When Gavin Menzies wrote about Cheng Ho, the historically famous Chinese admiral, and his 7 Treasure Fleets (not just 7 ships) sailing the ‘seven seas,’ collecting tribute from countries en route, changing a ruler in Ceylon (seems like a good way to get tribute), working out longitudes, and observing and documenting everything within their experience (while losing quite a few ships), some historians who had apparently won the recent historiography ‘war’ in Australia, met to examine the assertions in Menzies’ book about the then technological advances and superiority of the Chinese people. I was told that these historians had reached the conclusion: ‘Where’s the evidence?’
In this case, more than half of the sources used by Menzies were in China. Was that the end of the examination? The historiography debate was related, again, to evidence. If official documentation did not show that British authorities had authorised the killing of Tasmania’s Aborigines, then (said one of the contestants) oral history about killings could not be accepted. As a former public official, I would be surprised if official documents could be relied upon, in certain categories of policy or action, to establish, with any certainty, what actually happened.
Another of the contestants argued that the only way oral history should be tested is to have any statement examined through the British adversarial approach in our courts. I would expect the lawyers to have a field day, resulting in obfuscation. And, of course, a dead person cannot be relied upon.
So, how accurate is the history which has been presented to us? What then of pre-history?