Blogging the 2016 Australian Historical Association Conference

A mural on yellow background with red woman and black hair holding a yellow 7 pointed star. Ballarat with large black letters and "The past is history" in red underneath.

The History Council of Victoria tweeted: “New mural in Ballarat – ‘The past is history’ – a farewell message for #OzHA2016 perhaps? Thx for a good conference!”

Social media has transformed conferences. No longer are conferences a private experience which might be shared months or years later when some papers are published. Live reporting of conferences on Twitter has gone a long way to enlarging the audience of a conference to interested people around the world. Where conference attendees are particularly engaged on Twitter the conversation on the back channel can add another dimension to the discussion in the conference venue.

Yet, as I noted in my last post about the Twitter stream from the recent conference of the Australian Historical Association, the immediate and abbreviated nature of the tweet severely limits the depth of reporting through that platform. Twitter also uses an abbreviated form of language that can be tricky for the uninitiated to understand. Longer-form reporting in the form of blog posts is indispensable for the comprehensive coverage of the conference.

Good blogging is not easy and it is particularly difficult to do during a conference. Ideally a blogger will attend sessions during the day, then in the evening write an accurate and fair post ready to publish before the start of sessions the next day. It is not easy. I have blogged several conferences and usually finish writing some time after midnight. By the end of a week-long conference a blogger will be quite sleep deprived. Usually I book an extra night in my accommodation and spend the next day reading in bed to recover.

We were fortunate that the highly regarded history blogger, Janine Rizzetti attended the Australian Historical Association conference in Ballarat. Rizzetti has been blogging at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip for eight years. She has been a prolific blogger throughout her PhD (she is now Dr Rizzetti) and has blogged several conferences including the 2013 Australian Historical Association conference in Wollongong.

Rizzetti used her long train rides between Melbourne and Ballarat to write up daily posts about the 2016 conference. Rather than summarising the contents, I suggest that you read them yourself.

It is not possible to adequately convey sensitive topics on Twitter. It is too easy for a tweet to be misinterpreted. History conferences by their nature will inevitably have at least one session on a sensitive topic. The Ballarat conference was no exception. A panel about the histories of welfare and civic society discussed what has been learned as a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Plenty of histories have been commissioned in the past about the history of institutions which were brought before the Commission. Sadly, some histories written in the past extolled the virtues of this institution and those people in charge but did not expose the history of abuse.

No tweet could cover the discussion adequately, but it is important that it was reported. I asked on Twitter if someone could blog this session and Federation University PhD student, David McGinniss responded by writing about this session. History should never be a facile celebration. I encourage you all to read and ponder McGinniss’ post.

For most people, it is just not possible to blog during the conference. Western Australian historian, Claire Greer has started a series of blog posts about the conference. Read Greer’s observation of the first day of papers and keep an eye on her blog, The Road to War and Back for further reports.

As I noted in my post about this year’s tweeting from the Australian Historical Association conference, it is important that a number of people report the conference. People who did not attend the conference gain a much better idea of the conference proceedings if they hear from a number of voices. One person cannot properly cover the entire conference, especially one like the Australian Historical Association conference which this year had up to ten concurrent sessions. It would be great if more participants at conferences blogged about some of the sessions. Even a blog post about one session is valuable.

Conference bloggers provide a great service to the conference organisers and the presenters. The best way to reward these bloggers is to read their conference reports and take the time to write a comment on their posts.

In my next and final post about the 2016 Australian Historical Association conference, I will highlight the conference papers which are available online and other websites which were shared during the conference.

More Blog Posts about the Conference

These posts about the 2016 conference have come to my attention since publishing this post:

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2 thoughts on “Blogging the 2016 Australian Historical Association Conference

  1. As an outsider I’m not qualified to take part in these conversations, but it is privilege and a pleasure to be able, by following you and the Resident Judge, to be able to listen in.

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    • I am glad that you are enjoying reading about the conference Bill. Please don’t hold back with your thoughts. We all learn more by discussing things. Discussion about history is not restricted to people with formal qualifications.

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