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Revisioning the Pacific: Bernard Smith in the South Seas

BORN IN Sydney in 1986, Bernard Smith is today widely considered to be Australia's preeminent art historian and a major cultural theorist.¹ While working as a school teacher and artist during the late 1930S and early 1940s, he came under the influences of surrealist aesthetics and communist politics, especially as mediated by refugee intellectuals from Hitler's Europe. During this period his principal literary inspirations were the Bible, Marx, and Toynbee; it was their different takes on history, especially of its unfolding over long durations, that most impressed him.² As an academic and writer through the next half century, Smith produced numerous historically oriented studies of Australian and modernist art, which broadly can be divided into two periods of publishing activity.³ His most acclaimed achievement, however, is European Vision and the South Pacific 1768-1850: A Study in the History of Art and Ideas, first published in 1960 and a work that has continued to grow in stature and influence in the four decades since its original appearance. It is the history of this text, and of its companion-piece, Imagining the Pacific: In the Wake of the Cook Voyages, published in 1992, and the contexts in which they were produced and have been consumed, that are the main concerns of the present essay.⁴
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Type of thesis
Ryan, T. (2005). Revisioning the Pacific: Bernard Smith in the South Seas. In D. Munro & B.V. Lal (Eds.), Texts and Contexts: Reflections in Pacific Islands Historiography (pp. 87-97). United States of American: University of Hawai’i Press.
University of Hawai’i Press
This chapter has been published in the book: Texts and Contexts: Reflections in Pacific Islands Historiography. © 2006 University of Hawai’i Press. Used with permission.