Blogging the 2016 Australian Historical Association Conference

A mural on yellow background with red woman and black hair holding a yellow 7 pointed star. Ballarat with large black letters and "The past is history" in red underneath.

The History Council of Victoria tweeted: “New mural in Ballarat – ‘The past is history’ – a farewell message for #OzHA2016 perhaps? Thx for a good conference!”

Social media has transformed conferences. No longer are conferences a private experience which might be shared months or years later when some papers are published. Live reporting of conferences on Twitter has gone a long way to enlarging the audience of a conference to interested people around the world. Where conference attendees are particularly engaged on Twitter the conversation on the back channel can add another dimension to the discussion in the conference venue.

Yet, as I noted in my last post about the Twitter stream from the recent conference of the Australian Historical Association, the immediate and abbreviated nature of the tweet severely limits the depth of reporting through that platform. Twitter also uses an abbreviated form of language that can be tricky for the uninitiated to understand. Longer-form reporting in the form of blog posts is indispensable for the comprehensive coverage of the conference.

Good blogging is not easy and it is particularly difficult to do during a conference. Ideally a blogger will attend sessions during the day, then in the evening write an accurate and fair post ready to publish before the start of sessions the next day. It is not easy. I have blogged several conferences and usually finish writing some time after midnight. By the end of a week-long conference a blogger will be quite sleep deprived. Usually I book an extra night in my accommodation and spend the next day reading in bed to recover.

We were fortunate that the highly regarded history blogger, Janine Rizzetti attended the Australian Historical Association conference in Ballarat. Rizzetti has been blogging at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip for eight years. She has been a prolific blogger throughout her PhD (she is now Dr Rizzetti) and has blogged several conferences including the 2013 Australian Historical Association conference in Wollongong. Continue reading

Tweeting the 2016 Australian Historical Association Conference

Street lamp in foreground with powerlines and buildings behind it obscured by a blanket of fog. The sun is a bright ball peeking weakly through the fog.

Conference tweeps shared a lot of photos and comments about the bleak Ballarat weather…
@AuthorClaireG tweeted about a conference excursion, “Off to the Springdallah goldfields on a very foggy morning!” The weather was drab in Ballarat last week, but this week it snowed.

Last week there was a flurry of Australian history tweeting emanating from Ballarat in Victoria. The 2016 annual conference of the Australian Historical Association was held in the old gold city and over three hundred presenters from universities, galleries, libraries, archives, museums and small businesses talked all things history.

I have attended the last four conferences, but not this year. I was one of those who following the conference twitter stream from afar. At times it was too easy to get drawn into the twitter stream and distracted from what I was supposed to be doing!

In previous years I have given an overview of the conference Twitter stream. I was particularly enthusiastic last year with three posts: the numbers and people in 2015, Twitter themes in 2015, top retweets in 2015. Also see the social media overview for 2013. So how was the 2016 conference reported on Twitter?

This year over two hundred people and organisations sent tweets using the conference hashtag, #OzHA2016. This is great. The more people tweeting the more likely we are to get a good coverage of the conference and a diversity of views. The list of people tweeting using the conference hashtag naturally includes a few people who only tweeted once or twice. I noted last year that the 2015 conference twitter stream was dominated by eleven voices contributing 76% of the tweets. This was in line with the conference twitter stream in 2013. I was delighted to see that this year a lot more people were responsible for this percentage of tweets. Thirty-nine people/organisations contributed 77% of the conference tweets.

It is in this context that we should consider the total number of conference tweets. This year saw fewer tweets than the conference last year. Between the conference start on Monday 4th July and the conference end on Friday there were 1,724 tweets sent compared to 2,625 tweets last year. There was some confusion at the beginning of the conference about the conference hashtag which would have led to some conference tweets not being counted, but I would argue that the fact that the top eleven tweeters were not dominating the tweets anywhere near as much as last year made this year’s conference hashtag a valuable one for people following afar. Continue reading

A Lesson in Life: Book Review of Auntie Rita

Warning: This post contains references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased. The books and links referred to in this post may also contain references and images of deceased Aboriginal people.

ilw-2016Each July, book blogger Lisa Hill encourages bloggers to review books written by indigenous authors from around the world. She chooses ‘Indigenous Literature Week’ to coincide with the Australian annual celebration of indigenous culture, NAIDOC Week.

Book cover of Auntie Rita

Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins and Jackie Huggins (Aboriginal Studies Press, 1994).

This week was NAIDOC Week so I searched my book shelves for a book to read by an indigenous author. As I have already reviewed two new books by Australian Aboriginal authors this year (Finding Eliza by Larissa Behrendt and Pictures from my memory by Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis) I decided to review a highly regarded book from the 1990s. Twenty-two years after it was first published I have finally read Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins and Jackie Huggins.

Rita Huggins shares her life from her earliest years living on her country in what we know as Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland. The land sustained her Bidjara-Pitjara people but born in 1922, Rita Huggins and her people were in the sights of a government which was forcibly removing Aboriginal people from their land and into reserves. Rita Huggins tells of the traumatic day when she and her family were herded onto a crowded cattle truck and taken on a long journey south to what became known as the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve. She never lived on her country again.

This book is not a standard memoir. It is also a dialogue between Rita Huggins and her daughter Jackie. At various points through the narrative Jackie Huggins expands on points her mother makes, add her memories and sometimes challenges her mother. In doing this both mother and daughter are unsettling the memoir genre. We are all social beings. We not only live in a social context, we are challenged and have to adjust our thoughts and behaviours in response to those we live and work with. Yet writing a memoir is one of the most solitary practices. The dialogue in this memoir gives us a peek into a mother/daughter relationship. While Auntie Rita quite rightly dominates the book, the reader at times has the feeling that they are at a kitchen table listening to Auntie Rita talk about her life with Jackie sometimes chiming in with a comment about what her mother is saying. Auntie Rita says: Continue reading

Heritage Leads First Day of #OzHA2016 Conference Papers

It is on again! One of the largest annual history conferences in Australia is being held all this week in Ballarat at Federation University of Australia. Over three hundred historians and associated professionals from galleries, libraries, archives, museums (GLAM) sector will present papers about the ‘Boom and Bust’ of history.

I have attended the last four conferences but not this year. I will be following the proceedings from afar via the #OzHA2016 hashtag on Twitter. So this post relies on information provided by people at the conference via tweets, the conference program and other material available online. I will be interested in comments from conference participants about whether I have conveyed it correctly.

Head and shoulders of Adam Wilkinson

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage.

This morning the day started with a provocative plenary session by the Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, Adam Wilkinson. ‘The Death of the Moral Prerogative: Why Bother with Urban Conservation’ he asked? I have copied some of his comments as reported by historians listening to the presentation.

Firstly Wilkinson critiqued ‘heritage’ as it has been practised over past decades:

Then Wilkinson talked about a new approach to heritage:

Wilkinson said heritage is all about community:

And a new acronym I learned today – HUL:

You can read more about the Historic Urban Landscape approach on the UNESCO website. There is also a website for the Historic Urban Landscape of Ballarat which you can explore.

As I am writing this I am getting distracted by the subsequent sessions about heritage. There are many papers on urban and regional histories at the conference and it sounds like there is a big effort in the heritage sector to engage many more people in the community in heritage matters. Hopefully this will lead to heritage being part of the living present, not just a mausoleum of the past. The Gold Museum at Ballarat reported that around six thousand people were involved in recent heritage consultations in Ballarat.

Tomorrow afternoon there will be a plenary on urban and regional history, titled ‘Centering the City: Spaces of Practice in Australian Urban and Regional History’. In the late morning of Thursday another plenary session will look at museums. ‘The changing nature of museums: booming, busting, or what?’ should be an interesting session. With the help of presenters from the GLAM sector and other historians, some of the issues surrounding public history are a feature of this year’s conference. Continue reading

Searching Catalogues Effectively: National Archives of Australia

Rectangular building with horizontal stripes. In between the stripes are the windows.

State Library of Tasmania in Hobart. This photo is undated but it looks like it could have been taken when the building had just finished completion. Photo courtesy of State Library of Tasmania flickr collection.

While in Hobart I have been spending a lot of time in the ‘History Room’ at the State Library. This is where researchers can retrieve items from the state and national archives that are held in Hobart. In my book I want to include stories of soldiers from each state in Australia and also look at their pre-war experiences, hence my Tasmanian research.

As usual I am encountering the problem of records that were never kept at the time or are difficult to find through existing catalogues. I have needed to delve deeply and creatively into various catalogues. I thought that many of you would have encountered similar problems researching your family history, trying to complete assignments etcetera, so I thought I would share a little of what I have learned.

Each archive and library has its own way of organising their catalogues, filing their material and explaining how to find items. Sometimes items or collections may not even be mentioned in electronic catalogues or they may be on card catalogues which have not been transferred onto a computer yet. Other items in the collection may never have been catalogued in the first place because of shortage of staff.

The catalogue on the website of the National Archives of Australia only describes about twenty percent of the items they hold. So how can you find out about the thousands of boxes of archival material that are not mentioned in the electronic catalogue? Continue reading

Reflections on a Day at Digital Humanities Australasia 2016

A ship moored at a dock with warehouse and containers on the dock.

While we were ensconced in the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies building, Australia’s icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, was being loaded next door.

The field of Digital Humanities has been a significant influence on the way I work. There are many debates about the nature of Digital Humanities is but very broadly it covers the work humanities researchers do when they study the use of digital technology in society, adopt research methods which draw heavily on digital technology and present their findings using digital technology.

I follow experts in digital humanities on Twitter and read their blog posts. Through this I have deepened my understanding in using technology to explore World War I diaries, mine Trove for information and convert old documents into machine-readable form. You can read more about the technical details of what I am doing on Stumbling Through the Futuremy Digital Humanities blog. What I do is relatively simple but I owe it all from listening to experts on the internet and at conferences.

I was planning on visiting Hobart sometime for research and to visit family, but that sometime was hastened when I found out that the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities were holding their annual conference in Hobart. The Association had secured some thought-provoking digital humanists for their keynote sessions and I wanted to be there. Yesterday I sat in the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies on the waterfront engrossed in some fascinating sessions. Continue reading

Second-Hand Bookshopping in Brisbane

Hubble and I enjoy rummaging through second-hand bookshops. They are treasure troves. I buy some new books, but I am building up my Australian history collection by finding out of print, sometimes obscure gems in second-hand bookshops. Often these books are hard to find in a library near me – particularly if they solely relate to a state other than the state in which I live. I visited two great second-hand bookshops while I was in Brisbane recently. I left Sydney with a 10kg suitcase and returned with a 20kg suitcase full of second-hand books.

Red brick building with 'Archives Fine Books' sign at the bottom and "John Mills Himself' formed in concrete at the top.

Archives Fine Books in Charlotte Street, Brisbane

Book cover

Soldiers of the Service Vol II, edited by Eddie Clarke and Tom Watson (Church Archivists’ Press, 1999).

For a number of years I have been visiting Archives Fine Books in Charlotte Street. Recently I found a large room at the back of the shop that I had not been aware of. In this room I found Soldiers of the Service Volume II: More Early Queensland Educators and their Schools. Not too many people would get excited by this title, but it should be a good reference book for my work about the history of education in Queensland. I bought it because I thought it would be difficult to borrow from a library in Sydney where I live. Not only is it available in very few libraries, there was not one image of the front cover on the internet until I photographed my own and uploaded it. Now I need to find a copy of Volumes I and III. Given the interest in this book (see comments) I have added a list of the chapter titles of this book at the end of this post.

I also picked up some old school readers. School readers are generally not digitised. I am purchasing readers when I can so that I can digitise them at home using my camera, a cardboard box, a lamp and some optical character recognition (OCR) software to convert print to machine readable text using these instructions. Once I have done this I can easily analyse the text in these readers.

Continue reading