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

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Big Questions in History: History’s Relevance in Contemporary Society

Family history is an important entrée into wider historical interests for many people in our society. But historian Anna Clark asks if connecting to the past through personal experience shuts out other personal experiences?

Anna Clark from University of Technology, Sydney was one of five historians who spoke at the popular ‘Big Questions in History’ panel at the recent conference of the Australian Historical Association. This plenary session is devoted to a critical discussion about the connections between historians and Australian society. It has been held at every conference I have attended since 2012 and is a dynamic, thought-provoking session.

Anna Clark

Anna Clark

Clark’s question is pertinent. While we are absorbed in our own family history research are we alert to the lives of others who lived in the same community as our ancestors? We may have built a fascinating story about our ancestor but embellishments and silences handed down over the generations may be exposed when we look at the stories of others. The stories of others, unrelated to us, are important to understand too. How can we understand current affairs without some knowledge of the Stolen Generations and the Mabo High Court Case?

“In the midst of this popular flowering of history”, Clark said, “there is a concern that we don’t know enough about the past”.

It is a classic example of the more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

Ann Curthoys reflected on her personal history as a participant in the original Australian Freedom Rides which exposed horrible discrimination against Aboriginal people in Australian country towns. A few years ago she wrote about her experience in Freedom Rides: A freedom rider remembers, and her diary is held by AIATSIC and is available online. Continue reading