2013 Australian Historical Association Conference – on social media

Green grass, ferns and trees

The conference was held at the University of Wollongong. What a beautiful environment!

Social media has revolutionised reporting.  Citizen reporters flood social media with immediate observations of revolutionary events, disasters, sports matches as well as more mundane everyday moments.  This form of reporting is also changing the experience of academic conferences for many.  People who cannot attend can listen in on the conference backchannels through Twitter.  They can discuss it on Facebook and read about it on blogs during the conference and in the immediate aftermath.

Tweeps and bloggers attending the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association in Wollongong broadcast the news as it happened – or did they?

Blogging the Conference

In the first part of this overview of the conference I gave an overview of the conference program.  In that post I mentioned a lot of sessions.  Where they had been mentioned in a blog post elsewhere I hyperlinked them.  If you have a look at the hyperlinks in my post, 2013 Australian Historical Association Conference – The Program you will see that only a small proportion of sessions had been blogged.

Having a good internet connection available at the place where the blogger is staying during the conference is critical if a blogger wants to post daily.  Being well rested before the conference starts is essential. It takes a lot of time and energy to provide a timely reporting service about a conference on a blog.   The papers presented at a conference are intellectually invigorating as are the conversations with fellow conference attendees during breaks and over meals.  Then the blogger heads back to their accommodation to write up the day’s proceedings.  We do this in good faith and take a lot of care to report fairly.  Yet this can be difficult when you don’t have a copy of the papers in front of you.  Do the excerpts and summaries of the papers included in the post represent the paper fairly?  I had particular difficulty grappling with the plenary panel, ‘Rethinking Indigenous Histories’.  In the end I stated in the post that what I was writing was not a report but my reflections on a few extracts from the talks.

I was writing until past midnight each night during the conference.  Janine Rizzetti who also wrote daily blog posts during the conference spent many hours during the conference blogging too.  Why do we do it?  Speaking for myself, I love sharing the history world with people who are not historians but who enjoy learning more about history (I also enjoy sharing with historians!).  I am excited by what historians do and think that their work should be more widely shared.  Blogging about the conference also helps me to reflect on what I have learned that day.

Here is a list of all the blog posts that I am aware of which were written about the 2013 conference:

To my mind conference blogging is the most comprehensive form of reporting a conference online.  It is also the most difficult.  However, the effect of it lasts a lot longer and it is possible to discuss the conference in depth – something which is not possible on many other forms of social media.  One of my posts from the conference last year, Reaching Out to the Public: Australian Historical Association Conference 2012, has been the second most popular post on my blog for the last twelve months.

I hope that more attendees have a go at blogging the conference next year!

Twitter and #OzHA2013

The most popular form of online conference reporting is Twitter.  It is also the most immediate form of reporting. A 140 character tweet is a lot quicker to compose and send than a blog post.

There is a lot of shorthand on Twitter so that the maximum amount of information can be included in the 140 character limit set for tweets.  ‘Australian Historical Association conference’ is too long so this has been condensed to #OzHA2013.  This hashtag was coined by English historian, Sharon Howard, in a discussion with Australian historians while we were all following the American Historical Association conference of 2012 on Twitter. This anecdote demonstrates the power of Twitter, especially for people who live a long way from where an event is occurring.

Twitter is great during a conference. It is a news service for those who cannot attend or who are attending a parallel session in another room.  It is very frustrating when there are a number of papers you would like to attend but they are delivered at the same time in separate rooms.  If you are in one session and someone is tweeting another session that you are interested in you can either follow along at the same time or catch up on the tweets from that session later.  If someone then blogs about the session, even better!

Over the last few days I have been analysing the tweets sent during the conference in order to better understand how it operated.  There were 554 tweets sent while the conference was running between 8th and 12th July.  Here is a word cloud which shows the most frequently used words in the tweets sent during the conference:

Word cloud of tweets sent using the #OzHA2013 hashtag 8-12 July 2013.

Word cloud of tweets sent using the #OzHA2013 hashtag 8-12 July 2013.

For an explanation of how I have constructed this word cloud and arrived at the other statistics mentioned in this post and the post yesterday, read my post, ‘Analysis of #OzHA2013’ on my digital humanities blog, Stumbling Through the Future.

It is not surprising to see that words such as history, histories, Australian, conference etc occurred frequently in the tweets from this conference.  However there are some interesting words that also occurred frequently.  In my overview of the conference program I noted that ‘War and Society’ was the theme which attracted the most number of papers.  The word ‘war’ was the third most tweeted word for the conference, attracting 36 mentions in tweets.

Not far behind was the word ‘Chinese’ with 34 mentions.  According to yesterday’s list the ‘Asian-Australian Histories’ theme only had 15 papers presented and not all of them were about the Chinese.  So why was the word ‘Chinese’ rate such a frequently occurring word in the tweets?

A look at the most retweeted tweets gives us a clue:

Most Retweeted Tweets

Tweet No. of Retweets Originator of Tweet
1 RT @dragontails2013: #dtails2013 #OzHA2013 Dragon Tails special issue Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies (CSDS Vol 6) just launched on line http://t.co/ve5guIZhXQ 7 @dragontails2013
=2 Anderson’s paper examined WW1 and WW2 correspondents as reporting on and experiencing trauma, usually not acknowledging either #OzHA2013 6 @ACPGilbertson
=2 RT @perkinsy: My 100th blog post! Rethinking Indigenous Histories – some reflections http://t.co/H2VRC6fBLl #OzHst #OzHA2013 #NAIDOC 6 @perkinsy
=3 RT @jypersian: Interesting final plenary #OzHA2013. Public engaged by local and ethnic community histories, visual/oral mediums. Academics not listening? 5 @jypersian
=3 RT @perkinsy: Nettle: Around 100k Chinese were recruited for the WWI battlefields in France! #OzHA2013 5 @perkinsy
=3 RT @sharon_howard: That has reminded me – #OzHst tweeps, the #OzHA2013 archive is at http://t.co/ZQ5SE0Avss 5 @sharon_howard
=3 RT @SydneyClio: @baibi talking about falling in love with people through the archival record #OzHA2013 5 @SydneyClio
=3 RT @wragge: Tomorrow I’ll be in Wollongong to give a ‘Digital tools for impatient historians’ workshop at #OzHA2013. 5 @wragge

Two of the most retweeted tweets for the conference were about Chinese people in history (tweets sent by @dragontails2013 and @perkinsy).

I noted earlier that many sessions were not blogged.  There were also many sessions which were not mentioned in a tweet.  In yesterday’s post I noted that there were 24 papers delivered in the Australian Women’s History Network stream.  Women were also the subject of one of the keynotes at the conference.  Yet the word ‘women’ only had six mentions.  There were 151 words that occurred more frequently than ‘women’.

Twitter is at its strongest when a crowd is tweeting.  Over the four days 64 tweeps participated in #OzHA2013. Most tweets were sent by people attending the conference but there were also people who were following the conference from afar who were joining in the conversations such as @history_punk in Perth.

Most Prolific Tweeps During the Australian Historical Association Conference

Twitter Handle No. of tweets
1 @perkinsy 120
2 @ACPGilbertson 107
3 @nthistorian 40
4 @AustHistAssoc 35
5 @ms_kalfic 32
6 @pha_nsw 27
7 @davegearl 24
8 @wragge 15
9 @jypersian 12
=10 @history_punk 10
=10 @SydneyClio 10
Total number of tweets sent 432

The table above tells an important story 78% of the tweets about the conference were sent by just eleven people. The archive of the tweets about last year’s conference show that 1,112 were sent.  This includes those tweets sent before, during and after the conference.  For this year’s conference only 789 tweets were sent (before, during and after the conference) – a 33% decrease on last year.

This year tweeps were having problems connecting to the internet at the conference.  People who are affiliated to an Australian university with an eduroam service have access to the networks at other eduroam universities.  Some people were having trouble connecting through eduroam.  People who were not affiliated with a university were trying to connect through 3G but the signal was poor to non-existent in the conference venue.

Tweeting during a conference is new to both attendees and to conference organisers.  This year’s organisers did a good job.  One of the organisers, Kristina Kalfic, wrote a clear protocol about tweeting during sessions which was widely broadcast in the months leading up to the conference.  I found this very helpful as I did not have to feel like I had to ask for permission to tweet during a session, yet there was also an avenue made available for speakers to request that their paper not be tweeted which I think is fair. I did not hear of any speaker who availed themselves of this opportunity.

The conference program said that if an attendee did not have access to eduroam they could see the registration desk for information on guest accounts.  I received a guest account but had to take the time to visit the University of Wollongong IT support centre which was in another building.  The support staff had me going in no time.

I was grateful that attendees who were not affiliated to universities were thought of through the provision of guest accounts.  However, in the flurry of activity other attendees struggled to gain access.  I had to skip part of one session to get connected.  I should have arrived at the conference venue earlier and had my connection secured before the first session.  This is not always possible for people who have had to travel from afar.  It is understandable that busy conference volunteers are not able to stand around during all the breaks waiting to help people get connected.  It might have been an idea to put up directions on where to go for IT help on the conference noticeboard.  I tweeted about where to go for assistance.  That was not much help for people who were not connected to the internet!

There are a lot more statistics I can share with you but I’ll leave you to ponder these in more detail.  I have made the data available on my post, ‘Analysis of #OzHA2013’ on my digital humanities blog, Stumbling Through the Future.

More #OzHA2013 Statistics

Day No. of Tweets   Hash tag Explanation of the Hash tag No. of Tweets over the entire conference
1 10th July 162 1 #OzHst The hashtag for Australian history 42
2 12th July 135 2 #THATCamp THATCamp #OzHA2013 was a digital humanities conference affiliated with the main conference 24
3 9th July 128 3 #twitterstorians The hashtag used by English speaking historians world-wide 15
4 11th July 119 4 #dtails2013 Dragon Tails was a conference affiliated to the main conference 15
5 13th July 50 5 #AWW2013 The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge encourages people to read Australian women’s writing and write reviews online. 12


People also discussed the conference on Facebook, however much of this conversation occurred in closed groups.  I have always felt that if you cannot shout a comment out loud to a crowd at a CBD train station during peak hour then you should not share that comment online.  However, after observing the use of private Facebook pages over the last few months I see that they fill an important role in allowing those people who are nervous about exposing themselves online to participate in online conversations in a safe environment.  There are also some things that groups need to discuss away from the glare of publicity.


The tweeps and bloggers provided a great service throughout the conference and enabled many who could not attend get a small taste of the conference.  Social media is also another means for historians to reach out to different audiences. There are  many people who are interested in history.

Yet there were many good papers which bloggers and tweeps did not mention.  A person following from afar would have only gained a glimpse of the discussion which occurred at the conference.  Hopefully more attendees will report next year’s conference online.

This is the second in a three part series giving an overview of the 2013 conference of the Australian Historical Association:

7 thoughts on “2013 Australian Historical Association Conference – on social media

    • Yes, there is a lot more discussion I could have put in this post but it is long enough already. However, in not completing the analysis it leaves it more open for others to contribute their reflections. Once you have come out of your quiet corner I would be interested in hearing your reflections on it.


  1. LOL I am not surprised to see that you were the most prolific tweeter!
    I am also not surprised to see that the local internet access let participants down. It beggars belief that in the 21st century we have a 3rd world service as we do, and I can’t wait till the NBN is everywhere. (We saw it in action at a lucky friend’s place a week or so ago, and the difference in speed is amazing). But much more importantly, people outside the metropolitan areas have been fobbed off with a 3rd rate service for so long, it is morally wrong that they are denied the business and educational opportunities that we in the city take for granted. I was shocked to find there was *no* internet access at our B&B last time we were in the Hunter Valley (hardly the back of beyond and BTW neither is Wollongong). How these people are supposed to access emergency and bushfire alerts I do not know. How do they do their banking? How do people in business interact with their customers? They can’t read this blog either!


    • 🙂 I’m a fast typist and had good connection to the internet through the university. I don’t necessarily think that more tweets is better, but some of my followers appreciated my conference twitter stream.

      Re the NBN, I don’t think that will affect the mobile service which is what the attendees were trying to connect to. The university has a good internet service which I connected to and this was available to other attendees. However, due to a variety of reasons which I speculate were that attendees were unaware of this service being available to them or they were unable to find out how to connect to it, some attendees resorted to using the 3G network which did not work at all well inside the building.

      I still think that radio and telephones are the best means of communicating emergency information as not everyone is on the internet all the time even if they have a good connection. Having lived in an area with poor internet service at the turn of the century (gee that sounds like it was back in ancient times!), I agree with you about the importance of getting a good service to rural areas. Wollongong is fortunate to be one of the areas given priority in the roll-out as this council media release states.


      • I followed your tweets when I was able to, and I thought they were great. I liked being able to follow the links for the topics that interested me.
        As you say, with so many sessions, if more people had been able to tweet as much as you did, the whole conference could have been covered, which would be great for people like me.
        Re the lack of 3G access, I think it’s ridiculous that it didn’t work inside. In Russia where they have 4G access is brilliant so I suppose now I have higher expectations.
        Especially for people in the bush. At the B&B we stayed at, The Spouse’s Telstra phone worked and my Optus one didn’t, and we couldn’t get any radio (or TV) at all. So we felt quite vulnerable because it was bushfire season and although it was a lovely spot I wouldn’t stay there again.


      • I’ve found same travelling in Tasmania. Telstra is the only carrier that has decent covereage, the rest is hit and miss. You’re right, no communications at all including radio is not good in bushfire season.


      • I know, I know I have to go back to Telstra. But I still haven’t forgiven them for making my line ‘private’ – without authorisation – so that staff couldn’t ring me in the morning to let me know I had to organise a replacement teacher, and when I complained they said it would take 48 hours to fix it! (They changed their minds about that quick smart when I charged into the Telstra office at Southland at 4,30pm and announced (loudly) that I wasn’t leaving until they’d fixed it!)


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