Since 2021, the Centre for Contemporary Histories has conducted the Deakin Contemporary History Survey (DCHS), which is the first nation-wide, longitudinal study of Australian attitudes to history. The DCHS seeks to find out what Australians think, believe and value about history – and how this is changing over time.
We know that while enrolments in history subjects in school and university are declining, history is still important to Australian governments and communities. Claims about the nation’s past are regularly the topic of heated political debate and media coverage. Every year, Australians spend significant time and money reading popular history, watching historical documentaries and researching their own family histories. Australian governments allocate millions of dollars to institutions such as museums and archives that preserve historical records and artefacts. History remains a compulsory element of schooling for Australian children until Year 10. Yet despite the obvious political, social and economic importance of history, we know very little about what Australians actually think, believe and value about history.
The DCHS addresses this significant gap in our understanding of the Australian public by asking adult Australians across the nation to tell us their views on history. What do Australians think history is and what is it for? How have they learned about the past and how do they decide what historical knowledge is trustworthy? What are their experiences and opinions about history education? And what role do they believe history should play in the life of the nation?
Our two pilot surveys, conducted in November 2021 and June 2023 have provided evidence of some widely shared understandings of history, as well as points of significant division and change over time. We reported the results of our first survey in The Conversation. This survey of more than 5000 adult Australians showed that there is a widespread desire for more education about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history in schools. It also found that younger Australians are much more likely than older Australians to believe that Australia Day should not be celebrated on 26 January.
A report on our second pilot survey and comparison of the results is forthcoming and we are currently developing the main survey to be conducted in 2024/2025.