Academic journal article Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History

Jim Hagan: A Memoir

Academic journal article Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History

Jim Hagan: A Memoir

Article excerpt

Jim Hagan died suddenly on 20 October 2009, three days short of his eightieth birthday. He was one of the last of a group of left-wing Australian historians whose world view was formed by the Depression of the 1930s. Its impact influenced his intellectual development, his focus as an historian and his wider political and social activities.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] In some ways, Jim was shielded from the worst of the Depression. He was an only child; his father was a skilled tradesman, a printer on the Daily Telegraph and Jim had opportunities to develop his talents within the public school system at Bondi Primary and later Sydney Boys High School. Other members of the family, scratching out a living on small holdings near Campbelltown, were hard hit by the Depression and when Jim's father lost his job for a time they moved back to the farm.

The experience made Jim suspicious of capitalism, deeply aware of inequalities in society and left him with a drive to do what he could to assist workers to understand and improve their lives.

His political views were further developed at the University of Sydney where he completed an honours degree in history on a Teachers College scholarship. He was a founder of the Trainee Teachers Association and at one point led a demonstration outside the university in Parramatta Road, halting all traffic and making front page news.

Jim taught at a number of high schools including Parramatta Intermediate High and Sutherland High School. He was seconded to Sydney Teachers College and it was during this period that he wrote a series of vignettes on Australian history which appeared on the back of packets of Kellogg's Corn Flakes. His experience as one of the foundation members of the long running radio show, the Quiz Kids, gave him a confidence in his ability to explain concepts and ideas to a wider audience and this was a feature of much of his work.

In 1961, Jim and a group of friends who were teaching history at Sydney Teachers College and in the high schools, published the first of a series of textbooks to provide a new approach to the study of history in schools. World History Since 1789 (1961)

was the first, but Modern History and Its Themes (1966) was the most successful. It was re-published about 20 times and encouraged generations of high school students to study history. Former NSW Premier, Bob Carr, is one who remembers its impact well and often referred to it when meeting Jim.

The book contained in its introduction a description of the method which was to remain at the heart of Jim's work for the next 45 years.

   At the beginning of each of its three parts, there is an
   introduction which sets out the themes of the period. Following
   this, there is a chapter which expands economic themes and relates
   them to technological development and political change.

In 1962, Jim moved to the Australian National University (ANU), with his wife Lois and sons Jim and John, where he took up a PhD scholarship supervised by Bob Gollan. The topic 'Printers and Politics' was not surprising, given that both his father and Lois's father were printers, and his interest in the role that unions could play in mitigating the effects of capitalism on workers, their families and communities. The emphasis was on skilled workers, the work process and technology but within the wider economic and political processes within which the Printers Union operated. At ANU, Jim interacted with lecturers and students who were to dominate Australian labour history for the following two decades--including Bob Gollan, Eric Fry, John Merritt and Tom Sheridan--as well as historians such as Noel Rutherford, Noel Butlin and Eric Andrews whose interests were outside labour history.

In 1966, Jim obtained a lectureship in History at the Wollongong University College, then a small outpost of the University of New South Wales (UNSW). …

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