This month I have been blogging and tweeting about the recent conference of the Australian Historical Association held in Wollongong. However, a blog post about one or two sessions does not give the overall context of the conference and can lead to a distorted impression of it. In this post I will look at the entire conference program and thus help you build a picture of historians at work in Australia.
The Conference Program
The conference attracted historians from around Australia and New Zealand and further afield. Over 250 papers were delivered in 91 sessions over four days. I described it as a feast of history and it certainly was!
The conference theme was ‘mobilities and mobilisations in history’. This was reflected in the keynote addresses and plenary panel:
- ‘Mobilities and Mobilisations in History’ – Dr Frances Steel (University of Wollongong), Dr Penelope Edmonds (University of Tasmania) and Associate Professor Catharine Coleborne (University of Waikato).
- ‘Unsettling the Settlers: Colonial mobility as a problem and a problematic’ – Professor Tony Ballantyne (University of Otago).
- ‘Ocean, Motion, Emotion: Mobilities and mobilizations in History’ – Professor Matt Matsuda (Rutgers University)
- ‘Twenty Women Traveling to Korea in 1951: WIDF Peace Activism and its Consequences’ – Professor Francisca de Haan (Central European University)
Indigenous history is a core theme in Australian history and there has been some impressive work produced by Australian historians over the last twenty years. Quite rightly indigenous history received prominent attention at this conference through the plenary panel ‘Rethinking Indigenous Histories’ and a number of concurrent sessions.
The concurrent sessions comprised the body of the conference. At any one time there were up to ten sessions running. Two or three papers would be delivered in each session.
Some of the papers were grouped in themes. These themes were highlighted in the program and ran over several sessions throughout the conference. The themes were:
|Theme||Number of Papers||Some Topics Covered|
|War and Society||41||Chaplains, Chinese labourers and peacekeepers; children; colonial wars; conscription; prisoners of war; Russians, home fronts during WWI; role of museums in remembering WWI; nationalism; women|
|Australian Women’s History Network||24||Work; media; politics of maternal and child welfare; transnational feminist politics; constructing and challenging hierarchies; narrating and debating dress|
|Asian-Australian Histories||15||Australia and India; Australia’s Asian engagements; Chinese agency; Malay world histories; White Australia and White Canada|
|Environmental History||14||Environmental preservation and degradation; landscape, drought; pollution|
|Religious History||10||Biographies; ideas and demography; the frontier and early colonial societies|
|Tom Stannage||8||Aboriginal history; colonial archives and readership; public attacks on historical research; academics, history and museums.|
|Teaching and Learning History||3|
It is hardly surprising that the theme, ‘War and Society’, was the biggest stream at the conference. In the lead-up to the centenary of WWI the government has been giving war history priority in their funding allocations. The President of the Australian Historical Association, Professor Marilyn Lake, and other historians have voiced their concern at how government has prioritised war history over other forms of history in Australia. There is a great need for us to re-examine this history but there is also a need to re-examine other aspects of our history also.
While some papers were grouped in themes, most were not. Nearly fifty sessions of these papers were held. This is where the wonderfully diverse nature of history was demonstrated. There is a history about every aspect of human life. We just need to think of the questions to ask. In these sessions historians discussed the histories of adoption, medicine and Australia’s relationship with the Pacific. Convict history and exploration are topics that you would expect to be included but there were also sessions on tourism as well as domestic food consumption and production. Other interesting topics included fame and celebrity, history and film, history on the web and the role of history and historians in the government.
It was fitting that the conference ended with a plenary panel of interest to all historians, ‘big Questions in History: ‘Who is our audience?’”. As I wrote in my post, ‘Historians Ask: Who is our audience?‘, this session demonstrated how historians are reaching out to non-academic audiences in a variety of creative ways and the discussion afterwards indicates that historians are very interested in this topic.
While the focus of this post is on what history was discussed at the conference it is also important to recognise that it is people who make a conference happen. This is a collegial effort. There were 261 speakers listed on the program and many of these people also contributed by chairing a session. Women comprised 64% of the speakers at the conference, six of the thirteen speakers in the main conference sessions (the keynotes and the plenary panels) were women. This adds to the picture I have gained through my survey of book reviews in academic journals and my own experience studying and researching history. Women and men both make significant contributions as historians in Australia.
This is the second conference of the Australian Historical Association I have attended. I enjoy hearing stimulating and diverse papers which challenge my thinking. It is also wonderful to mix with people who get the same thrill out of working with archival material as I do and with whom I can discuss my work.
These conferences are held due to the hard work of the conference organising committee. I am grateful for the work so many people put into this conference. Conference convenor, Dr Clarsen is impressive. She maintained her good humour throughout an exhausting week. I had wanted to get photos of some of the other people who worked behind the scenes to make the conference happen but they were too busy to stand around waiting for their photos to be taken!
It seems appropriate to end this post with a message to the organising committee:
This is part 1 in a three part series giving an overview of the 2013 Australian Historical Association Conference:
- Part 1 – this post
- Part 2 – 2013 Australian Historical Association Conference – on social media
- Part 3 – Analysis of #OzHA2013 – where I share the data and methodology I used for this analysis of the conference program and social media.
Lisa Hill says
I agree with your concern about the privileging of war history. I suppose it’s because politicians of all stripes think it will be electorally popular, but really, as the diversity of themes at this conference shows, there are many other aspects of history that could be explored, and I personally think that swamping us with war history runs the risk of people getting sick of it, which is self-defeating for that theme and detrimental to history in general.
Jonathan Richards says
The militarisation of Australian society is not just confined to historical studies – look at the rise of urban military chic and the swamping of our roads by gun-metal grey cars of late. The army look goes well with uncertain futures and the impending chaos of climate change/resource wars. We should get used to it …
Dr Lycia Trouton says
Just reviewing what is happening in the Australian Historical conference scene — from Northern Alberta, Canada. Thank you for the update.