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. Continue reading

Reflections on a Day at Digital Humanities Australasia 2016

A ship moored at a dock with warehouse and containers on the dock.

While we were ensconced in the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies building, Australia’s icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, was being loaded next door.

The field of Digital Humanities has been a significant influence on the way I work. There are many debates about the nature of Digital Humanities is but very broadly it covers the work humanities researchers do when they study the use of digital technology in society, adopt research methods which draw heavily on digital technology and present their findings using digital technology.

I follow experts in digital humanities on Twitter and read their blog posts. Through this I have deepened my understanding in using technology to explore World War I diaries, mine Trove for information and convert old documents into machine-readable form. You can read more about the technical details of what I am doing on Stumbling Through the Futuremy Digital Humanities blog. What I do is relatively simple but I owe it all from listening to experts on the internet and at conferences.

I was planning on visiting Hobart sometime for research and to visit family, but that sometime was hastened when I found out that the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities were holding their annual conference in Hobart. The Association had secured some thought-provoking digital humanists for their keynote sessions and I wanted to be there. Yesterday I sat in the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies on the waterfront engrossed in some fascinating sessions. Continue reading

The Loud Sounds of Many Fingers Typing

Lush garden in front, deciduous tree in centre in front of 2 storey old building

My favourite, quiet courtyard at University of Sydney

This series of posts has largely celebrated the tweeting of this year’s Australian Historical Association Conference. Overall we did well at sharing the news of the conference online. But while we should celebrate our achievements, we should at the same time keep a sense of proportion on all this. Twitter is not everything and neither is social media. The vast majority of conference attendees did not send a tweet and are probably not on Twitter at all. However, as I wrote in my last post, historians who are not on Twitter also benefit from tweeting.

But for at least one attendee, the use of computers during conference sessions detracted from their conference experience. After the conference they shared their less than ideal experience with me. They noted that I had referred to “soft tapping of numerous keyboards” from people tweeting at the Global Digital Humanities Conference in an earlier post. This historian said that in their view the sounds of people typing was not ‘soft’ but so loud that they found it quite distracting. They said that they didn’t feel comfortable raising this during the comfortable as they didn’t want to upset people or cause the issue to mushroom into a controversy. Continue reading

Top Retweets from 2015 Australian Historical Association Conference

Sandstone Quadrangle Building at University of Sydney

A glimpse of one of Sydney’s modern skyscrapers through an ivy-covered arch of University of Sydney’s nineteenth-century Quadrangle Building.

Retweeting amplifies tweets. One tweet is ephemeral. It can easily be lost in the deluge of tweets that are emitted at the same time. Retweeting is one way that tweeps catch tweets that appeal to them and increase the volume on those tweets. The tweet is sent again but to a slightly different audience and at a different time. A tweet that is retweeted many times has something in the 140 characters that has captured the imagination of the Twittersphere and has a much larger audience than the first time it was sent.

In my last post I wrote about the dominant themes that emerged in the Australian Historical Association Conference’s Twitter stream. This was done by analysing the most popular words in the Twitter stream. Another way to understand what interested the conference tweeps is to have a look at the most retweeted conference tweets:

Tweet No. RTs
1 RT @perkinsy: #OzHA2015 For all those who want to learn how to use @TroveAustralia API, here are simple step by step instructions: http://t.co/1vsBpXOZzm 17
2 RT @AustHistAssoc: Mark McKenna #OzHA2015. Historians need to be part of public debate as collaborators with journalists, documentary makers, museum curators. 15
3 RT @perkinsy: I’m presenting at #OzHA2015 now: Needle in the haystack: a searching look at digital tools’. See slides: http://t.co/NXuAT5Rsjp #dhist 11
4 RT @baibi: My paper is on Sydney boy Charlie Allen, who lived in China from 1909 to 1915, + the letters he wrote home. #OzHA2015 http://t.co/0donu76vCF 10
5 RT @history_punk: #OzHA2015 Matthews: fascinating insights into history/social change and a lifelong commitment to research/activism. http://t.co/kl8ZzVksvF 10
5 RT @AustHistAssoc: Catherine Freyne #OzHA2015. How to write history for radio? Balance of narrative and analysis, anecdote and reflection. 9
6 RT @ap_ap_ap_: Those at #OzHA2015 – check out this fab #DH2015 keynote on memory and access to archival sources by @wragge: http://t.co/xGgwy1707t 8
7 RT @AustHistAssoc: Anna Clark #OzHA2015. Historians caught between rigorous demands of scholarship and appetites of audiences for intimate stories. 8
7 RT @history_punk: #OzHA2015 Mootz: You can teach a 5 yr old about historiography. How? Ask mum/dad to tell you about the day you were born. Two perspectives! 8

Trove was the subject of the most retweeted tweet in the conference. It seems a lot of people are interested in learning how to use the facility provided by Trove for the speedy, mass download of search results. This technology is called an API. You don’t need any qualifications or programming expertise to use it. As I said in the tweet, you can learn how to use it with some simple step by step instructions I have written. By using an API you are liberated from the tedium of clicking each search result and saving it one by one. Give it a go – it will open up a world of possibilities for you.

In a similar vein, Tim Sherratt’s well-received and provocative keynote speech at the previous week’s Global Digital Humanities Conference gained deserved attention by people following the #OzHA2015 hashtag. His paper examined our access to government archives and questioned the perception that “open access” really means that. If you have not already done so, make sure you read his paper which he has made available on his discontents blog.

Three tweets from the Big Questions plenary panel were in the top retweets which reflects my comments in the last post about the interest of conference tweeps in this session on public history. panelists, Mark McKenna, Catherine Freyne and Anna Clark provided these morsels of interest. Likewise, women’s history is reflected in this list of popular retweets. It is worth clicking on the link to the screenshot from Jill Julius Matthews’ Australian Women’s History Network keynote presentation.

The last in the list of retweets is a wonderfully quirky but perceptive insight into the learning of history in real life. This pearl was contributed by Denis Mootz of the History Teachers’ Association of NSW in his paper on ‘Historical Literacy’.

There are two interesting tweets in this list. Both the third and the fourth tweets on the list were pre-scheduled tweets that Kate Bagnall and I sent while we were speaking. This indicates that people following the Twitter stream found it helpful when speakers contributed some tweets about their papers while they presented their papers. These pre-scheduled tweets provided some context to those following from afar and helped tweeps in the audience by locating information about the paper for them. For more about this see my post, ‘Presenting at a Conference in the Social Media Age’.

This post has focussed on the people who was the subject of the tweets, not the person who wrote and sent the tweets. There is a very good reason for this. In the academic and professional sphere the content of tweets is important. To take an extreme case, a professional who only tweets about their morning coffee is unlikely to get many followers, even if they are an esteemed leader in their field. A person who only tweets about themselves and their own work is of limited interest unless they are a leader in their field. There are few people like this.

Effective professional use of social media is an act of service to a professional community. Professional tweeps help share knowledge and assist members of the community to connect with each other.

Librarians and teachers understand this well. They regard their social media connections as a ‘Professional Learning Network’ (PLN). The historian tweeps at the conference and those following online were using social media to learn and to connect. People who use social media professionally learn from others and pass it on. They ask questions of their Professional Learning Network when they need help. While they certainly contribute their own work, this may be only about 25% of their tweets/posts. For the vast majority of us it is the content of the tweets that we send that is valued above all else.

It was the presenters at the conference and other conferences who provided the interesting ideas and comments which tweeps passed on to the Twittersphere. This list of popular retweets shows that Twitter can help raise the profile of people who are not on Twitter. Tweeting a conference is a service to an online community which wants to learn more about the subject. It is also a service to presenters at a conference as their ideas are disseminated to a wider audience.

This analysis uses the data from the Conference’s Twitter Archive maintained by digital historian, Sharon Howard. If you would like to look behind the analysis I have done of the conference tweets go to the Voyant Tools text analysis page I have created. Let me know if you find something interesting.

Twitter Themes During 2015 Australian Historical Association Conference

word cloud

Most commonly used words in #OzHA2015 tweets during the 2015 Australian Historical Association Conference. Click on the word cloud to enlarge it. Click on it again to be taken to the data behind this word cloud. I love this facility from Voyant Tools!

During the four days of open sessions at the conference, participants tweeted over forty thousand words excluding hashtags and Twitter handles. This year’s conference had the biggest Twitter stream of any Australian Historical Association conference since 2012 and as my last post showed, more people tweeted the conference than ever before.

A conference Twitter stream is a news service for those who cannot attend the event.  It is a crowd note-taking service which participants can refer to in order to jog their memory, find out what happened in sessions they did not attend and to provide added commentary which enriches the conference discourse.

Yet we need to be careful about what a Twitter conference stream can and cannot provide. The fact that there are lots of tweets does not necessarily mean that the event is properly represented in the hashtag. Any digital history papers are more likely to be well tweeted because attendees interested in technology are more likely to be on Twitter. Likewise some papers might miss out on coverage on Twitter even though the room is full, because those attendees are not on Twitter.

How well did this year’s Twitter stream reflect the conference program?

The word cloud above represents the most frequently tweeted words during the four days of sessions at the conference (after excluding stop words such as ‘the’ ‘are’, ‘a’ etc). Predictably words such as history, historians, Australian, Australia and historical were among the most commonly used words in the Conference Twitter stream. If we delve deeper there are some other themes which emerge.

I have taken a closer look at the fifty most tweeted words to identify topics of significant interest to the tweeps during the conference. This is a subjective analysis. I did not use topic modelling software and I ignored over four thousand words which occurred with less frequency in the conference Twitter stream. However, I feel that this limited analysis provides an interesting indicator of at least some of the dominant themes in the Twitter stream. Continue reading

#OzHA2015 Conference Tweets – the numbers and the people

three women kneeling in the front and five women standing behind them.

Some of the attendees who brought the conference to you on Twitter.

Back in 2012 some Australian historians were following the annual conference of the American Historical Association on Twitter. We did the Australian thing and stayed up late to follow a live event in another country and immersed ourselves in the torrent of tweets from conference participants reporting the events via the #AHA2012 hashtag. I have written about this, my first experience following a conference via Twitter in my post, ‘Nearly There: Experiencing a Conference Online’.

What a wonderful service those tweeps had provided to all those who could not attend the conference. We were inspired:

@perkinsy 13/1/2012 4:52.56:

#AHA2012 was an online success. Can we share @AustHistAssoc conference in the same way? @davegearl @wragge http://t.co/Xjk2q8yM #AHA2012

The tweets have long disappeared from Twitter itself but through my Twitter Archive I found the response from British historian, Sharon Howard, which gave life to the idea (I added bold to the key text):

@perkinsy 13/1/2012 20:38.28:

I like it – succint. @AustHistAssoc @davegearl RT @sharon_howard: @perkinsy @wragge I propose the hashtag #OzHA12 🙂

So the #OzHA hashtag was born… and to my chagrin my spelling error is immortalised. Continue reading

Presenting at a Conference in the Social Media Age

Conference sign stating name of conferenceIn many respects the format of academic conferences has not changed much over the years. There will be some plenary sessions with keynote lectures but the hive of the conference is the parallel sessions where many presenters stand up, read their paper and answer a few questions afterwards. Once upon a time presenters may have used overhead transparencies. These have been replaced by powerpoint presentations which in the hands of most presenters are little different to the old technology.

But social media has introduced a profound change to the dynamics of conferences. The soundscape of plenary sessions at the Global Digital Humanities conference did not simply comprise the tones of the person speaking on stage. There was also the soft sounds of hundreds of fingers tapping on keyboards, reporting the conference to the world via Twitter.

Over several conferences I have been observing presenters and thinking about how best to present a paper in the Social Media Age. At the Australian Historical Association conference a few weeks ago I had a chance to put some ideas into practice.

Firstly I made sure I put my name and my Twitter handle on the bottom of every powerpoint slide. The best way of giving attribution on Twitter is to use the presenter’s Twitter handle but too often the people tweeting a paper are not aware that the presenter is on Twitter. The presenter misses out on a higher profile online and the possibility of connecting to more colleagues online. Likewise the audience misses out on an opportunity to expand their professional networks. Continue reading