Docker, John 1945-

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Docker, John 1945-


Born 1945. Education: University of Sydney, B.A.; University of Melbourne, M.A.; Australian National University, Ph.D.


Office—Research School of Humanities, Old Canberra House, Bldg. 73, Lennox Crossing, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


Literary and cultural critic. Visiting fellow, Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University.



Australian Cultural Elites: Intellectual Traditions in Sydney and Melbourne, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1974.

(Editor, with Susan Dermody and Drusilla Modjeska) Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs, and Friends: Essays in Australian Cultural History, Kibble Books (Malmsbury, Victoria, Australia), 1982.

The Nervous Nineties: Australian Cultural Life in the 1890s, Oxford University Press Australia (South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1991.

Postmodernism and Popular Culture: A Cultural History, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Gerhard Fischer) Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, University of New South Wales Press (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.

1492: The Poetics of Diaspora, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001.

(Editor, with Gerhard Fischer) Adventures of Identity: European Multicultural Experiences and Perspectives, Stauffenburg (Tübingen, Germany), 2001.

"Sheer Perversity": Anti-Zionism in the 1940s, University of London, Menzies Centre for Australian Studies (London, England), 2001.

(With Ann Curthoys) Is History Fiction?, University of New South Wales Press (Coogee, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.


John Docker is known as one of the leading intellectuals in Australia. Trained as a literary critic, he has also written and lectured on cultural and literary theory, the history of ideas, cultural history, popular culture, intellectual history, and a variety of other subjects. Among his best-known books are 1492: The Poetics of Diaspora and, with coauthor Ann Curthoys, Is History Fiction?

Docker and his coeditor, Gerhard Fischer, presented a collection of papers read at a 1998 conference in Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand. Fischer and Docker were also the conveners of the conference, which was called to discuss the subject "Adventures of Identity: Constructing the Multicultural Subject." Participants looked at various perspectives of identity formation in postmodern society. Some of their topics included the construction of "whiteness," Aboriginal identity, immigrant identity, multiculturalism and indigenous peoples, and feminist perspectives. The book presents commentary and analysis on many issues regarding race, skin color, and cultural identity. It has five sections: Introduction, Aboriginal Identity, Asians in Australia/Australians in Asia, Biculturalism and Multiculturalism in New Zealand, and Whiteness. The editors first discuss the conditions that led to the formation of multiple human cultural identities, then give a chronological listing of scholarship on the subject. Chapters look at identities as they are seen through various acts of protest, life experiences, and positions. In reading them, "the reader is taken on a journey where he/she acquires a sense of complexity, depth and intrigue surrounding identity dilemmas faced by Australians of Anglo, Aboriginal and Asian descent, as well as New Zealanders of Pakeha, Maori and Asian descent," stated Siri Gamage in a review for the Journal of Sociology. There are autobiographical accounts of lives and key events to help illuminate the subject. Stories are told about relationships that cross racial and cultural lines, and how the colonial and postcolonial sensibilities meet and mesh in the present. The material included is "powerful and intellectually stimulating," stated Gamage. The reviewer summarized: "If the task of sociologists is to grasp the essence of what is happening in given societies, to make meanings out of these, articulate them and communicate them to a wider audience, this book achieves that purpose quite successfully." Fiona Paisley, a contributor to the Journal of Australian Studies, noted that "whiteness" and its definition is really the subject of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand. Paisley found chapters by Susanne Schech and Jane Haggis, Aileen Morton-Robinson, Wendy Brady and Michelle Carey, and Jackie Huggins, Kay Saunders and Isabel Tarrago to be especially valuable sections of this book. She found the chapter "Reconciling Our Mothers' Lives," by Huggins, Saunders, and Tarrago, "exemplary for its transformative narrativisation," and described it as "an intimate three-way conversation on the interracial and intercultural intertwinings of family and social history."

In 1492, Docker considers the lasting repercussions of the defeat of Moorish Spain in 1492 and the expulsion of the Jews from that country. Although the historical event most readily associated with the year 1492 is Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World, Docker finds the fall of Moorish Spain and the expulsion of the Jews much more significant. In his view, both of these events were part of an attempt by Europe to redefine itself and take dominance from the earlier, Mediterranean civilization that had dominated the continent. Indian, Arab, and Jewish cultures and traditions were being pushed aside by European expansion. Noting that very few books had covered this important subject, Ranen Omer-Sherman said in Shofar: "Docker's analysis of the subsequent staggering cultural consequences—he sees losses as well as gains—serves as a marvelous corrective to that past neglect. At its best a celebratory but judicious exploration of the fluid Judeo-Islamic world that the expulsion of 1492 destroyed, this work also offers up provocative ways of considering marginalized, or hidden, aspects of contemporary Jewish identity. This is a richly interdisciplinary study of literary and other readings of the Judeo-Islamic world that reverberates with significance for our own historical moment." Docker's book contains fresh, positive interpretations of many Jewish characters from literature, notably Isaac and his daughter Rebecca from Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe. According to Docker, Rebecca embodies a proud tradition of Jewish medical knowledge and cosmopolitanism. He finds that the Jewish characters of Ivanhoe in general can be seen as symbolic of a pluralist alternative to the prevailing model of the European nation-state. The author gives similarly "diasporic" readings to other works of literature, including the works of James Joyce, Sally Morgan, and Salman Rushdie, according to API Review of Books Web site contributor Ravi De Costa. De Costa further commented: "All the things that Docker reads raise the opportunity for a ‘poetics of diaspora.’ These traces of meanings are disparate but not discontinuous; unattached but collectively intelligible. Docker draws these together with a disposition towards meanings that may be shared but never grasped finally. Yet this is also a personal work, at times intensely so. We learn much of Docker's tastes, his family and background. He organises the work as an ‘adventure of identity’ and a ‘family romance,’ even ‘a kind of historical novel.’"

Docker and coauthor Ann Curthoys questioned the very nature of history in their book Is History Fiction?, published in 2005. In eleven chapters, the authors examine the double-edged nature of history, which they regard as both a search for truth and as a fictional construct. Reviewing the book for, Chris Detloff commented that, while the title might lead one to assume that the book would propose a definitive answer to the question posed, it does not. Instead, the authors have written "nothing less than a well-researched, easily-read work designed to make the reader search for his or her own opinion on the nature of historical writing." Rather than supplying answers, the authors guide their readers in an examination of historical writing and encourage them to form their own conclusions. The book begins with a discussion of Herodotus and Thucydides, known as the cofounders of history. Moving on, they touch on various other points in time when the perception of history seemed to shift or change. Docker and Curthoys cover the notion of history as art, as opposed to history as science; and the influence of political ideas such as Marxism on the recording of history. Detloff found that their research "is sound and well documented, the writing is clear and entertaining." Reviewing the book for the Labour History Web site, Julie McIntyre noted that the authors are really questioning if any historian is capable of telling the truth, if it is really possible to see the past in its own terms, and if it is acceptable for historians to make moral judgments about people and events in the past. She advises that the book "gives a very accessible, coherent account of some difficult and often unconnected material. Curthoys and Docker are refreshingly confident that history does not lose its claim to truth-telling while at the same time using self-reflexive, literary techniques, and since historians have to look to the past not only for the raw material but for professional modelling, Is History Fiction? serves as an excellent guidebook."



Aboriginal History, January, 2000, review of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, p. 280.

Arena Magazine, February 1, 2006, Rachel Power, review of Is History Fiction?, p. 49.

Australian Historical Studies, April, 2001, Lucy Healey, review of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, p. 158.

Contemporary Sociology, January, 1996, Joanne Gottlieb, review of Postmodernism and Popular Culture: A Cultural History, p. 16.

History of Education Review, July, 2007, Alan Barcan, review of Is History Fiction?, p. 77.

Journal of Australian Studies, June, 2001, Fiona Paisley, review of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, p. 209.

Journal of Sociology, November, 2000, Siri Gamage, review of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, p. 403.

Journal of the History of Ideas, April, 1995, review of Postmodernism and Popular Culture, p. 342; July, 1995, review of Postmodernism and Popular Culture, p. 524.

Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, December, 2006, Deborah Edward, review of Is History Fiction?, p. 228.

Law Society Journal, June, 2002, Ben McGuire, review of 1492: The Poetics of Diaspora, p. 94.

Overland, winter, 2001, "Identity Politics," review of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, p. 100.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2000, review of Race, Colour & Identity in Australia and New Zealand, p. 33.

Shofar, spring, 2003, Ranen Omer-Sherman, review of 1492, p. 171.


API Review of Books, (March 17, 2008), David Ritter, review of Is His-tory Fiction?; Ravi De Costa, review of The Poetics of Diaspora.

Australian Academy of Humanities Web site, (March 17, 2008), biographical information about John Docker.

Australian National University Web site, (March 17, 2008), biographical information about John Docker., (March 17, 2008), Chris Detloff, review of Is History Fiction?

Labour History, (March 17, 2008), Julie McIntyre, review of Is History Fiction?