Spin doctor and academic Noel Turnbull writes:

Social conservatives just can’t stop themselves when it comes to studying history. If we just learn dates and chronology we’ll all be right.

In the PM’s case it will not only be right but we’ll all be mates committed to social cohesion, if not republicanism, if we just learn dates.

While there is a case for chronological context – not chronology as such which, by itself, is as misleading as the themes in history approach which the PM is upset about – there’s also no doubt that dates themselves are fraught with problems.

For instance, the PM cited the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (probably more famous these days because of Sellars and Yeatman than the Godwins and the Normans). Yet what does 1066 signify? Is it an illegal invasion; a lesson about – as Harold tragically discovered – fighting on two fronts; about honouring oaths; or about some mythical Anglo-Saxon democratic past swept away by Norman feudalists?

A quick trip to the Greek Orthodox Museum in Athens gives a very distinctive view of the significance of 1453. Equally, how can anyone who thought about 1204 and the Fourth Crusade not conclude that European Christians were barbarians – particularly if you also thought about the 1099 sack of Jerusalem?

And while pottering around the geographic area, why is April 25 so special to Australia when more Turks, British and French (plus a good number of Indians) died in the subsequent Gallipoli campaign? In the history of the world was Ataturk’s role on the top of the cliffs more important than the brave role of the Australians at the bottom?

Is 5 November, 1605 the anniversary of a terrorist plot or the desperate act of a persecuted minority fighting back against torture and dictatorial government? Is 5 November, 1688 (the date of William III‘s landing in Britain) more significant to Australian history than 1788? And what is the relative importance of the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada to Australian constitutional history?

And… for George W. Bush and John Howard are there any lessons from the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258?

Hopefully, with a new Federal Education Minister not committed to Brendan Nelson’s fervent combination of French and Stalinist micro-management, we might even see some funds approved for someone smart enough to use the PM’s commitments to dates as the basis for some research grant applications based on answering the questions.