Utopia Girls: Historians and the Media

Women inside the gate of the city polling station, voting for the first time in a Queensland state election, May 1907. State Library of Qld

Women inside the gate of the city polling station, voting for the first time in a Queensland state election, May 1907. State Library of Qld

Historians don’t just write books.  They write pamphlets, construct websites, conduct walking tours, talk about their work on radio…  Communicating history is a creative process and this process starts with the choice of the medium and method to share the history.

The diverse forms that historians use to share history are well recognised.  The Australian Historical Association demonstrates the profession’s regard for other forms of history through their journal, History Australia.  This journal publishes reviews of history in exhibitions, film and radio in every issue.

The NSW Premier’s History Awards also recognises the diversity of the work of historians through the Multimedia History Prize.  Two documentaries and one blog have been shortlisted for this year’s awards. The other day I watched one of the shortlisted documentaries – Utopia Girls.

Clare Wright portrait

The presenter of Utopia Girls, is the historian, Dr Clare Wright.

Written, researched and presented by historian, Dr Clare Wright, Utopia Girls shares the story of the severe legal disadvantages women suffered in nineteenth century Australia and the agitation that led to Australian women becoming the first in the world to gain both the right to vote and to stand for parliament.  The story is told through a series of vignettes of six women who contributed to the groundswell of support that brought about votes for women in Australia.

Women suffered from severe legal disadvantages throughout the world until the momentous reforms of the twentieth century.  Presenter, Clare Wright reflected on the situation she would have faced as a woman in the nineteenth century:

I couldn’t go to university or get a divorce or, if married, own property.  I didn’t even have custody of my own children and women the world over didn’t have the power to change this situation because they couldn’t vote.

Clare Wright, Utopia Girls

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Reaching Out to the Public – Australian Historical Association Conference 2012

4 people standing in front of sandstone wall

Some of the participants at the conference who reported it on twitter: Brett Holman (@Airminded), Yvonne Perkins (@perkinsy), Dave Earl (@davegearl) and Ashleigh Gilbertson (@a_gilbertson).

Sharing history with the public has been a strong theme at the Australian Historical Association Conference.  Wonderful!  There is so much to be done and so much that can be done.  It is encouraging to see that so many historians are actively addressing this in their work.

Reaching out to the public was shown in myriad ways throughout this conference.  Aside from writing a book that the public can read, historians demonstrated that they are connecting to the general public through:

  • Film;
  • Public history;
  • Digital humanities; and
  • Social media.

Use of technology is an important aspect of most, if not all these categories, however, much can be done with minimal technical skills. Continue reading