A Lighter Look at #OzHA2018

2 women with large glasses laughing

Historians worked hard at the conference but also enjoyed themselves. Dr Liz Conor and Professor Ann McGrath shared a laugh in a break on Thursday. Photo via @ANUcass.

I have reported a number of keynote presentations from the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association this week, but my representation of the conference would be lacking if I did not report the humour that popped up throughout the five days in Canberra.

The conference theme, ‘The Scales of HIstory’, lent itself to some light-hearted quips. Of course there were the fishing jokes but I did not hear any music jokes. However, one presenter did some unexpected a capella singing (a rather fancy way of describing how Rosalie sang). Then there was the Canberra weather. We woke up to -4 one morning – surely a joke!

What can be more Australian than an esteemed historian being delayed arriving in Canberra because her bus hit a kangaroo?

Canberra… Australians are good at making mirth at the mention of their capital city. Mark McKenna delivered a fine keynote speech about Canberra and the now not-so-new parliament house. But he was left scratching his head on a number of occasions when the audience laughed at some of his comments. McKenna mentioned the rather surprising fact that the architect of the new parliament house read Patrick White novels to learn more about Australia. Tune laughter and a rather perplexed Mark McKenna. Continue reading

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Behind the Scenes at #OzHA2018

Samuel Furphy at the lecturn on the left with 7 people lined up on the right

Conference convenor, Samuel Furphy thanking those who worked behind the scenes to make this such a good conference. Event manager and historian, Dr Karen Downing is third from the right.

This week I have given you some snippets from the fabulous program at this year’s Australian Historical Association conference, known on Twitter as #OzHA2018. But while it is important, it is not just the program that makes a conference enjoyable. There are two other factors in a successful conference – the manner in which it is organised and administered, and the attitude and behaviour of the participants. We had a fabulous conference not only because of the thought-provoking papers, but also because of the attitude and work of the organisers behind the scenes and the particpants.

How Thoughtful! – the organisation of the conference

Everyone that I spoke to at the conference was incredibly impressed with the way that it was organised. I was really impressed that the organisers were using the conference hashtag to promote it on Twitter months before the start of the conference. This ensures that historians on Twitter (#twitterstorians), knew about the conference and what the conference hashtag was. The conference program had a good section on Twitter etiquette, details about the university wifi for us to log into, and the wifi access worked right from the start.

But for many people the first indication they had that this conference took organisation and thoughtfulness to a new level was when they pulled out their name tags. The lanyards were made by women at the ‘Welcome House’ in the Philippines which helps young women who have been caught up in people trafficking for the sex industry. These are sold in Australia by a not-for-profit organistion called The Trading Circle. I have never seen so many photos of conference name tags on Twitter. Conference participants were delighted to be supporting such a worthy cause. How thoughtful. Continue reading

‘Decentring Australia’ in the History of Convict Transportation

Head and shoulders

Keynote speaker, Professor Clare Anderson of the University of Leicester.

When considering the history of the transportation of convicts we should ‘de-centre’ Australia and consider Empire-wide transportation argued Professor Clare Anderson in her keynote talk yesterday morning. Anderson moved from the story of the Bussa Uprising in Barbados in 1816 to Sierra Leone and then to British Guiana deftly working in the story of convict transportation throughout the Empire. Her talk demonstrated the complex use of scale to weave a compelling and coherent account of convict transportation which captivated her audience.

For so long the Australian colonies have dominated historical analysis of the transportation of convicts but Professor Anderson pointed out that the British colony of the Andaman islands received more convicts than any one of the Australian colonies. In an article that she has written in Australian Historical Studies she argues:

…the conceptual myopia that separates the Australian colonies from the Indian Ocean is unsustainable when for the first time the numerical scale and geographical extent of pan-imperial Asian convict flows is brought together, to reveal a transnational imperial history of transportation within the British Empire.

Continue reading

Some Incomplete Thoughts on the Scale of History – Part 1

‘The Scale of History’ is the theme of this year’s Australian Historical Association conference which is taking place this week in Canberra. It was the theme of the conference which enticed me to take time off work to come to chilly Canberra. Half-way through the conference it is time to take time to consider what I have heard about the ‘scale of history’ this week.

I have deliberately titled this post ‘some incomplete thoughts’ as what follows is merely a glimpse of a couple of keynote presentations. In this post I have selected a very small portion of the ideas presented and added my own personal reflections. Thus what follows cannot be said to be a report of the presentations as it does not present the fully formed and meticulously argued views of the presenters.

All good conference themes can be explored in myriad ways. ‘Scale’ in history does not just refer to time. President of the Australian Historical Association, Lynette Russell started the conference by raising a variety of questions regarding scale, such as the interdisciplinary reach of historians and the diversity of historians practising in Australia today. On both counts, she pointed to the need for improvement by the profession. You can read a more in-depth overview of her talk in an earlier post I wrote about the conference.

‘The Right Scale for Our Times’ was the keynote panel the next morning. The chair of the panel, ANU’s Professor Ann McGrath framed the topic.

“To address living in the Anthropocene and to ensure the discipline’s future relevance various historians have called for a history that is grand in scale – whether this be wide, big or deep.”

Yet it is not that simple. McGrath asked how we are going to ensure that gender, culture and individuals will not be smothered by a broad brush stroke form of history. “Can micro and macro ever join hands?”, she asked.

Continue reading

War, Masculinity and Belief – day 2, Australian Historical Association Conference

Banner of Australian Historical Association

2018 Australian Historical Association conference, 2nd to 6th July.

At the end of the day I sat down to write up a post about the sessions I had listened to at the Australian Historical Association conference but I struggled to find a common theme in all of them on which I could develop a coherent post. But of course, I chose these sessions because they all said something about my current interests in war, masculinity and belief.

I heard some great papers yesterday. Both Rosalie Triolo’s paper on ‘Statehood, Strength and sorrow in Australian and German school Songs, 1870-1918’ and Michael Gladwin’s, ‘Preaching Australia: Sermons, emotions and religious sensory practice in Australian history’ examined different historical aural experiences – one secular and the other religious. Triolo drew on the fact that singing was compulsory in early 20th century Victorian school classrooms. “Rote learning through rhythm”, was the advice of educational experts. Through careful examination of the Department of Education’s regular publication for schools, The School Paper, Triolo analysed the songs that were published for use in schools. She noted that before the Great War, the songs were British in origin, but with the onset of war, songs were also drawn from outside the Empire. La Marseillaise, the Belgian and Russsian national anthems were published as sentiment towards the suffering of those countries developed during the War. Triolo noted that no songs were published in 1917, but publication of songs resumed in 1918. She did not speculate on the reason for this. I wonder if this was reflective of the depressed state of Australia as the casualties mounted and no end was in sight? It was also the year of horrendous strikes and the divisive referendum on conscription.

Pianos were an important technology in the early 20th century classroom.

Continue reading

The 2018 Australian Historical Association Conference Begins!

Hundreds of historians have gathered in Canberra for the 2018 Australian conference. During this week over 350 papers will be delivered. I am in Canberra attending the conference and will be tweeting and blogging from here all week.

The welcome to country for this conference was delivered by Matilda House, an elder from the Ngambri-Ngunnawal people of the Canberra region. “You can’t change yesterday, but you can sure try and make a difference tomorrow,” she observed.

The President of the Australian Historical Association, Professor Lynette Russell delivered the opening keynote address. She traversed a wide range of issues in a thought-provoking speech.

The Acknowledgement of Country is given by event organisers if a First Nations elder is not present to give a Welcome to Country. Professor Russell noted that the Acknowledgement of Country is too often mumbled and speakers struggle with unfamiliar Aboriginal words. She urged people to make an effort to pronounce Aboriginal words correctly.

Professor Russell urged us to consider that 2000 generations of people have lived on this land. History did not just start with the arrival of Europeans. She observed that the Australian Historical Association conferences are no longer the “pale, stale, male” events that they used to be, but she noted the lack of Aboriginal historians. “Our association currently has 5 Aboriginal historians but if we think in terms of population parity, we should have almost 5 times that number,” she observed. “We need to ask why”. Continue reading

War, Business and Orchids – the Smith Story

 

We did it! I was part of an international research project that has led to the publication of this book. No Substitute for Kindness: The Story of May and Stanley Smith (May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, 2017).

Stanley Smith was an Australian businessman, WWII operative in China and expert horticulturalist. His life took him from a comfortable Brisbane upbringing to the danger of war and finally to a life half-way across the world. His Chinese-born wife, May Wong, grew up during the civil war in China and the fighting against Japanese occupation. May and Stanley met through their work for British propaganda and intelligence in the Chinese wartime capital of the city then known as Chungking (Chongqing).

Together the lives of Stanley and May Smith make a gripping read in the newly published book, No Substitute for Kindness. Commissioned by one of the philanthropic funds established by the couple, a team of researchers and writers from the United States, England and Australia have pieced together a fascinating biography.

I was one of the historians who worked on the book. My principal task was to research the early years of Stanley Smith’s life. He was born in Brisbane in 1907 and was a student at Eagle Junction State School. Stanley then won a state scholarship to the Church of England Grammar School or ‘Churchie’ as it is commonly known. Continue reading