The history profession in Australia appears to be a healthy profession for women judging from the proceedings of the annual conference of the Australian Historical Association held in Sydney this week. The prominent keynote sessions were dominated by women and a majority of presenters in the parallel sessions were women.
It is not hard to find highly qualified women historians who lead the profession in Australia as the conference organisers demonstrated. While the conference opened with a keynote presentation by Cambridge University’s Professor Peter Mandler, it was a woman historian, Professor Penny Russell, who welcomed the participants to the conference in the opening session. Russell is the chair of History Department at the University of Sydney which hosted the conference. The History Department is the largest in Australia. The chair of the organising committee was Associate Professor Kirsten McKenzie who spent the whole conference chugging in the background organising a productive event.
Professor Ann Curthoys delivered the highest profile event of the conference. Her public lecture was recorded by the ABC for later broadcast as part of Radio National’s Big Ideas program. Curthoys has written and co-written a slew of articles and books on race relations in Australia, Aboriginal history and feminist history.
Professor Shurlee Swain who gave the keynote lecture for the Religious History Association conference stream has taken a leading role in research into the history of welfare, children and adoption. Most recently Swain has written reports surrounding the history of child protection for Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Professor Jill Matthews delivered the keynote for the Australian Women’s History Network (AWHN) conference stream. Professor Jill Matthews wrote what has been described as a “path-breaking” feminist history in 1984 titled, Good and Mad Women: The historical construction of femininity in twentieth century Australia. Since then she has researched women’s history, cultural history and popular culture.
The two plenary panels of the conference also featured women. Two of the three panelists on the topic of Historicising International Law were women. The prominent plenary panel ‘Big Questions in History’ panel, which is a highlight of every conference, featured four women amongst the seven speakers. Continue reading