Heritage Leads First Day of #OzHA2016 Conference Papers

It is on again! One of the largest annual history conferences in Australia is being held all this week in Ballarat at Federation University of Australia. Over three hundred historians and associated professionals from galleries, libraries, archives, museums (GLAM) sector will present papers about the ‘Boom and Bust’ of history.

I have attended the last four conferences but not this year. I will be following the proceedings from afar via the #OzHA2016 hashtag on Twitter. So this post relies on information provided by people at the conference via tweets, the conference program and other material available online. I will be interested in comments from conference participants about whether I have conveyed it correctly.

Head and shoulders of Adam Wilkinson

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage.

This morning the day started with a provocative plenary session by the Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, Adam Wilkinson. ‘The Death of the Moral Prerogative: Why Bother with Urban Conservation’ he asked? I have copied some of his comments as reported by historians listening to the presentation.

Firstly Wilkinson critiqued ‘heritage’ as it has been practised over past decades:

Then Wilkinson talked about a new approach to heritage:

Wilkinson said heritage is all about community:

And a new acronym I learned today – HUL:

You can read more about the Historic Urban Landscape approach on the UNESCO website. There is also a website for the Historic Urban Landscape of Ballarat which you can explore.

As I am writing this I am getting distracted by the subsequent sessions about heritage. There are many papers on urban and regional histories at the conference and it sounds like there is a big effort in the heritage sector to engage many more people in the community in heritage matters. Hopefully this will lead to heritage being part of the living present, not just a mausoleum of the past. The Gold Museum at Ballarat reported that around six thousand people were involved in recent heritage consultations in Ballarat.

Tomorrow afternoon there will be a plenary on urban and regional history, titled ‘Centering the City: Spaces of Practice in Australian Urban and Regional History’. In the late morning of Thursday another plenary session will look at museums. ‘The changing nature of museums: booming, busting, or what?’ should be an interesting session. With the help of presenters from the GLAM sector and other historians, some of the issues surrounding public history are a feature of this year’s conference.

Environmental history will dominate the program with forty-one papers. Noting the conference theme of ‘Boom and Bust’, the convenors of the environmental history stream observe:

Australia’s environment may be better understood as a pulse ecology. Australian flora and fauna are adapted to longer and more irregular rhythms of scarcity and plenty, rather than the more predictable seasonal cycles of the northern hemisphere.

Convenors: Jodi Frawley, Nancy Cushing and Chris McConville in ‘Call for Papers’.

Historians will look at the interaction between man and the environment in agriculture and fishing, the quest for development, science, and our relationship with animals both native and introduced.

Another prominent stream of papers comes from the Australasian Victorian Studies Association. In Australia the word ‘Victorian’ when it comes to history can be confusing. The Victorian Studies Association focuses on the Victorian era, not the state of Victoria. The Association publishes an open access journal – good on them! It is called the Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies. I encourage you to take a good look at this journal and read some of the articles. Reward the Association for openly sharing history online by showing them through your clicks that you are interested. The conference will include thirty-six papers in this stream looking at matters such as beauty, careers, literature, music, morality, popular culture, femininity and more.


As always indigenous history and the difficult relations with settlers is well represented. Another perennial interest is war and conflict. You can have a look at the program and see the topics presented.

Given the conference’s location in the heart of the nineteenth century goldfields in Victoria it is not surprising that history is the topic of several papers. I counted sixteen papers on this topic.

Sport is covered in ten papers organised by the Australian Society for Sport History. Sport has had a very important place in Australian society so as social history it should be taken seriously. Papers look at women in sport, national and racial identity, masculinity and homosexuality in sport.

One strand of the conference that has piqued my interest is visual history. There are nine papers covering cartoons, photography and art. I am finding a few World War I diaries with drawings scattered throughout and there are a lot of photos from the War. It is making me think about the visual sources as historic evidence.

As Kate Bagnall has observed, there are a lot of history conferences to follow online this week. As well as the Australian Historical Association conference (#OzHA2016), there is the biennial conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia (#ASAA2016) in Canberra and the conference of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (#ISSCO2016) being held in Vancouver, Canada.

When tweeting a conference it is important to include the name of the person whose comment you are tweeting. It is even better to include their Twitter handle if they have one.  I only noticed one tweet that included Adam Wilkinson’s Twitter handle (@adamfuturepast) this morning. It is difficult when the conference program does not include this information so to help tweeps at the conference I have created a list of all the tweeps presenting at the conference. If you are presenting a paper at the conference and your Twitter handle is not on the list, please contact me @perkinsy, and I will add you to it.

I am not sure if anyone is going to blog the conference. I hope so, but at any rate I hope to pick up something from the pithy comments about the conference on Twitter.

It should be a good week in Ballarat. In the meantime please share your thoughts about the conference and your views on a new approach to heritage in the comments below.

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