Issue 3, 2006 | Richard J B Bosworth

Doing Europe from Australia: an Idiosyncratic Historian’s Journey

When Jenny Gregory emailed me with the kind invitation to do this talk, the first thought that flashed through my mind was 23 August, hmm, that is the 67th anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.  Perhaps this evening that agreement between what are often written off in today’s parlance as dastardly ‘totalitarians’ hangs somewhere in the background.  Can my automatic evocation of it be proof of my dedication to ‘old-fashioned political and still more old fashioned diplomatic history’?  Is my awareness something to do with my work on Mussolinian Fascism and the Italian people, given that, after all, the word totalitario originated in Italian and spread from there into other languages?  The word was coined by Anti-Fascists who wanted to emphasise the repressive novelty of the Fascist state and its illiberal interference with society and was then taken up by Fascists as an impressive sounding tautology (totally total) to define their own doctrine of ‘all for the state, no one against the state, nothing outside the state’.  Or did my automatic summoning of the egregious champagne salesman, Ribbentrop, and his Soviet colleague, Molotov, known as ‘Iron-Arse’ to his friends, the politician who meekly accepted Stalin’s right to send his wife to Siberia and just went on with his job, a number 2 even more loyal than Peter Costello, demonstrate that my address may be in Como Western Australia, but my mind is always in Europe?  Correggio Jones (Victor Daley) redivivus, no Gander Flat for me; just Italee!

Then there is that other question to address among us.  How should I talk about myself to the WA History Council?  Is your history my history, I must ask?  After all, I am waiting the proofs of my 20th book, I’ve just dealt with those of my 74th scholarly article or chapter, am well past 100 academic book reviews and, since 1994 when I began to count, have given 84 papers on my work in twelve different countries.  Yet this is the first time I have ever spoken to an assembly of in great majority historians of Western Australia.  I should undoubtedly apologise early and fulsomely for my ignorance about much that you do and about why you do it.  Even while I am talking there may be enough meaningful silences and mutual incomprehensions eddying around this room to satisfy the most dedicated John Osborne-ite.

Yet, let me me optimistic about avoiding a dialogue of the deaf and imitate Julius Caesar’s division of Gaul into three.  I shall successively give myself time to be autobiographical, to think a little about my last two long books on Mussolini and Mussolini’s Italy and to end with some comments on my yet to be published and very short study of nationalism, a book with quite a few Australian (and Italian) references in it.  Throughout, my intent will be to underline why Europe and its embattled histories matter (for good).

Over recent years, the UWA History Department, not necessarily on the model of cultural revolutionaries in Mao’s China, has instituted a series of seminars in which staff members come clean to their colleagues about themselves.  Who are they? When did they write their books?  Why did they write their books?  These are the underpinning questions.  Despite my notorious habits of being what Tony Barker has unkindly labelled UWA’s ‘Visiting Professor’, I was trapped by the department early this year into doing such a piece.  My long-to-be-unpublished paper was entitled ‘The education of young Richard’ and it stopped at the moment that Mike and I, young married Sydney-siders, took off to Cambridge on a Commonwealth Scholarship in September 1966.

The infant historian it depicted was a callow young man with an identity forged by class, gender, family, serendipity, Sydney-ness, urban-ness (better descriptors are urbanity or civilization) and perhaps just a tinsy bit of being Australian.  I did not come from below.  All of the Richard Bosworths of whom I was the 5th (those who wish to track Richard-and-Mike-type irony in the soul/sole will remember our ambiguous switch to Edmund as our son’s name; he was the son of York killed too young to be much of a nuisance well before 1485); all the Richard Bosworths, following the arrival of a father and son in Adelaide in 1848, belonged to the professional classes.  My father was an academic; so is Mary, my now Oxford-based daughter; all three of us earned Cambridge PhDs.  I went, as a half-scholarship boy, to a private school, the vile Shore; there I was Dux, a member of the First XI and not a prefect.  I believe from the grovellingly worthy history of the school, a book that I once reviewed slashingly, a unique combination.

At home, in the library and at school and university, I was educated ‘classically’ (I even did Latin as a first year subject at Sydney U. in 1961 and my only surviving school-friend is Jim Adams, perhaps the contemporary world’s best Latinist and ensconced at that last elysium of the humanities, Alls Souls College, Oxford.  Jim and I opened the batting together in the Artarmon Opportunity School side).  I read Shakespeare and Dickens, Dostoevsky and Anatole France (ulp!  I still don’t know why my father read him.  We also had a copy of Mussolini’s ghosted ‘autobiography’ and, as I then did not know, the Bosworth family swastika, even though RCL Bosworth was leftistly inclined in a scientist’s manner).  Most of the books were from my father’s reasonably extensive (for a scientist) library.  It had very little Australian in it; I think once started reading Ion Iddriess (I cannot spell his name) but soon gave up.  No one in my direct line had served in the nation’s armed forces (in World War II, my father, back from Cambridge, did useful chemical research).  We knew nothing about Anzac Day or the scouts.  I also disliked the beach and swimming; bespectacled from the age of 7, I could never see the sea.  I similarly had no time for the Bush; I have once in my life been on a farm when I was about ten — distant relatives near Naracoorte.  I have seen no reason to replicate the experience.

I read vast amounts of history; along with Maths, it was always my ‘best subject’ (as Greenbottle used to say in running gag; Yes What! was one of the very few programmes I listened to except those on the pre-neo-conned A.B.C.).  I learned piano at the conservatorium of music (until cricket practice got in the way) and was attuned to classical music.  I was never much a fan of the Top 40.

I went to university just turned 17.  Sydney university was not Melbourne university; we were to be trained to look out, not in, as we quested for the ‘same mind under a different sky’.  In that education, History was early modern (Europe) in First Year, late modern (Europe) in Second, American in third (with the exception of the one hour a week utterly wasted in the dire course taught on colonial Australia by Duncan MacCallum; in 1963 we got to Governor Gipps).  In Second Year I met Mike and we both did honours (in those pre-dumbed down days which linger at Sydney but no where else, you started research work in Second Year).  Our teacher was the wonderful Ernest Bramsted, not altogether Jewish-Jew, left social democrat, ‘reffo’, and thus ‘History’ or rather ‘Civilization speaking’ in a way that could be matched by none other on the staff.

I did honours in 1964; my father died of long-running heart trouble that March; Mike and I were engaged in December.  We were married in September 1965 in the Anglican church at Gordon on Sydney’s North Shore.  Roy Wotton, the humane rector and relative high churchman, was just about the only Sydney Anglican to oppose the cruel idiocy in Vietnam (whose history is being so shameless twisted and nationalised in these very days).  At the wedding, I wore (my father’s) tails and Mike had four bridesmaids.  A year later we were off to Cambridge and my talk now ventures past what I wrote down on a piece of paper for the department.  I must be brief, also for you.  Cambridge was actually a great disappointment given my mother’s reiterated cry that there she had experienced ‘the happiest years of her life’ (before my sister and I were born).  Research was pleasant enough.  But the English we dealt with were class-ridden and pompous (and inadequate at cricket).  Except when we lived in Rome for the first time in late 1967, there was little intellectual stimulus to be drawn from my doctorate.  For twenty years this barrenness made me an Anglophobe.  It was the push factor that, in February 1969, sent us scurrying back to Sydney and a lectureship there— I wrote and Mike typed my PhD as we came back slowly via Africa by First Class (Italian or even Fascist) boat to Australia; the day’s stop off in Fremantle was the only time I would visit Perth before coming here for the chair interview in 1985.

There was a pull factor — Gough Whitlam, the anti-Vietnam movement and the hope that Australia was about to become a Sweden of the south seas.  One of the first steps we took on return was to join the ALP (we would be purged by Graham Richardson while away in Italy in 1976).  Self-consciously intellectuals of a kind, we soon moved to inner-city Annandale and sent our brilliant children to a ‘radical’ Summerhill-style AS Neill primary school, ‘Currumbena’.  There they could climb trees naked all day and return to us tired enough to discuss serious things; they claim nowadays to have had their taste in film ruined by joining their parents in watching The Draughtsman Contract and Padre padrone when under ten years old.  Each child would go to much graver private secondary schools, until the rebellious Mary moved to Hollywood High when we came to Perth (there she would prepare to become the ‘Trot Bitch from Hell’ party co-leader while she was having a great time as an undergraduate on UWA campus).

In terms of my own work, Italy was taking over; my PhD had been on Britain and Italy, with the emphasis on the first.  I re-constituted it after leaving Cambridge, did a great deal more archival work in Italy and in 1979 published, Italy, the least of the Great Powers.  The title has become a truism and the book began to spread my academic name.  It is still in print.

But three other arenas were making me what I am.  There was teaching, the wonderful teaching of the 1970s and 1980s, to the magnificent undergraduates of Sydney and then UWA.  Then was it bliss indeed to teach in Australia before the disastrous dumbing down of the last decade and a half, before the ludicrous bureaucratisation, before the distracting dispersal of students into a bewildering array of courses, before the grievous abbreviation of courses and of the attention span of staff and students, before the unwise over-emphasis on local PhDs, before the ARC was directed to give 40% of its scores to ‘national interest’, before the revival of the societal or Murdoch press view that at university ‘training’ for employment should be all and civilization nothing, before Australia was confirmed as the dumb country, good, very good, excellent at sport and that is enough, not the Sweden but the Dakota of the South Seas, before the end of history (goak).  For thirty years, the fundamental plank in my identity was Richard Bosworth, undergraduate and especially First Year teacher.

Of course I was also incredibly lucky in what I taught — ‘Europe’, Europe in the twentieth century.  My job was ‘explaining Auschwitz and Hiroshima’ (and the gulag).  The significance of the travail of interwar Europe in the age-old tale of the crimes, follies and tragedies of humankind set my nerves a-tingling and still does.  The magnificent array of historians, — the goaking AJP Taylor, with his telling three initials, was a special favourite — of novelists, film-makers and the rest who have worked on it suffused, and suffuse, me with pleasure, envy and a sense of debt.  I was all the luckier in being schooled at Sydney by Tony Cahill, the sort of academic no longer to be tolerated in our silver age who published nothing and knew everything about every place; our course on the inter-war traced the crisis in Australia as well as in Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, France and the USSR.  Manning Clark joined AJPT, EP Thompson, Lewis Namier and the rest in our First XI (goak).  The teaching inevitably penetrated and guided my research.  When I wrote Italian and, for a while migration history, I did so from an ample knowledge of historiographies beyond the Italian.  I was a Europeanist writ large.  Perhaps I knew the context better than the text but it was a great way to be.  And, of course, Europe remains in 2006, the only hope of humankind, largely because of its terrible years to 1945 and its absorption, however halting, partial and contested, of the lessons of that dark past.

The third field was, in retrospect, less fruitful.  The sadly narrow senior professor at Sydney, JM Ward (a suburban lawyer manqué, he was prevented by his deafness from a career in the Liberal party), was a cunning academic ruler.  He divided the Sydney department into 7 sub-states and enjoyed what was then called ‘professorial power’ while we warred with each other.  My job was to ‘stand up for LME’ and so I joined the sneers when an EME colleague (we must have been in uneasy alliance that week) announced loudly that Australian history was a trifling topic anyone could ‘get up in a week’.  (Ironically not long after she deserted EME for research on Australia and a highly distinguished career administering ‘reform’ in the 1990s).  My own migration history writing was very likely to complain about the monoglot failures of ordinary Australian historians and their cockily insouciant ignorance of international context.  I read little Australian history these days but am still worried that these problems have not been cured.  The Macintyre-Anna Clark book on the History Wars, widely acclaimed I gather by locals, reads to me as a clear case of rediscovering the wheel, just as the history summit seems to me to be ominously denying that the purpose of history as civilized debate is to underpin democracy and not to ‘make the nation’.  Inevitably, in my capacity as a Sydney-history-LME-sub-professorial warrior, I was also making some academic enemies.  From my Sydney boyhood, I knew no good could come from Melbourne, and Canberra was manufactured in Melbourne.  I avoided both places.  Paul Bourke, Barry Smith, Oliver MacDonough, the Big Men of the Australian profession, were no friends or patrons of mine, just as I remain at best a noise off to those successors, however ostensibly different in ideological impulse, who rule in Parkville and over the frozen wastes of ANU.

My waywardness as a historian working in Australia mattered very little to me, partly no doubt because of class arrogance and my yen for iconoclasm, and partly because I had Italy and my growing international reputation and contacts to enjoy.  Perhaps there was a year when I did not spend some time in Italy.  But it was out-matched by years when I went more than once.  There I was an archive and library rat (how superb an activity it is to read and read some more, and I am only seven weeks back from another happy spell in Rome as I speak to you tonight).  Moving to UWA — its splendidly Fascistic, De Chirico-style architecture was immensely attractive and, anyway, I don’t like losing competitions and, during the 1985 contest for the chair, the three external candidates breakfasted together, firing my need to be wittier, smarter and better — was a great step for me.  I still love UWA and am deeply grateful to its generosity in coping with me.

Intellectually, after my stint as HOD was over on 24 December 1990, I became steadily more off shore in my attentions.  My flirtation with migration studies cooled and, on Boxing Day 1990, I started feverishly writing Explaining Auschwitz and Hiroshima, my Teaching Book.  Although John Docker did not like it (in return I find his and Curthoys’ new study of historiography dismal in its prose and argument), others did and I began to be in demand by publishers.  Revising my Anglophobia into a pronounced Anglophilia, I now enjoyed four stints as a visiting fellow at various Cambridge and Oxford colleges (as well as to the Casa Italiana at Columbia, NY and to the University of Trento).  Already in Sydney I had begun a process I continued at UWA regularly to bring out colleagues from the UK, US, Italy and Canada to teach and talk.  Email was also ending the need to go to the tearoom and dally with members of the department when a more interesting conversation could be squinnying across cyber-space from who knows where.  I hated much that was happening to Australian universities in the 1990s and to Australia, made so much worse once John Howard, that spiritual half-brother of Pauline Hanson, brought a suburban lawyer’s narrowness and literalness to power in our ‘reform’-bent, obsessively nationalising country.  For a while I expostulated briefly from the university senate and such places, but soon decided that I was too selfish, loved history and writing too much, and was too good at them to become an academic activist or administrator.  ‘Italee’, it was very much to be.

There have been five books on Italy in the decade between 1996 and 2005 (and an edited and translated Italian one on WA) but I shall restrict myself to meditation on the two WA prize-winners, the biography of Mussolini and the new Mussolini’s Italy: life under the dictatorship, about to hit the newsstands as a critically acclaimed Penguin paperback.  The biography can best be left to its readers.  The story of its being written has much to do with my friendship with Christopher Wheeler, best of editors and, in 1998 of Hodder-Arnold (now he is the history editor of OUP as he deserves to be — I’m editing a handbook on fascism for him).  For a while we indulged in email and London lunchtime ping pong:  ‘Will you do a short biography of BM (as a follow up to the Italian dictatorship, a historiographical study that I was then completing for him)?’  ‘No.  I don’t do biographies’.  ‘OK.  Tell me someone else who may?’  ‘There is x, y and z’.  Pause while the email ran hot to the US.  ‘But they aren’t enthusiastic either.  So, given that Mack Smith’s study is now old hat, why don’t you take 250 000 words and do a full study of Mussolini’?  ‘OK.  That might be fun’.

It was and all the more because it turned out that there were at least five other publishers with not dissimilar ideas.  Mack Smith is a good read but indeed dated.  But there was a jinx.  Two authors died, one had extended heart trouble.  I, too, had my 1999 cardiac by-pass.  But, once I start, I write quickly and so… by 2002 Mussolini was launched in a lovely ceremony at the Imperial War Museum in London, made a little tense by the fact that Hodder had just sacked Christopher; the slightly dilly woman who, in the restless world of the middle management of international publishing, succeeded him lasted only till the end of the year.  I tried to write a biography with the context in but at least one reviewer wanted more of it (and so in my heart — perhaps not my most reliable organ — did I).  Miraculously, Allen Lane-Penguin were soon in contact offering me the chance with what became 275 000 words to do just that.

It was all a very Richard Bosworth tale since a part-Melbourne boy (ulp) at Oxford decided that a writer like me could not be without an agent.  He sent me to London to meet Clare Alexander.  We had a pleasant, long and meandering conversation, after which she drove me hastily across London to a seminar I was giving at the London IHR.  Somewhere in the interstices, lo and behold I had become her client and soon a very nice contract landed on my desk from Penguin, London, and a separate one from Penguin, NY.  Mondadori — the great Italian publishing house was now owned by S. Berlusconi — are doing the translation (as they were already agreed for Mussolini).

What, then, is the point of the book I wanted to entitle punningly Enduring Fascism but Penguin marketers insisted be known as Mussolini’s Italy on the grounds that the punters are scared by participles?  It is one for our times.  In the immense detail of the new book and among its cast of thousands (the police archives were a fabulous source for me), there is a textured message (I choose my adjectives artfully).  It is that Mussolini’s was a malign, cruel, brutal, war-mongering, economically destructive, xenophobic, racist, imperialist, culturally constricting, sexist, anti-communist and anti-union, illiberal (even if quite a few stressed liberals approved it) dictatorship.  It specialised in pre-emptive aggressive wars and cared not a jot for collateral damage.  It bears a black record of causing around one million ‘premature deaths’. 

And yet, and yet.  Compared with Nazi Germany or the USSR or even Franco’s Spain, it offered what a Spanish translator told me one day in Barcelona (we were doing press interviews on the local translation of Mussolini) was ‘totalitarismo lite’.  It oppressed and corrupted the various strands of the Italian populace and its effects can be still traced in the worst aspects of Italy today.  And yet, and yet.  Under its administration, Italians, even Mussolini and his henchmen, were not purged of other histories.  Catholicism, the family, patron-client dealings, regionalism, class, gender and many another stream of history continued to flow through the lives of pre-Fascist, Fascist, and post-Fascist Italians. 

Here beginneth the lesson, you will notice.  Our neo-cons want us to believe that fundamentalists are the new totalitarians (Islamo-fascists), irredeemably fanatical and irrational, each ‘another Hitler’, ‘mad’.  All we can do is bomb them and bomb them again.  That’s what you do with mad men and women, with ‘othered’ terrorists.  But maybe the travails of contemporary Iraq show rather that, even under a deadly dictatorship that itself had some debt to Italian Fascism (the Baathist party had been trained by imperial French fascist fans of Mussolini), being tribalist and familist, Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and the rest matter, too.  Saddam was no ‘mad Hitler’; he was much more like another Mussolini cruelly ruling over a complex of histories and by no means mastering them.  Once the bad man was removed, Iraq was left a prey to the worst side of its own histories, as well as to the cockily insouciant ignorance (I wonder why I repeat the phrase) of the crusading invaders.  Mussolini’s Italy, in my intention at least, fits the claim Tony Cahill and I used to make in LME I that any serious history book is both about the past it addresses and about the author’s present, in my case an Australian and European present.

Meanwhile, I was, for the first time in my life, late on a contract.  It was for a 50000 word lite book on nationalism, for which I had been commissioned by Longman, as it still was, just after Mussolini and before Clare Alexander.  This year I have been writing what has turned out to be half monograph and half tract.  Although there are some dumbed down editorial requirements that are annoying, again it has been fun to do all the more because I can partially indulge myself in using ‘my Australia’ [sic] as an example, when not rushing cheerfully from classical Rome to the Congo, and from medieval England to Israel.  (As Judith Keene noticed recently in the Australian Review of Books, there are always Australian references in my books both in my content and vocabulary; and Mussolini’s Italy has a satisfying photo of young Italo-Melbournians saluting in the ‘Roman’ Fascist manner beneath some gum trees).

In Nationalism, I do admit that nation states, since their invention in the Enlightenment, have provided a political base which has, at a minimum, not blocked massive progress in scientific invention, personal and societal wealth and comfort, demographic growth and even human happiness.  And yet you will not be surprised to hear that I am a critical historian of the nation.  In my eyes, there is the problem of the lies that abound in national histories.  I hate what the publisher’s illiterate desire for sub-titles lets me head the lies of a ‘timeless past’ (say, ‘60000 years’), the ‘lies of the land’ (that site where the theoretics of blood and soil are so cheerfully given a second innings), the ‘lies of Holocaust-imitating victimhood’, the ‘forked tongues of language’, and, worst, the ‘nationalising of empathy’, along with everything else. 

Let me focus on this last matter since, to me, it is the most repellent and destructive feature of contemporary Australia, contemporary Israel, Berlusconi’s Italy and many another place, and where our opting for a world of nations, twenty-first century style, push us ever closer to the horror, the horror.  Perhaps I should take you back to that sometime aspirant Prime Minister of Australia, Peter Costello.  A few months ago, he gave a speech to one of our sprouting think-tanks shoring up the neo-con hegemony.  Costello had been perturbed by the behaviour of some Muslim immigrants; there had been a public riot at a beach-side Sydney suburb fought out between Muslim youths and the local surfers.  It was time in the light of such events, Costello announced, for ‘mushy multiculturalism’ to be relegated to the past.  Now all immigrants, he stated, must accept ‘Australian values’.  If they could not so behave (and he specifically mentioned immigrants who preferred sharia to Australian law), then they should leave and find a niche in a society to which they were better fitted. 

The phrasing was emblematic.  Costello was not really about to purge large numbers of immigrants and send them home (the Australian economy could not afford such a loss).  Yet, by talking about national values rather than civilized ones when he was endorsing the rule of law, the practices of parliamentary democracy, a free press and gender equality, Costello was pushing the nationalization of his own and Australians’ empathy.  With a profound and menacing gap between the liberal democratic part of his mind and the national one, Costello was requiring his fellow citizens to view the world through national eyes and through national eyes only.

It is unfair to pick on poor Costello.  Every media organ in this country, led so hypocritically by the Murdoch press (given Mr. Murdoch’s own multiple nationalities and global interests), hammers away every day to replace universal humane values and civilization with the little interests and preoccupations of the nation.  It is Australians who matter in a conflict between Israel and Lebanon or in the death toll at Bali.  When there is talk about reviving history in schools what is envisaged is national history (of the right ideological kind), history that will ‘make Australians’, propaganda-history, dumbed-down-history, history that will obscure the suffering and joys of humankind in the interests of ‘us’, nationalised-history.  Such study is not designed to help the next generation understand that nothing in the human story is alien to them or to seek the same mind under a different sky.  Rather, only Australian values will matter and, when I am back in Perth, I shall feel ever more lost in my capacity as Pakistan cricket fan since 1955 (when my mother gave me my first Wisden and I was entranced by Pakistan’s successful first tour of England in 1954).

And so we reach the coda of this lecture.  I am of course about to become just a 0.5 ‘visiting professor’ at UWA, with my other 0.5 till my retirement is paid for by the RAE-alert University of Reading (the best centre of Italian studies in the UK).  I shall greatly enjoy my months of not having to read the Australian, not having to see John Howard on TV and being able to commune with my granddaughters, half-Australian, half-New Zealander, half-American, half-British, half-Italian and half-Japanese as they are, living proof that 0.5 X 6 = 1, or can do.  As I work with my own halfnesses, I have a great contract with Yale UP to fulfil, (apart from editing the Oxford Handbook on fascism).  The new work’s title is Rome and its histories 1750-2000.  The idea that I could do it came to me one research time in Rome when Mike and I were staying with some Conceptionist Spanish nuns. 

The Arch of Gallienus lay nearby.  Not Titus.  Not Septimius Severus.  Not Constantine.  But Gallienus?  The emperor of Rome 253-268 was known to me through Gibbon as the ruler who presided over an ‘uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity’.  His father Valerian lost a battle against the Persian emperor, Sapor, and paid a high penalty, Gibbon relates: ‘We are told that Valerian, in chains, but invested with the Imperial purple, was exposed to the multitude, a constant spectacle of fallen greatness; and that whenever the Persian monarch mounted on horseback, he placed his foot on the neck of the Roman emperor.  When Valerian sunk under the weight of shame and grief, his skin, stuffed with straw, and formed into the likeness of a human figure, was preserved for ages in the most celebrated temple of Persia; a more real monument of triumph than the fancied trophies of brass and marble so often erected by Roman vanity’.

But, Gibbon adds, Gallienus did not waste much time on filial piety.  Rather he rejoiced to become the sole possessor of the empire, no longer his father’s junior.  His time for pleasure was short.  He reigned when the city was beset by ‘thirty tyrants’, each of whom took up arms against him (Gibbon reckons the number cited in the Augustan History is an exaggeration and really there were only nineteen, and they included an aspirant empress, Zenobia, in Palmyra).  In any case, the arch of Gallienus is something of a fake, since it was built under Augustus as the tripled gated Porta Esquilina and then re-adapted in 262 to celebrate Gallienus and his wife Salonina.  Moreover, today, the arch lies in a back alley reeking of Roman cats, it is about to be reached by contemporary Chinese and Bangladeshi Rome and its inscription hailing the emperor’s mercy looks very much like politician-talk, given mid third century history.  But still I liked the idea of the ghost of such a ‘failure’ at large in Roman streets and decided that I must track him and others.   My book after next will thus be about the way in which the ‘eternal city’ has coped with its innumerable and jostling histories (including perhaps its Australian one).  It will not be about a history war in which one side is right and the other wrong.  Instead it will trace how so many histories eddy through so many minds with different breadth and depth and with some making waves to the future and some not.  Writing this book will be a labour of love.  If it works — and hubris rides behind the historian — it will be further proof that I am my Australian generation’s lucky historian (goak) and mainly because of my stubborn determination to be a non-Australian Australian (further goak).  As I read and write, Europe, thank goodness, will still be making me and preserving my most cherished illusion that it is still possible and fruitful to work as a pessimist of the intellect and an optimist of the will and to convey humaneness to a piece of paper.