History Beyond the Classroom 2018

A new year of HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom is under way in semester 2. With one of the highest enrolments yet, the unit is doing well along with its capstone counterparts HSTY 3901 and HSTY 3903.
History Beyond the Classroom aims, in part, to answer the perennial question, “what can you do with a history degree?” Plenty, it seems. In this unit, students frame, research and produce an original project based on an engagement with communities and organisations outside the University. Students explore history in action in a variety of contexts and think about different ways of creating and disseminating history that will interest and inform a public audience. Lectures and field trips also help frame relevant community-based questions, adopt appropriate methodologies, and explore new ways of presenting your arguments or narratives.
In addition to making history, students will be introduced to a variety of public history professionals, and different kinds of projects that you can pursue part-time or full-time well beyond your University career.
In the first few weeks of the unit, we have spent time exploring what turned out to be difficult questions about just what is history, and why do we do it? We’ve also begun to look at questions about audience, and about how different people think historically.
Last week, in week 3 of the semester, we also had a visit from one of our favourite public historians, Mark Dunn.
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PHA-NSW & ACT Chair, Dr. Mark Dunn on Public History
Currently the Chair of the Professional Historians Association of NSW (PHA-NSW; http://www.phansw.org.au/), Mark’s career as a professional historian embodies the challenges and opportunities of public history.
After studying history at UNSW, Mark did some volunteer work on an archaeological site in Sydney, which led to a paid job as a historian for a heritage and archaeology firm in Sydney, where he worked until 2010. During that time he was involved in major conservation, archaeology (including digging), oral history, significance and interpretation projects Australia wide. Some of these include doing Oral History for the Cockatoo Island Navy Dockyard, the moving of Prince of Wales Destitute Childrens Asylum Cemetery, The Big Dig in The Rocks and numerous smaller histories. Mark has been a member of the Professional Historians Association since c1997 and is currently the Chair. He has also been a committee member and President of the History Council NSW and is currently Deputy Chair of the NSW Heritage Council. Mark now works as a consultant historian in heritage and research, as well as leading city tours for an American tour company Context Travel. He is also the current CH Currey Fellow at State Library of NSW, and recently completed his PhD at UNSW.
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Some of the many clocks in the collection of Sydney Trains at Central Station
Mark talked to students about the crucial role played by the PHA-NSW, and also the challenges of doing public history, which included negotiating any conflicts of interest, managing expectations, juggling tight budgets and deadlines, and the disappointments resulting from not having control over the final product, sometimes with the result that your work gets buried (sometimes literally).
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An unexpected find at the Mick Simmons site at George Street 2013. After excavating and archiving this early colonial pub, the site was completely removed. Recording and archiving such sites before they are completely obliterated is just one of the many kinds of projects Mark Dunn has worked on.

Drawing from his extensive experience, Mark also reflected on why he enjoys being a professional historian, which included the opportunity to work on many and varied history projects, bringing history to a wide range of audiences who often have a real connection with the past that is being presented, and seeing your work on public display, whether it be on television, radio, the side of a building, the wall of a pub, or the web.
Mark also noted his most recent public history project for Sydney Trains Heritage NSW (http://www.sydneytrains.info/about/heritage/), the beautifully produced pamphlet called “Running on Time: Clocks and Time-Keeping in the NSW Railways” (you can download a copy at: www.sydneytrains.info/about/heritage/201602-Running-on-time-Report.pdf). There is also an accompanying short film featuring interviews with railway workers and heritage experts involved in the project (http://www.sydneytrains.info/about/heritage/oral_history). Mark revealed that he completed his report in about four weeks of full-time work, giving students something to aspire to….
Mark was an engaging speaker, and the students (and I) were clearly amazed at the breadth and depth of his work.
Mark’s talk and the readings this week about public history helped students reflect on the practice of history in the University and classroom, which often (though not always) precludes these kinds of negotiations about different kinds of understandings about the past, and present uses (though students were also quick to point out that there is a growing group of academic historians willing to engage with different public audiences, and indeed, there always has been). Our reading this week about the Enola Gay controversy in the United States in the early 1990s reinforced the dangers of not doing so, but also how difficult it might be to do so. Once again, and with the help of Anna Clark’s great interviews, in Private Lives, Public History, our discussions – and students’ reflective diary entries – invariably shifted to the History Wars in Australia and both the indifference of many to the history wars, but also the more subtle ways in which many non-professional historians understand “contest” in history. Reflections also ranged across questions about whether there is a historical middle ground between commemoration and historical analysis? Could the Enola Gay Exhibition controversy have been avoided?

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