Aims and Background

The limited international research has focused on youth culture, childrearing and ageing (Eisenstadt 1956; Scott 2000) or on elites (Edmunds and Turner 2002), rather than on a wider range of people and issues. In suggesting that generation may be more important than class in analysing social change, Edmunds and Turner argue that ‘the time seems particularly ripe for sociological and historical innovation in research on generations’ (2002: 115-16).

Using 300 in-depth life history interviews with a broad sample of Australians born between 1920 and 1990, we will examine the following questions:

  • How have Australians been shaped by distinctive generational experiences?
  • How do age and generation intersect with other social differences such as class, gender, ethnicity and race?
  • In what ways do generational experiences vary regionally or for migrant or Indigenous Australians?
  • How significant are the experiences and memories of youth for the formation of identity, and have particular periods of Australian 20th century history had greater generational impact?
  • To what extent is Australian memory – both individual and collective – shaped in generational terms?
  • By asking ordinary Australians how they interpret their own life histories, we will reconfigure our understanding of the generational layers of Australian memory and the personal and collective significance of Australia’s past.

Australian Generations will do this in two books and other scholarly and public outputs. The project also aims to develop new approaches to oral history and public history through the creation of a national online archive of 1500 hours of oral history interviews hosted by the National Library of Australia and a series of radio programs produced by ABC Radio National’s Social History Unit.