Sources and Selection – Week 9 in History Beyond the Classroom

Julia Horne.jpg
Associate Professor Julia Horne (pictured above) joined us this week in History Beyond the Classroom and drew from her extensive public history experience to talk about sources, selection, and ethical dilemmas. Before Julia became an academic (and did her PhD) she worked as a social history curator at the Powerhouse Museum; as the manager of the Local History Coordination project, a Bicentennial-funded history project at UNSW to liaise with community and public history organisations throughout NSW; and as the co-ordinator of the Oral History Program in the UNSW Archives. She is currently a councillor of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), and chairs the ANMM Audience, Programs, Outreach and Education Committee. From 2007 to 2013 she was a councillor of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Australia’s oldest scholarly historical society, and at the University of Sydney, she is a member of the Art Advisory Committee and the Heritage Advisory Group, both established to advise on matters of museum and heritage policies. Julia has also worked on a number of consultancies including the Blue Mountains World Heritage Nomination (as historical respondent for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Domicelj Consultants), UNSW WomenResearch21, and various historical surveys on overseas students, women and engineers for UNSW.
Julia is also now the University Historian at the University of Sydney and an associate professor in the Department of History, where part of her position involves the management of the university’s oral history collection, working with the University’s heritage environment, and contributing historical advice to university policy development. Her major current public history project is Beyond 1914 (video below; see http://beyond1914.sydney.edu.au/) Her publications are in the field of the history of travel and the history of universities, education and women and include: The Pursuit of Wonder: How Australia’s Landscape was Explore, nature discovered and tourism unleashed (MUP: Miegunyah Press 2005) and Sydney the Making of a Public University (co-authored with Geoffrey Sherington, MUP: Miegunyah Press 2012).
Julia talked to the class about her early experiences with public history at the Powerhouse Museum, and the need to weigh up aesthetic and historic value and the need to draw in the public. The selection of sources to engage a wide audience, to tell stories, and to critique the past was a key component to a successful public history project. She presented the class with some entertaining examples drawn from her own experiences. Julia also exhorted students to experience place as much as possible when thinking about public history, and also to think about public history as something that should influence the present. She also talked about privacy issues, which sparked an interesting discussion in our ensuing tutorial – about our responsibilities as professional historians both toward the past, and our subjects. Finally, Julia mused about the idea of turning to historical fiction to tell stories that are difficult to piece together in more traditional formats. Several students in this class, I know, are keen to follow up on this and experiment with that format themselves. I’m keen to see where that might take us…
In the ensuing discussion, we also viewed some short public history presentations created by other students, including the fabulous ones done at Monash University with Alistair Thomson (see: https://vimeo.com/groups/makinghistory/albums/10825, and noted the many different kinds of primary sources students were using in their community projects. We ended by conducting oral interviews on each other, experiencing some of the uncomfortableness of being both the interviewer and interviewee that Lorina Barker noted in her wonderful essay that we read this week: ‘“Hangin’ Out” and “Yarnin’”: Reflecting on the experience of collecting Oral Histories’ History Australia, Vol. 5. No. 1 (April 2008) .
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