War, Business and Orchids – the Smith Story


We did it! I was part of an international research project that has led to the publication of this book. No Substitute for Kindness: The Story of May and Stanley Smith (May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, 2017).

Stanley Smith was an Australian businessman, WWII operative in China and expert horticulturalist. His life took him from a comfortable Brisbane upbringing to the danger of war and finally to a life half-way across the world. His Chinese-born wife, May Wong, grew up during the civil war in China and the fighting against Japanese occupation. May and Stanley met through their work for British propaganda and intelligence in the Chinese wartime capital of the city then known as Chungking (Chongqing).

Together the lives of Stanley and May Smith make a gripping read in the newly published book, No Substitute for Kindness. Commissioned by one of the philanthropic funds established by the couple, a team of researchers and writers from the United States, England and Australia have pieced together a fascinating biography.

I was one of the historians who worked on the book. My principal task was to research the early years of Stanley Smith’s life. He was born in Brisbane in 1907 and was a student at Eagle Junction State School. Stanley then won a state scholarship to the Church of England Grammar School or ‘Churchie’ as it is commonly known. 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 These have been replaced by powerpoint presentations which in the hands of most presenters are little different to the old technology.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

Fresh Observations of War and Military

An army chaplain at work. Gallipoli, Turkey. c. 24 May 1915. Padre McKenzie of the 4th Battalion, AIF, burying a soldier in Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, Turkey c 24 May 1915. Image from Australian War Memorial.

An army chaplain at work. Gallipoli, Turkey. c. 24 May 1915. Padre McKenzie of the 4th Battalion, AIF, burying a soldier in Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, Turkey c 24 May 1915. Image from Australian War Memorial.

Mobilities and mobilisations in history is the theme of this year’s conference of the Australian Historical Association.  This is a very rich topic. The construction and maintenance of empires was based on the ability to move people and goods around the empire.  Subversion often draws on the ability to move also.

There have been some fascinating papers delivered at this conference on a very broad range of topics.  In today’s post I will concentrate on three absorbing presentations concerning the military. Michael Gladwin‘s started the session with a captivating paper, ‘”Captains of the Soul”: the mobilisation of Australian Army chaplains for Australia’s twentieth century wars’.  Midway through the paper the lights went out.  The motion sensors connected to the light detected no movement from us – we were fixated by Gladwin’s presentation. Continue reading

Connections: Australian Historical Association Annual Conference 2012

Room with lots of people

And the crowds came to the 2012 Australian Historical Association Conference. Photo by Dave Earl

This week I’m in Adelaide for the feast of history that is the annual Australian Historical Association Conference.  Each day I’ll share with you my experience of the conference on this blog.

My first experience of a historical conference was earlier this year at the American Historical Association annual conference in Chicago.  Well…  I didn’t travel outside Sydney.  My experience of this conference was entirely online.  The attendees at this conference generated a prolific twitter stream and many blog posts.  I was very grateful to the participants for sharing the news of the conference in this way.

In my blog post written at the conclusion of the American conference I enthused about the reporting of the tweeps and bloggers, but recognised it just wasn’t quite the same as being there.  It was then that I decided I’d try to attend the Australian Historical Association conference in order to gain the full experience and be one of those who report it online.

With so many concurrent sessions, each person’s experience of the conference will be very different.  If you can, follow the conference twitter stream under the #OzHA2012 tag to read the comments of other conference attendees.  If you don’t want to follow it live, you can refer to the conference twitter archive that Sharon Howard has established.   The beauty of this internetworked era is that you don’t have to be in Australia or an Australian to enjoy this conference.  Sharon Howard is following it from soggy England, wishing she was experiencing this conference in an Australian winter (but she can console herself that the English are winning the cricket)! Continue reading