evolved to meet the needs and interests of descendants, researchers and other readers who no longer have direct connections with the conflict or the society which spawned it. This issue of time is crucial in highlighting the transience of any text, reminding us that each is the product of a particular historical moment, and as such can be said to have not so much a life as a series of lives, all contingent upon which point in its history it is being read. Thus unit histories, while maintaining a broadly recognisable generic form and function in order to commemorate and celebrate the deeds of the unit and its personnel, must anticipate the needs of future readers to make sense of it all. The challenge for the writer, editor and publisher is how a unit history might retain a meaningful place within the culture with the passage of time.

Keywords: Australian Military History, Unit Histories, First World War, Readership, Commemoration

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp.51-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 774.289KB).

Dr. Paul Skrebels

Senior Lecturer, School of Communication, International Studies and Languages, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Dr. Paul Skrebels teaches in the Writing and Creative Communication program at the University of South Australia. He is a founder member of the University’s Narratives of War research group, and has edited one of the group’s books and contributed papers to its symposia. He has a long-standing interest in military history generally, is a member of the Military Historical Society of Australia, and has published articles on various military topics. His other teaching and research interests include creative nonfiction, textual intervention as a creative technique, and Shakespeare studies. In 2011 Dr. Skrebels was appointed editor of the Military Historical Society of Australia’s journal, Sabretache.

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