Digital History at #OzHA2015? There was some

Screenshot of the home page of the website.

The Prosecution Project from Griffith University is examining the history of criminal trials in Australia between 1850 and 1960.

There are good reasons to attend conferences. I treat them as my CPD (professional parlance for Continuing Professional Development). At a productive conference I learn a great deal from being immersed in a learning environment for several days. The breaks are as productive as a session because they are good opportunities to chat with others in the field about their work and further discuss what we have learned. These blog posts I am writing are a further opportunity for me to think through new ideas and approaches as well as to pass the learning on.

The Global Digital Humanities Conference was a week before the Australian Historical Association Conference. As I said in previous posts, Australian historians Peter Read, Julia Torpey and Tim Sherratt featured at those conferences. It was a rare opportunity for Australian historians interested in Digital History to learn from leading digital humanities practitioners.

It is very difficult for one person to attend two conferences in one fortnight, so it was understandable that digital history was not a big focus at the Australian Historical Association Conference. There were no sessions titled ‘digital history’ or something similar that would convey that the papers were about the use of technology in history.

Yet digital history was there. My paper was about digital history as was Janette Pelosi’s paper about the State Records NSW digitisation project, ‘Sentenced Beyond the Seas‘ which she presented in the same session.

With low expectations I have searched through the 2015 conference abstracts for papers featuring the words, digital, data, website, internet, social media, Facebook, Twitter. To my surprise I found thirteen papers which could be regarded as digital history. This was more than I expected.

It is a superficial analysis. Can I really conclude that every paper that uses the word ‘data’ is about digital history? But when you look at the papers in my list below I think you will find that the majority appear to touch on some aspect of digital history.

I also came across a couple of digital history projects during the conference which I don’t believe were the subject of conference papers:

The Suffrage Postcard Project

The Suffrage Postcard Project

  • The Suffrage Postcard Project’ by Dr Kristin Allukian and Dr Ana Stevenson which was shared on Twitter during the conference. This project is exploring the depiction of masculinity and fatherhood in visual representations of suffragettes on postcards.
  • The Prosecution Project’: This project based at Griffith University is looking at the history of Australian criminal trials between 1850 and 1960. It is starting with recording trial details from Supreme Court registers of the various jurisdictions and will then gather information from Trove and other sources. Thank you to Alana Piper for quickly pressing a flyer about this in my hand during a quick conversation at the conference.

Next year it would be good to see more digital history papers and for at least some of them to be grouped together into designated digital history sessions. At the 2012 conference in Adelaide there were several sessions about digital history which I remember people talking about with some enthusiasm.

Why is this important? Perceptions matter. The Australian Historical Association conference is the flagship conference for professional and academic historians in Australia. As Catherine Freyne noted, journalists scour conference programs for news stories. Through the annual conference the Australian Historical Association can signal to the media, the public and historians themselves that digital history and innovation generally has an important place at the conference.

Digital History Papers at #OzHA2015

This list was made by searching the conference abstracts for the words; digital, data, website, internet, social media, Facebook and Twitter. I have added a small comment or quote drawn from the abstract.

  • Brady Albrand, ‘Discussing South Africans’ Presence: Exploring the Migration Patterns of South Africans to Australia’. Discussed the use of census and immigration data.
  • Alexis Bergantz, ‘Silent and silenced: recovering counter-voices lost to the integration narrative of French migration to Australia 1870-1914’. Identifies problem of retrieving migrants’ stories from government data, uses a “substantial corpus of letters to the French consuls from migrants and the families they left behind”.
  • Stefanie Biancotti, ‘Teaching history: Is there a foundational curriculum?’. Survey data, document analysis “provided the contextually rich data set”, “maps the network of History curriculum actors”.
  • Catherine Bishop, ‘Women’s Work Is Never Done: The Persistence of Small Business’, new story of women’s work visible with “searchable, digital archive”.
  • Breann Fallon, ‘Alienation Via Anzac’. Survey data used to show four broad narratives used by the public when discussing Anzac.
  • Lydon Fraser, ‘Migration, Nation and Public Histories in New Zealand: New Perspectives and Possibilities’. “Taking examples from local museums, television and the internet, I use this scholarship to critically reflect on selected historical narratives of migration outside the academy…”
  • Ann McGrath, Lynette Russell, Peter Hiscock panel, ‘Is It Time for Deep Time?’ References Guldi, Armitage call for use of digital data for long time history. “This panel of historians and archaeologists will explore what tools do we need to change the way we think of the deep past of the Australian continent?”
  • Elisha McIntyre, ‘Transparency in the Face of the Internet: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the ‘Gospel Topics’ Essays. “In this paper I will examine the LDS and non-LDS responses to the Gospel topics essays [on the LDS website] and discuss how they reflect the influence of technology on the way that Mormons engage with the history of their religion and what that means for LDS authority and identity.”
  • Nicole McLennan, ‘Australian Dictionary of Biography articles from the foundations up’, “How have the family history and digital revolutions influenced ADB entries?”
  • Janette Pelosi, ‘Sentenced beyond the Seas: making digital archives available’. Pelosi discussed her role as an historian and an archivist in the Sentenced Beyond the Seas digitisation project by State Records of New South Wales to digitise early convict records.
  • Yvonne Perkins, ‘The Needle in the Haystack: A searching look at the use of digital tools’.
  • Henry Reese, ‘Frontiers of the Audible: Phonographic Recording and the Soundscapes of Ethnography in Australia’. “Here, I argue, the phonograph functioned as more than simply a means by which to obtain anthropological data; rather, the sonic experience of the field was related to changing metropolitan cultures of listening.”
  • Tom Sear, ‘Search History, Selfies & Anzac Avatars: Reflections on digital commemoration and a changing relationship between personal identity and history, ANZAC Day 2015’. Lots of digital history here.
  • Imogen Wegman, ‘ ‘Like a Nobleman’s Park’: The Landscape of an Expanding Colony’. “Using land conveyance records and maps, surveyors journals, official papers and muster data, the paper will demonstrate the capacity for creating a visual and data-rich image of European expansion throughout the first thirty years of the Van Diemen’s Land colony.”
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