It’s About Time

Unfilled double page spread from a 1918 diary

History is about time. I have been using old calendars like this to help me construct a WWI timeline. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

In my last post I wrote about Sue Castrique’s conception of history as drama and how it helped me with how I tackle the writing of my book. I am writing about how Australian soldiers reconciled their experience of World War I with their beliefs, whether they be agnostic, adherents to one of the large Christian denominations or held more unorthodox beliefs for the time. Over the last couple of weeks I have been doing a major review of my writing task with the goal of producing a book that you will find is a riveting read.

While I am writing about the inner lives of the soldiers, the context which led to their reflective thoughts is critical. I am mindful of the advice given by the historian of war the historian of war and gender, Karen Hagemann. “Violence needs to be at the centre of the history of war”, she said. The war intruded into every aspect of the soldier’s lives. I cannot ignore the horrific events that punctuated the tedium and discomfort of the lives of soldiers on active service. Some events, such as battles were significant for many soldiers and nations, other events were important only to the soldier writing his diary or letters. Both types of events are important for my book. Continue reading

History as a Cast of Characters

Over the last few weeks I have made great strides with my book and am now starting to write it. My book is about the beliefs of Australian men who fought in World War I. The book will focus on the interior lives of a number of men as recorded in diaries, letters and court martials. There will be mention of attendance of church services but I am more interested in the faith, the spiritual doubts and the religious exploration of men as they were exposed to lands, peoples and situations that they would never have experienced if they had remained in Australia.

I want to write more than a book that reveals things we did not know about the past. I want to write a book that is an engrossing read, that respects not only the men that wrote the sources I am relying on but those many men whose words have not travelled the temporal divide between us and the past. I want to write a book about World War I that the readers of this blog will be eager to read.

One of the problems I have been grappling with over the last two years is how to write the book. I have been dealing with this problem for a couple of years, but I have enough experience as a writer to be patient with myself. I have continued to research, to read, to write experimental chapter outlines and introductory paragraphs. One thing that has been important in this process is to attend conferences and listen to what other writers and researchers have to say.

Book cover

Under the Colony’s Eye: Gentlemen and Convicts on Cockatoo Island 1839–1869, by Sue Castrique (Anchor Books Australia, 2014)

There have been many aha! moments over the last couple of years. One of these was a talk given by historian, Sue Castrique last year at the fabulous Working History conference hosted by the Professional Historians Association of Victoria. Sue spoke about narrative history and how she tackled the writing of her award-winning book, Under the Colony’s Eye: Gentlemen and Convicts on Cockatoo Island 1839-1869. Continue reading

The Professional Sceptic

mess-of-books-c2This blog post introduces something new to Stumbling Through the Past. I want to help authors at the start of their book-writing careers but I can’t possibly review every debut history or biography that is published. So I hope to post the occasional post written by an Australian or New Zealander author who has just published their first history or biography to help them connect with potential readers. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy reading interesting posts about histories that they might not otherwise have known about.

If your first history or biography has been published recently and you are interested in submitting a post, check out my guidelines and make me a pitch. I encourage women, indigenous people and those who are from a culturally diverse background to take me up on this.

The first post in this occasional series is from Avan Judd Stallard whose book, Antipodes: In search of the southern continent was published by Monash University Publishing In November 2016.

Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Continue reading

Vale Jill Roe

Head and shoulders of Jill Roe with sandstone background

Jill Roe 1940-2017

It is with sadness we heard about the passing of Australian historian Jill Roe late last week. During her life she made a significant contribution to Australian history. Through her passing Australia has lost a great contributor to our society, but her work lives on and enriches our lives.

Jill Roe is best known for her biography of Australian literary icon, Miles Franklin. Stella Miles Franklin: a biography is the book she is most renowned for, and for good reason. It is not only a literary biography, it provides a window through which we can understand what it was like for an enterprising Australian woman to work and support themselves during the first half of the twentieth century. Stella Miles Franklin took Jill Roe twenty-six years to research and write. It is both highly regarded as an academic work and an engaging read for people wanting to read it for leisure. You can read the review I wrote of this impressive book in 2012.

Jill Roe dedicated much of her life to biography. She was the chairperson of the editorial board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) between 1996 and 2006. During this period the organisation won a substantial grant which allowed it to make the biographical entries freely available online. She is described in ‘The ADB’s Story‘ as “energetic, decisive and knowledgeable” and during her period at the helm observers noted she was an “effective negotiator”. During her life she contributed twenty entries for the ADB either as sole author or collaboratively. Just two months ago the ADB presented her with a medal for her services.

Continue reading

Australian Professional Historians and Conference Excellence

Hello again! I have been very busy the last couple of months with some projects that will come to light in due course. But one of the causes of my ‘busyness’ was one of the best conferences I have attended. Read on…

Banner of the PHA VIC“Things they never taught me at history school” was the topic of a panel at last month’s national conference of the Professional Historians Association of Australia, but it could have been an alternative title for the event. The ‘Working History’ conference held in Melbourne was unlike any other history conference I have attended because it was about professional practice, not the findings from our research.

History is a profession. Universities are influential employers of historians. There are also people who are professional genealogists and family historians. These people have many years of experience and often have certificates of qualification in this field.

I belong to another group of historians who are represented by the Professional Historians Association of Australia. We run history consultancy businesses, work in galleries, libraries, archives, museums and governments. We do all sorts of work from heritage assessments to curating exhibitions to writing and presenting history on websites. Among other things this year I have been part of a multi-national team working on a biography of a successful business man originally from Queensland who died in the 1960s.

Professional consulting historians come across different issues to those working in academia. We have to run a business and need to meet and guide the expectations of clients. We are often working in the field of public history. The history we produce needs to appeal to audiences who are not trained in history and may only have a passing interest in it.

The Professional Historians of Australia has a branch in most states. I belong to the New South Wales and ACT branch. The national organisation and each branch has a website where anyone who wants to hire an historian can get guidance on how to hire an historian and a list of historians available for hire and their contact details. There are also some guidelines on fees for hiring consulting professional historians which is useful for negotiating contracts.

Working History Conference

Last month I presented at the Working History conference organised by the Professional Historians Association of Victoria together with the national body. The program was excellent. Over two days we discussed the particular issues that we face in our professional practices. This conference was not about the outcomes of our research – there are plenty of conferences that do that. The Working History conference was about how we run our businesses, communicating history, ethics, meeting the needs of clients etc. Around one hundred historians from around Australia and New Zealand attended.

It has been over a month since the conference ended but I found it so valuable that this week I went back over my notes and the conference tweets.   Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Tweeting the 2016 Australian Historical Association Conference

Street lamp in foreground with powerlines and buildings behind it obscured by a blanket of fog. The sun is a bright ball peeking weakly through the fog.

Conference tweeps shared a lot of photos and comments about the bleak Ballarat weather…
@AuthorClaireG tweeted about a conference excursion, “Off to the Springdallah goldfields on a very foggy morning!” The weather was drab in Ballarat last week, but this week it snowed.

Last week there was a flurry of Australian history tweeting emanating from Ballarat in Victoria. The 2016 annual conference of the Australian Historical Association was held in the old gold city and over three hundred presenters from universities, galleries, libraries, archives, museums and small businesses talked all things history.

I have attended the last four conferences, but not this year. I was one of those who following the conference twitter stream from afar. At times it was too easy to get drawn into the twitter stream and distracted from what I was supposed to be doing!

In previous years I have given an overview of the conference Twitter stream. I was particularly enthusiastic last year with three posts: the numbers and people in 2015, Twitter themes in 2015, top retweets in 2015. Also see the social media overview for 2013. So how was the 2016 conference reported on Twitter?

This year over two hundred people and organisations sent tweets using the conference hashtag, #OzHA2016. This is great. The more people tweeting the more likely we are to get a good coverage of the conference and a diversity of views. The list of people tweeting using the conference hashtag naturally includes a few people who only tweeted once or twice. I noted last year that the 2015 conference twitter stream was dominated by eleven voices contributing 76% of the tweets. This was in line with the conference twitter stream in 2013. I was delighted to see that this year a lot more people were responsible for this percentage of tweets. Thirty-nine people/organisations contributed 77% of the conference tweets.

It is in this context that we should consider the total number of conference tweets. This year saw fewer tweets than the conference last year. Between the conference start on Monday 4th July and the conference end on Friday there were 1,724 tweets sent compared to 2,625 tweets last year. There was some confusion at the beginning of the conference about the conference hashtag which would have led to some conference tweets not being counted, but I would argue that the fact that the top eleven tweeters were not dominating the tweets anywhere near as much as last year made this year’s conference hashtag a valuable one for people following afar. Continue reading