My last post was my 200th post on this blog. Wow! This milestone crept up on me, as did the fifth anniversary of this blog last August but now it is definitely time to reflect on these milestones.
Some posts have stood out for me. Sometimes I finish a post knowing that the writing is particularly strong. Generally this is when I have been particularly moved by the subject matter, whether it was a well-written book or an episode of history which has stuck an emotional chord within me.
It is the humble archive that has been the source of much of many of my posts. Archives are a crucial bulwark of human rights. The story over the last five years which demonstrated this with crystal clarity was the case of four elderly Kenyans who sued the British government for human rights abuses during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s. For years the British government had denied their complaints and told historians and lawyers that no relevant documents existed about this issue. But the Kenyan’s legal team pushed and as I explained in ‘Archives are important, very important’, millions of colonial documents were found to have been illegally hidden from public view.
‘If… we are going to sin, we must sin quietly’, wrote the British Attorney-General to the Kenyan colonial authorities. This was the title of my second post about the issue in which I explored the troubling question of how such horrific crimes could have been ignored for so long. If you only have limited time to read this blog this is the one post I would like you to read. It demonstrates why historians and archivists are vital professions for any society professing to uphold human rights and democratic values, but it also shows how flawed archives can be and how historians sometimes fall short in their over-reliance on government archives. This post also seeks to understand why so many people do nothing when people in authority commit crime as part of their job.
Stumbling Through the Past is an opportunity to share how historians work and how western history is practiced. Over the last few years I have been writing about the subjectivity of the archives and how significant groups of people are not well represented in them. In ‘Women and Archival Silences’, as well as the Mau Mau posts, I demonstrate how even with the paucity of the records a skilled researcher can painstakingly stitch together a hidden history. In all these posts I challenge the attitude that says ‘if the document doesn’t exist then it didn’t happen’.
Some of my posts are inspired by current events. Early on in the life of this blog southern Queensland was hit by severe flooding. The home in which I had stayed while researching for my honours thesis was badly hit and the State Library of Queensland where I had spent many intense, but enjoyable days working through historic material was also under water. I wrote about the long history of flooding in this area in my post ‘Southern Queensland Floods – Again’. I was approached by the editor of Online Opinion and an updated version of it was posted on that site a few days later.
Another popular post was my coverage of the protests at the University of Sydney library over plans to cull over one million books from the collection as part of a massive renovation project for its Fisher Library. Recently I have been contacted by researchers seeking permission to use some of the photos accompanying the post for articles they are writing.
From the very beginning I decided that I wanted to have at least one image in each post and that I would abide by copyright laws. Photographers are one of the most ripped off artists online and I did not want to perpetuate the injustice. However, five years ago cultural institutions were asking people to fill in a form and wait two weeks while they decided if they would allow the use of the images on a non-commercial blog. This time delay would be an impediment to my blogging so I decided that I would take most of the photos myself. Now I carry a camera in my handbag and have amassed a good photo bank. To my surprise I have had several requests from researchers to re-use my images online. It shows that the story behind an image is often more important than the quality of the image.
Archives, libraries and protests are big, but I am also passionate about the very little but important aspects of history and one of these is footnotes or endnotes. Footnotes and endnotes are not only a service to future researchers, they are a commitment to the reader that the writer has taken a great deal of care to get it right and is willing to be held accountable to the reader. I am pleased that ‘Footnotes: “Sneakily important” is the second most accessed post on this blog. Publishers take note!
I balance this blog with the occasional light post, often with a quirky bit of trivia to lighten our world. These are fun to write and readers also seem to enjoy them. Here are a sample:
Sometimes a serious issue can be written in a light-hearted way, such as my struggle to work out who is an Australian writer in ‘It’s Not Just a List’. National identity is a fraught area!
A theme running throughout this blog has been exploring the issues faced by women writers. I have been promoting the work of Australian women writers through reviews on this blog as part of the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. This is my small effort to alleviate the imbalance of reviewing in newspapers and literary magazines which both the Vida Count and the Stella Count show favours male authors. My ‘Review Policies’ page explains my approach to reviewing both books and exhibitions.
The one area in which I can do better is covering a greater number of books by diverse authors. Interestingly, WordPress tells me the post has attracted the most comments is ‘Indigenous Literature Week 1-8 July 2012’ which lists histories written by Aboriginal authors.
Another highlight on this blog was my post, ‘Reflecting on National Reconciliation Week 2013’. This was another post where I reflected on current events and historic attitudes in Australia. History is embedded in the present and is very evident during the six-week period that begins with Sorry Day on 26th May and ends with NAIDOC week in the first week of July. This post won an award from Reconciliation Australia for a social media competition that I hadn’t known about.
I have also tried to include the history of other people in Australia who have contributed greatly to Australia but are often forgotten in our national narratives:
- Chinese Settlers in Atherton, Queensland
- East of India: Forgotten Trade with Australia
- Indian Soldiers Fought at Gallipoli
I am glad that this blog has enabled me to support my professional community, particularly by featuring the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association in a series of posts in July each year. There is not much work for journalists nowadays but citizen journalism through personal blogs is thriving. I don’t think citizen journalism is a substitute for properly trained and funded journalists, but as Jen Howard, an American journalist, said on this blog, journalists cannot cover it all. The reporting work of bloggers helps professional journalists do a good job covering news.
Jen Howard was commenting on the post that was the start of my online conference reporting. In early 2012 thousands of miles away I followed the American Historical Association Conference online and wrote about my experience in ‘Nearly There – Experiencing a Conference Online’. This experience inspired me to share the proceedings of the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association online each year.
People seize on the obvious horrible aspects of social media – the harassment, denigration and over-sharing online. This gets the headlines but social media and the internet is founded on millions of people promoting the good work of others. I try to be supportive online and this blog gives me a good opportunity to do this. I have honoured the work of a couple of exceptional history teachers my children have been fortunate to be taught by. ‘“An unforgettable inspiration”’ was a delight to write but it was with great sadness I republished an obituary of a teacher who died at the height of her career in ‘Remembering a Special History Teacher’. On a happier note it was great to report how much the international research community values the services of Australian librarians and archivists, especially through the open access Trove repository. ‘International Researchers Value Work of Australian Libraries and Archives’ also calls on researchers to thank libraries and archives for their work by informing the institutions if they have published any work that makes good use of their collections.
Ever since I started this blog I knew I could help other researchers by sharing links to good historical resources I have found. In 2011 I wrote ‘Australia’s Historic Newspapers Online’ which lists where to find digitised Australian newspapers online that are not in Trove. This has become my most accessed post of all time. Just recently I have started a new page on this blog called ‘Stumbling Through History Links‘ where I have placed all the great, freely available Australian history websites I have found over the years. Each Sunday I add a few more links. At last count this page had over 150 links – check it out to see if there is a resource listed that could be useful for you.
Everyone has a personal connection to history through their life and the lives of their family. Family History is integral to history. I wanted to make this connection with my blog so I interviewed my mother and wrote about her life in three posts:
- Quietly Pushing Barriers Aside
- Glimpses of a Young Woman Working in Laboratories 1959-1963
- My Mother the Computer Programmer
Without this blog I wonder if I would have taken the time and care to research and write her story. I am now thinking of other family members with interesting stories and hope to share these here in the future.
Naturally this blog is an opportunity for me to share the history I have been working on. I started this blog with a page on Religion in State Schools which summarises the history of the Bible in State School referendums of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Australia. My honours thesis was on the Queensland referendum of 1910 so I have made sure there is a link to the full thesis on that page. ‘The Transformation of a Word’ touches on some of the research I have done on the history of the meaning of the word ‘secular’ in late nineteenth century Victoria. I also worked on education history with a major research project called ‘Teaching Reading in Australia’. In 2014 I reflected on Alan Atkinson’s award-winning Europeans in Australia – Vol III in which I played a small part as a research assistant. What a privilege to do that work! More recently I posted about a paper I delivered at a conference. ‘Beyond the Church Parade: Religious beliefs in the front line during WWI’ summarises the work I am doing on belief and masculinity in the Australian forces serving during World War I. You can read more about my work is on my digital humanities blog, Stumbling Through the Future.
I was umming and ahhing about whether to share with you my top ten most accessed blog posts. Such a list privileges older posts which have been around longer and therefore had more of a chance to be accessed. I also don’t know whether these hits mean that the posts have been read, or whether some of the hits represented mistaken clicks to the page. For what it’s worth, here is the list of the ten posts with the most hits on this blog:
- Australia’s Historic Newspapers Online
- Footnotes: “Sneakily important”
- Reaching Out to the Public – Australian Historical Association Conference 2012
- The Dream of a Century: The Griffins in Australia’s capital
- Sydney University Library: Borrowers Protest
- Southern Queensland Floods – Again
- Religion in State Schools
- 50th Anniversary of the Sydney Baha’i Temple
- “An Unforgettable Inspiration”
- Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Two hundred posts is a lot of writing. There are some other themes that wend their way through this blog but I will stop here.
These reflections have largely been about me and my work but Stumbling Through the Past would not have lasted so long if it was not for the encouragement and support of you, the reader. The next post will be a surprise and thank you to all the readers who have sustained this blog.