Historical Research on Show in Sydney All This Week

Conference sign stating name of conference

The Australian Historical Association conference is being held this week at the University of Sydney. Photo by Julie-Ann Robson

This week we can get a peek at the themes and topics will be in the histories we will be reading over the next few years.It is the week for the annual festival of history, more soberly known as the conference of the Australian Historical Association.

I have done a preliminary scan of the conference programs and the abstracts of papers to be presented at parallel sessions and in this post will share an overview of the conference.

Not surprisingly the words surrounding the issues of race, empire and colonialism in history dominate the abstracts. A perennial topic of interest at these conferences is the post-settlement history of Aboriginal Australians as well as other topics surrounding colonial life in Australia. We had a great plenary panel last week at the Global Digital Humanities conference on ‘Indigenous Digital Knowledge‘ which featured Australian Aboriginal academic researchers, including the Aboriginal historian, Julia Torpey. I wonder how many Aboriginal historians will be presenting at this year’s conference?

This theme is also reflected in the keynote presentations. If you are in Sydney this week, book now for a public lecture by leading Australian historian, Ann Curthoys. She will be speaking about ‘Race, Liberty, Empire: The foundations of Australian political culture’. This is a free event held at 5:15pm on Wednesday at the City of Sydney Library. Curthoys has written books such as Freedom Ride: A Freedomrider remembers, How to Write History that People Want to Read (co-written with Ann McGrath), Is History Fiction? (co-written with John Docker), and she has co-edited Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective (free via ANU Press and a great read). This is a great chance to hear an Australian author talk about the kind of history she writes.

Keynote addresses and plenary sessions are a good indicator of current issues of interest to historians. Cambridge University’s Peter Mandler will open the conference on Tuesday morning with a presentation on ‘The “Crisis in the Humanities” in Comparative Perspective’. There is much hand wringing about this in many places of the world. It will be interesting to hear about his thoughts about whether there is a crisis, and if he thinks there is, the means he suggests to address it.

Each year there is a ‘Big Questions in History’ panel. These are the highlight of the conference as they address the interaction of history with society. The speakers are always relevant, engaging and thought-provoking. Each year I blog about them (see ‘Historians and Public Policy‘ (2014), ‘Who is Our Audience‘ (2013)). This year the panelists will be discussing the “relevance of history to contemporary society”. Tune into #OzHA2015 on Twitter on Thursday from 9am AEST to follow this session live. I will also blog this session.

The final plenary panel will be on the topic ‘Historicising International Law’. I won’t be attending the conference on Friday but hoping to follow it on Twitter.

The annual conferences of the Religious History Association (RHA) and the Women’s History Network (WHN) are once again held in conjunction with the Australian Historical Association conference. I am looking forward to attending Shurlee Swain’s keynote, ‘In the Beginning: The Origins and Impact of the Alliance between Church and State in the Delivery of Welfare Services in Australia’. This topic is very relevant currently and also connects to my research interests in the relationship between belief and the increasing secularisation of society.

Another strong conference theme is gender. Aside from the Women’s History Network conference papers there are seven parallel sessions on the subjects of gender, masculinity and women in the main conference comprising twenty-one papers. The keynote address for the Women’s History Network is on ‘Good and Mad Women: Histories of gender, then and now’, presented by Jill Matthews on Wednesday morning. Wednesday’s AWHN symposium is being held in recognition of the publication of Matthews’ path-breaking feminist history in 1984, Good and Mad Women: The historical construction of femininity in twentieth century Australia.

It is good to see the cohort of historians examining Chinese history in Australia, in China and elsewhere in Asia continuing to present papers at this conference. I have found thirteen papers that relate to Chinese history, but I have found only one paper about Indians in Australia which I suspect is an under-researched area of Australian history. Aside from this there are three papers which look at various aspects of the history of the subcontinent including mine which will touch on the Indian participation in World War I.

You can browse through the program and conference abstracts on the conference website. You will see the word ‘Anzac’ scattered throughout. Many of these papers examine Australia’s Anzac memory while others focus on World War I. There are four sessions which focus on war history, but there are many other papers which also do this but are scattered through other sessions. Likewise there are papers, like mine, which examine the Australian frontline experience in World War I but don’t mention the word Anzac in the abstract.

Excluding the papers that fall in the Religious History Association conference stream I have found around twenty papers that touch on religious issues in the main conference. I expected that this would be in relation to the commemoration of World War I and Anzac Day specifically, but on closer examination found that most of these papers did not refer to that topic. A few of these papers are included in a panel, on ‘Women’s Religious Communities 1790 to 1914’, but others relate to a wide variety of topics such as convent life in nineteenth century France, the arrival of Zoroastrian Parsis in India and the Quaker concerns about issues on the Bass Strait Islands in 1832.

The last theme which leapt out to me when I did a cursory review of the abstracts was the number of papers about Gough Whitlam’s government in the 1970s. These papers are being presented as a series of four panels being held on Wednesday.

Getting Social Media Ready for the Conference!

3 men behind tables covered with red cloth and conference tags.

Jacob Mark, John Rowley,
Josh Favaloro at the conference registration desk. Photo by Julie-Ann Robson.

We are conscious that there will be many people who cannot attend the conference but will be following online, relying on the generosity of conference attendees to share the conference proceedings on social media. The conference hashtag is #OzHA2015 so you can follow the proceedings live on Twitter. I will be blogging the conference as I do each year. I will let you know if anyone else is blogging the conference so you can check out their posts too. Whether you are attending or following from afar, you may be interested in reading about my experience of following the American Historical Association conference from Australia in my post, ‘Nearly There – Experiencing a Conference Online’. We had a ball online last week at the Global Digital Humanities conference (see #dh2015). Social media is such a great resource for learning and collaborating. Using social media during a conference really enriches the experience for everyone.

Please feel free to join the conference discussion on Twitter. We welcome your thoughts about the tweets and we may be able to put your questions to conference presenters, but no promises on that one. Check out the program and abstracts on the conference website and let us know what interests you about the program and we’ll try to send you news that interests you, but keeping in mind that we can only be in one place at one time. Over the four days of presentations there can be up to eleven parallel sessions!

As I noted in my analysis of the twitter stream from the 2013 conference, the tweets reflect the interests of the person tweeting and these may not necessarily reflect the broader themes of the conference. The more people who tweet, the more representative the conference hashtag will be, but think of the conference Twitter stream as a non-representative sampler of the program.

For conference attendees: use the conference hashtag #OzHA2015 so that your tweets can be easily accessed by those following the conference from afar. There are some conference Twitter guidelines but they are basically summed up by: use the hashtag, identify the speaker you are quoting or paraphrasing, be careful to fairly represent what the speaker is saying and above all, be nice online. For some tweets consider using another hashtag in addition to the conference hashtag so that you can reach another audience who is not otherwise aware of the conference. Suggestions are:

#twitterstorians – the biggest history hashtag in the English-speaking world. This hashtag is particularly useful for connecting with historians living in Europe and North America.



#histedchat – connect to an active group of history teachers online.

#ABHM – July is Australian Blak History Month.


#familyhistory – family historians are passionate about history and many are interested in how the historical context affected their families in the past.

#urbanhistory – I found out about this hashtag from James Lesh. It looks like Wednesday will be #urbanhistory day according to his conference overview on his heritage.city blog.

There are stacks of other hashtags you could use. These are just a few which I think are particularly relevant to this conference.

Sharing a conference is an enjoyable experience and those who do are rewarded by making connections with great people who can become real life friends, connecting with people online who have the same research interests, and learning, learning, learning.

Let the conference begin!

5 thoughts on “Historical Research on Show in Sydney All This Week

    • I’m glad you have found this post useful. I am very sympathetic to issue many face getting to conferences – expensive, time consuming and child care is a problem.


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