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

Beyond the Church Parade: Religious beliefs in the front line during WWI

Soldier pausing from writing at a makeshift table and looking directly at the camera.

Australian WWI soldier-diarist, Henry Charles Marshall(1890-1915). Photo supplied by State Library of NSW.

Today I am presenting a paper at the Religious History Association Conference which is running as an affiliated conference to the Australian Historical Association conference in Brisbane. This post provides an abstract of the paper and supporting information about my paper.

To general readers of this blog I hope that this gives you a feel for the work behind an academic paper. This is the work I have been doing on and off behind the scenes for the last couple of years amidst everything else that life throws up. I hope to blog about the sessions I attended at the conference on Tuesday in the next couple of days. There have been some good discussions about how war both reinforces and challenges gender roles in society.


A review of World War I diaries reveals glimpses of the personal beliefs held by Australian soldiers serving on the frontline. Using research tools available to the twenty first century historian, such as digitised texts and programming, a collection has been made of the expressions of religious belief recorded by soldiers in their diaries while on active duty. Read with an understanding of the way audience and masculinity shaped the soldiers’ reflections, these fragments give us greater insight into the forms and extent of personal religious beliefs held by Australian soldiers. Continue reading

Secularism and History: Religious History Association Conference Part 2

Group of conference attendees sitting around table

Some of the presenters at the Religious History Association conference: Diane Hall, Pamela Welch, Howard Le Couteur, Susan Mary Withycombe (chairperson of a session) , Hilary Carey and Noel Derbyshire.

“Religious historians have an important role to play in resisting grand narratives of secularism and modernisations”, stated Professor Hilary Carey at the commencement of the Religious History Association Conference last week.  “Instead of a single path to modernity there are many”, she argued while encouraging historians of religion to engage with this insight of post-modernism.  “What interests the postmodern scholar is not the discovery of points of truth…  but rather the relationships between propositions and how they are structured and given legitimacy”.

As I discussed in my first post about the Religious History Association conference, the secularisation thesis argues that religion will die out with advancing modernisation but this foundational theory of many academic disciplines is now being heavily scrutinised.  As can be seen in Carey’s discussion, many are starting to see this theory as too simplified and failing to fit the historical evidence of the last two hundred years.  Historians need to revisit the history of secularism and religion in order to provide the evidence which will develop a better, more sophisticated theory, or maybe debunk it altogether.  Thus the theme of the conference, Secularism and History, has an urgency and relevance that is evident in the life of Australia today.  Carey referred to the recent High Court decision about chaplaincy in schools.  This was an issue because religious belief is still an active agent in our society today – something that the secularisation thesis would suggest should have almost disappeared by now.

The papers that I heard presented at the recent Religious History Association conference in Adelaide reflected the spirit of Carey’s comments well.  They discussed religion in society and the intersection between religion and secularism.  In my first post about this conference I discussed the papers that engaged with the philosophical issues currently being raised in relation to the secularisation thesis.  In this post I will share with you the presentations that focussed on religion and secularism in its historical context. Continue reading

What is Religion? What is Secularism? Religious History Association Conference Part 1

State of Confucius in garden

Confucianism: religion or a philosophy? Statue of Confucius in the grounds of the University of Adelaide

All week I am attending the Australian Historical Association Conference in Adelaide.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post this conference is really four conferences in one.  I have been mostly attending the Religious History Association conference which concluded today.  This post gives a brief introduction to some profound philosophical debates about religion and secularism and how these debates were addressed in the papers presented at this conference.

The secularisation thesis has underpinned the work of much of the humanities and social sciences since the nineteenth century. This theory proposes that religion will die out with the increasing modernisation of society (for further explanation see the introduction to Sacred and Secular by Inglehart and Norris).  This theory is under intense scrutiny because it would be reasonable to expect that if the secularisation thesis holds then in many western societies religion would have virtually disappeared by now.  As religion is still a force in the west the question is whether the theory is incorrect or whether it needs to be reframed in a more nuanced manner.

To discuss the secularisation thesis we need to be able to understand the nature of both secularisation and it’s binary opposite, religion.  I have touched on the meaning of secular in an earlier post, but what is religion?  This has proven to be very difficult, and I would argue, virtually impossible to define.

While these debates are relevant and discussed by other disciplines, the historical record is crucial to understanding what is occurring.  The theme of this week’s Religious History Association conference is very topical. Continue reading