Open Buildings This Weekend in Melbourne

Open House Melbourne is on this weekend and I nearly missed out. Fortunately I am in Melbourne at the moment and I sat down at lunchtime today (Saturday) to read my emails. I opened the ‘Weekend Reads’ email from Readings bookshop which opened with information about the program for Open House Melbourne which is for sale at Readings bookshops. After a hasty look at the list of open buildings, I rushed to the train to at least visit something.

As I was on the train I realised that I was trying to squash way too much into the less than three hours available to me. So I missed visiting the Melbourne City Baths (the building that looks like a layered cake with cream in between and built in 1860) and the Albanian mosque (built in 1969). In fact I only saw one building on my original list in the end.

Street facade of the building

Victorian Artists’ Society in East Melbourne.

Continue reading

Advertisements

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

Review: The Riddle of Father Hackett by Brenda Niall

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

The Riddle of Father Hackett: A Life in Ireland and Australia by Brenda Niall (NLA Publishing: 2009)

Brenda Niall’s biography of Irish-Australian Jesuit priest, Father Hackett, is absorbing from the start. Niall starts by sharing her musings as she walks through Kew cemetery in Melbourne where Father Hackett is buried. She shares some memories of the cleric who often visited her home when she was a child and her thoughts as she sifts through that third cemetery in which the lives of a chosen few are interred – the archive. Father Hackett springs out from the pages as a vibrant, warm person but with deep sorrows in his heart. The Riddle of Father Hackett lies in Ireland in the sad and violent early twentieth century.

Like Melbourne’s Archbishop Mannix, Father Hackett lived a significant part of his life in Ireland, arriving in Australia when he was in his early forties, but he was far more enmeshed in the dangerous politics of Ireland than the senior cleric. The first third of The Riddle of Father Hackett is an engrossing introduction to early twentieth-century Irish politics. As a priest Father Hackett was close to men of the Easter Uprising and the civil war of the early 1920s such as Robert Barton, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse, Robert Barton and Erskine Childers. He used his influence to shine light on Ireland’s plight by inviting English Quakers and Americans to tour the scenes of atrocities. His clerical garb protected him from unwanted British attention. Then in the midst of this dark turmoil Father Hackett was sent by the Jesuits to Australia. Continue reading

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

Historical Research on Show in Sydney All This Week

Conference sign stating name of conference

The Australian Historical Association conference is being held this week at the University of Sydney. Photo by Julie-Ann Robson

This week we can get a peek at the themes and topics will be in the histories we will be reading over the next few years.It is the week for the annual festival of history, more soberly known as the conference of the Australian Historical Association.

I have done a preliminary scan of the conference programs and the abstracts of papers to be presented at parallel sessions and in this post will share an overview of the conference.

Not surprisingly the words surrounding the issues of race, empire and colonialism in history dominate the abstracts. A perennial topic of interest at these conferences is the post-settlement history of Aboriginal Australians as well as other topics surrounding colonial life in Australia. We had a great plenary panel last week at the Global Digital Humanities conference on ‘Indigenous Digital Knowledge‘ which featured Australian Aboriginal academic researchers, including the Aboriginal historian, Julia Torpey. I wonder how many Aboriginal historians will be presenting at this year’s conference?

This theme is also reflected in the keynote presentations. If you are in Sydney this week, book now for a public lecture by leading Australian historian, Ann Curthoys. She will be speaking about ‘Race, Liberty, Empire: The foundations of Australian political culture’. This is a free event held at 5:15pm on Wednesday at the City of Sydney Library. Curthoys has written books such as Freedom Ride: A Freedomrider remembers, How to Write History that People Want to Read (co-written with Ann McGrath), Is History Fiction? (co-written with John Docker), and she has co-edited Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective (free via ANU Press and a great read). This is a great chance to hear an Australian author talk about the kind of history she writes. Continue reading

Reflecting on My work, Big Data and the History Manifesto

My great grandfather wrote this postcard from the western front to my  grandfather who was seven years old. Two weeks after he wrote this my great grandfather became yet another soldier killed in World War I.

My great grandfather wrote this postcard from the front to my grandfather who was seven years old. Two weeks after he wrote this my great grandfather was killed.

Everything about World War I was massive. It was industrial-scale warfare fought along frontlines that stretched for hundreds of kilometres, manned and supplied by millions of people. This too was a war which produced an unprecedented stream of words. It was not just the politicians and officers who sat down to pen their thoughts. Ordinary soldiers near the front and their families from around the world, recorded their experiences and comforted each other through diaries and letters.

In just one month in 1916, the Australian army post headquarters in London successfully sorted nearly three million letters but there were another four hundred thousand letters which could not be delivered as they were inadequately addressed (‘The Soldiers’ Mails’, The Age, 10/2/1917, p. 4). Australia’s five million people were prodigious writers during the war.

Any historian who seeks to understand World War I needs to come to grips with the enormity of it. I am studying just a tiny fraction of the archives produced by that war, yet I am grappling the problems and possibilities of dealing with a huge number of words. The other day I worked out that the collection of soldier diaries I’m working with contains over seven million words. To put it in more comprehensible terms, my corpus is currently the equivalent of over thirteen volumes of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This collection will grow as I add more diaries to my research corpus. I also have to read other primary sources such as court martials and Australian Imperial Force (AIF) unit diaries. 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.

Abstract

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