History that Matters: Week 13 in History Beyond the Classroom

The view from Fort Michilimackinac, now Mackinaw City, Michigan. Or a view of Anishinaabewaki? Whose lands? Whose Perspective? Whose History? (Photo by author)
Our last formal meeting in HSTY 3902 History Beyond the Classroom took place on Monday, October 26. Students presented on their community work and major projects, reflected on their experiences, and we had a fun end-of-year party to cap it all off. In their presentations and reflections, the students once again impressed each other, me, as well as visiting colleagues from the History Department at Sydney University. Many thanks to all who came along to hear about their work.
Hannah Forsyth also joined us from ACU, where she has been coordinating a similar course. Hannah and I dreamed up this unit of study together several years ago while working on our Social Inclusion program. Teachers at the disadvantaged schools we worked with asked us to help get their students out of the local ‘bubble’ that they were in. Hannah and I also came to realise that our own Uni students (along with us) often seldom left the ‘bubble’ they were in. We were keen to think of a way to push students out of the comforts of the classroom and engage with communities and groups with whom they might not normally interact and to think of the challenges and opportunities of history from a different perspective than the traditional essay allows.
The origins of the class in our social inclusion efforts has meant, I think, that engagement has been central to what the students have been doing which, in turn, has meant the students are all doing local or community-engaged history as much as they are doing public history. The two do not necessarily always go together, but the students have convinced me that in combination, community-engaged public history makes for a more grounded, meaningful, and accountable approach to the past, one that challenges the hierarchies of academic history in many different ways – and often in ways that I did not foresee happening.
The blog posts written by students throughout this semester testify to the meaningfulness and transformative effect of doing community-engaged public history. This was only reinforced when Hannah asked students how their work this semester has enriched their sense of history, or made them think differently about the place of history in the world.
Students immediately noted that working with “real people” demonstrated how personal history could be, and how important it is to so many different kinds of people. They could also see how many different ways people use history, and just how different those ways could be from “academic history.” Indeed, many students said they understood now in a more tangible way the different roles of history and how it works in practice (and one or two noted that they could now see history as a career – they could finally answer that question “what will you do with a history degree!).
Some of the students working with organisations that didn’t have a specific historical focus also said they felt they were doing important work documenting these organisations and their activities, and that history could be about this history in the making, not just preserving sources or telling stories about the past. One noted how important it was to do this, because she felt that no one else would do so, and it could be lost. And even while it was frustrating at times, and not always historical in nature, students could see how our historical skills could be useful in non-historical settings, and with non-historical organisations.
The students’ work with different kinds of organisations also seemed to democratise their view of history. “History is everywhere,” they declared, and not just where historians (or archivists) say it is. One student noted that his work made him realise that this was a great opportunity to reclassify what constitutes history – to query what we normally value. Working with community groups helps us “decentralise historical importance and what we should consider important.” Additionally, “local history shows us what is important to generations of residents and how important their history is as well.”
Significantly, some students noted that they realised for different individuals and groups, history could be “therapeutic,” and they could see how people used history to “reshape themselves and their world.” One student said her community-engaged work made her feel like the course was helping her to help other people.
In the end, because they saw how seriously others took history, the students said they learned to take it seriously too. Indeed, many noted they had spent far more time on their work for this class than any others they had ever taken, that they “got involved more,” because they saw just how important their work was to other people – that it “mattered.” This was only reinforced as students realised that other students and non-students were interested in what they were doing, both inside and outside the University, and that unusually, they were also keen to talk about what they were doing in their history class! Suddenly, their work was not just about getting a good mark, “going through the motions” of writing an essay, or even developing skills. There was much more at stake, and several students noted that they came to realise that the history they were doing was about much more than themselves.
You can see why I’m more than a little sad about the course coming to an end. The students in HSTY 3902 have impressed, inspired and energised me from the start. I’m sure that many thought I was a little mad when I explained what we would be doing way back in Week One. Likely some still think so! But this group has persevered, thrown themselves into their work, and pioneered a way forward for future classes.
Along the way, they have not been the only ones learning. This course and the students’ work has made me think very differently about my own work, made me question my relevance as an academic historian, and forced me to acknowledge that we have much more work to do to make our work accessible, to think about our responsibilities as historians, and to be more accountable for the histories that we write.
The class might have ended, but I’m very much looking forward now to reading students’ reflective diaries, and seeing their major projects come to fruition. Stay-tuned…

Presenting the Past – Week 12 in History Beyond the Classroom

Photo by Tracey Trompf from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/catherine-freyne/3976124
One week behind, I’m afraid….Last week we were very fortunate to have as our guest speaker Catherine Freyne. Catherine Freyne is a historian and media producer now working at the City of Sydney. She previously produced the groundbreaking Hindsight documentaries at ABC Radio National (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/). Other projects she has worked on include the Dictionary of Sydney (http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/), 80 Days that Changed Our Lives (http://www.abc.net.au/archives/80days/) and Against The Tide: A Highway West (http://www.againstthetide.net.au/). Catherine studied Australian history at UNSW. For her work in radio she has received two NSW Premier’s History Awards – a remarkable achievement.
Catherine talked about the many projects she has been involved with, and why she is so passionate about public history. She also talked about her new role at the City of Sydney which has allowed her to explore so many more new ways of thinking about history and its collection and presentation.
She particularly engaged students with her explanation of how her team at the ABC recreated history on Pitt Street and in Hyde Park when making the Hindsight program, Good Sex: The Confessions and Campaigns of W.J. Chidley (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/good-sex—the-confessions-and-campaigns-of-w.j.-chidley/4605590), and also raised the bar on thinking of good public history apps when talking about the Against the Tide which is still in development and which Catherine contributed to in 2014. The app allows users travelling along the Parramatta River on the Rivercat to make choices about what kinds of histories they are interested in, and hear of the experiences of different groups of people in different voices.
Catherine quoted her former colleague Dr Shirley Fitzgerald who said when accepting the 2014 Annual History Citation that in her work as City Historian (1987-2009), she had been primarily motivated by this question: who gets access to precious urban public spaces, and why? History allows us to think about how that allocation has changed and evolved over time. Catherine responded engagingly to students’ questions about how to get the balance right between “important” history and “interesting” history, and told us of her sense of history as political both in giving voice to the marginal and marginalized, but also as giving us a richer sense of the present. Though she lamented the end of Hindsight, she also noted that students should tune in to Earshot, Radio National’s new general documentary slot which still broadcasts history features each week (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/).
Following on from Catherine’s talk, we had a workshop on the problems and challenges that students were facing in getting their project designs off the ground. These ranged from the need for some technical advice, to dealing with creative differences and emphases between themselves and the organisations with whom they were working. While we couldn’t always come up with clear and easy answers, students learned to appreciate that there might be ways to work around some of these problems.
We also returned project proposals. Students were asked to outline their work with their chosen organisations and sketch out their ideas for their major project that has grown from that work. These proposals were a treat to read and mark. I’ve never enjoyed marking as much as I did this time around, a sentiment echoed by Michaela Cameron who also helped me assess them – and we have never given out such high marks! The work students have been doing with their community-partners has in most cases been extremely important, fascinating, and often heart-warming (you can glean some of this through the blogposts by students on this site). Their reflections on this work and how they plan to approach the major project were also thoughtful, creative, and provoking, and reflected a real engagement with the work they were doing, and the groups with whom they were working. One unexpected side effect of situating ourselves “outside the classroom,” I reckon, was the clarity of the prose of students. Not having to shoehorn or situate their work amid other scholars’ frameworks seemed to liberate students to write clearly, directly, and thoughtfully. The proposals were simply a joy to read. Really looking forward to their reflective diaries and their major projects now, due in November.

Students and Communities Make History Together

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Proposals came in from students last week detailing the extraordinary and fascinating work they have been doing with their chosen local/community organisation for HSTY 3092 History Beyond the Classroom. The proposals also outlined the major projects that have grown out of that work and which students will be working on over the next month. We were amazed at the work they have been doing and the ideas they have come up with for their major projects. Some of these I have blogged about already at: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/public_history_project_updates.html. Students themselves have also blogged about their work, and I have urged them all to tell us more about their partnerships and projects. Check back regularly for more updates.
For now, it is worth noting that our thirty-eight students are working with a total of thirty-four organisations around Sydney and regional NSW. The organisations vary enormously in purpose, scope and activities, and are listed below. Web links to the organisations can be found on our blogroll.
Historical Societies
Marrickville Heritage Society
Campbelltown-Airds Historical Society Inc.
The Glebe Society
Hills District Historical Society
Canada Bay Heritage Society
Lennox Head Heritage Society
Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW BRANCH)
The Haberfield Association
Blue Mountains Historical Society
Historic Sites
Quarantine Station
Civic Theatre, Scone
Rockdale Market Gardeners
Sports/Community Groups
Ashfield Polish Club
The Temple Society
Hurlstone Park Wanderers Football Club
Parramatta Basketball Association
Rotary Club of Waitara
Powerhouse Youth Theatre
Trading Circle
St Mark’s National Memorial Library
Redfern Legal Centre
Hope Worldwide and the Gumine Community of PNG
The Whitlam Library
New South Wales Writers Centre
Activist/Political Groups
No West Connex Action Group
North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group
Parramatta Female Factory Friends
Pride History Group Oral History Project
Schools and Indigenous Histories
Aboriginal Heritge Office
O’Connell Public School
Cammeraygal High School
Holy Cross College, Ryde
Willoughby Old Girls

Public History Project Updates – Week 11 in History Beyond the Classroom

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Our class reconvened this week after the AVCC break and public holiday last week. While difficult to get restarted after the break, and with only three weeks left in the semester (hard to believe), I’ve been inspired anew by some of the amazing projects that students are developing. Proposals were due on Friday, and a first glance over them revealed some thoughtful and exciting initiatives. This was only confirmed in class, where we discussed projects in small groups then heard short presentations from individuals brave enough to talk about their work to the class.
Up first was Steph Beck, who has already blogged about her project here: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/09/community_project_beginnings_1.html We learned about her amazing journey to Melbourne to visit the rarely-used archives of the Temple Society (http://www.templesociety.org.au/), her horror at discovering the damage to some of the documents there by a fire (pictured above), and some of the marvellous discoveries she made in some of the files. She has documented a little of her physical and metaphorical journey into the foodways of the fascinating Temple Society on her instagram account at: https://instagram.com/stephsfoodhistory/ But recognizing that some of the older members of the society may not have easy access to the internet, Steph has also been thinking about how she can make her major project – an annotated collection of historical community recipes that span three countries and over one hundred and fifty years – more accessible to all of the community. A book publication awaits…
We also heard from Mitchell Davies, who has also just blogged about his work with the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society (http://www.cahs.com.au/) at: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/campbelltown_beyond_the_classr_2.html Mitchell, a lifelong resident of Campbelltown, is keen to bring together his love of local history with his teacher-training work to inspire a new generation of high school students to learn more about the interesting past all around them. Mitchell regaled us with some of these tales, including the story of Fisher’s Ghost, which animates much of Campbelltown’s community history, and has inspired an annual Festival http://www.fishersghost.com.au/ Mitchell is keen to use the social media platform Tumblr to bring these stories alive for students, but also to showcase the thoughts and work of those who work at the Historical Society.
Michael Rees also spoke about his work with the Female Factory Friends http://www.parramattafemalefactoryfriends.com.au/ Michael, who also blogged about this recently at http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/historymatters/2015/10/democracy_in_action_first_cont_1.html, recounted his first meeting with the Friends at a rally at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney as they presented a petition to save the Heritage Precinct in Parramatta (pictured below). He spoke about his steep learning curve about Parramatta history, and the various political and cultural interests at play in the controversy, and how that raises interesting challenges for presenting particular versions of the past at this critical juncture in the campaign to save the Heritage Precinct.
Finally, we also heard from Erin Gielis, who is working with the Rotary Club of Waitara (http://www.waitararotary.org/). Erin spoke of her engagement with the Club and how influential it was in shaping her own experience of community and the broader world to which the Club gave her access. She also brought to light the different kinds of challenges – and opportunities – students faced when working with non-historical organisations. The Waitara Club is relatively young, formed about thirty years ago. Though interested in the past, they have not had the chance to do much with their history and few of the members feel qualified to write it, and so the field is wide open for Erin to help them fill that gap. She has been interviewing members, past and present, and thinking about different ways of presenting this history via their website especially. Erin also raised important issues about the kinds of purposes such a project serves in not just documenting the activities of such an important community organisation, but also in drumming up interest and support for its survival in the future.
I hope I got everyone. Needless to say, these were inspiring stories of adventures in community history that could be of lasting impact. Students have certainly inspired me. After holding out for years, I’ve finally joined the twittersphere in order to get the word out about these great projects. Join me at https://twitter.com/HstyMattersSyd for updates about these great projects.
Female Factory Petition.jpg

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) .

Public and Applied History Prizes

The History Council of NSW just announced that Meg Foster, a former University of Sydney History student, has won the 2015 Deen De Bortoli Award in Applied History for her essay “Online and Plugged In?: Public History and Historians in the Digital Age.” The judges said that this essay ‘provides important insights into how digital technologies are democratising not only access to research materials but also the dissemination of history. It reflects on what this means for history professionals who can no longer dominate discussion of the past and suggests that ways forward lie in more collaborative approaches’. Meg Foster is currently doing her PhD at the University of New South Wales.
The Deen De Bortoli Award was first awarded in 2015. Generously funded by the De Bortoli family it is named in memory of Deen De Bortoli (1936-2003). The purpose of the Award is to encourage historians writing Australian political, social, cultural and environmental history to approach their subjects in ways that use the past to inform contemporary concerns and issues. The winner will receive a citation and a prize of $5,000 at the Annual History Lecture during History Week.
For 2016 the subject for the Deen De Bortoli Award will be for works in applied and public history that have the potential to inform good public policy. The winning entry will demonstrate a sound, critical knowledge of the relevant historiography, a high level of competence in the use of primary sources, and the capacity to develop complex arguments linking the past to contemporary, contentious issues currently impacting on Australia. Nominations for work undertaken between 1 October 2014 to 31 March 2016 for the 2016 Award close 31 March 2016. See: http://www.historycouncilnsw.org.au/excellence/deen-de-bortoli-award-for-applied-history/
Students of HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom may want to think about entering their projects in this competition, as well as PHA NSW &ACT Public History Prize. The Public History Prize is an annual award offered by the Professional Historians Association of NSW & ACT (PHA NSW&ACT).
The PHA NSW & ACT is now calling for entries for the 2015 Public History Prize for students. Slight changes in the condition of entries have been made for this year’s prize to enable more students to submit their work. The 2015 Public History Prize is open to any students (undergraduate, graduate diploma, master studies) in NSW and ACT whose work engages with the field and practice of professional and public history (both Australian and international).
Entries are now open for the 2015 PHA NSW & ACT Public History Prize, which comes with a $500 prize.
More information, including submission guidelines and deadline can be found here: www.phansw.org.au/pha-nsw-public-history-prize
Entries close on 4 December 2015.

Aboriginal Heritage Management – Week 8 in History Beyond the Classroom

This week we had David Watts (pictured above) come in from the Aboriginal Heritage Office, a unique joint initiative by a group of councils across northern Sydney, including North Sydney, Manly, Warringah, Ku-ring-gai, and Pittwater to protect Aboriginal Heritage in these areas (http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/). David Watts, the Aboriginal Heritage Manager, was one of the key founders of the Office back in 2000, and continues to play a leading role in the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites, education, and a prize-winning volunteer site monitoring program that empowers community members to take responsibility for our shared heritage and past.
David talked to students about his role in the organisation, the many challenges they faced and continue to face, and his extensive experience in Aboriginal heritage management. He has worked on site surveys and archaeological excavations, conservation management plans and protection works. He has given talks all over the world about Aboriginal site care and managements, as well as cultural tourism advice, and he has developed several Aboriginal Heritage Walks within the northern Sydney region (including some of the walks and resources you can find here: http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/downloads1/). David engaged us all with his honest and realistic approach to public history, and also talked about his own past and the way that shaped his approach to the present, and his responses to continued racism as well.
David’s talk helped set the tone for an ensuing discussion on “Decolonizing Methodologies” and especially the struggle over “research” in indigenous communities where there has been a long history of imperial and post-colonial intrusion by researchers. David’s talk, and the readings, helped draw attention to the sensitivities involved in indigenous history and the need to think carefully about our intentions and purposes in doing it (something we need to be mindful with any project, it seems). We talked about respect for indigenous knowledges and methodologies, and also talked a little more about public history being a route to “purify” the past, in Peter Read’s terms – a place where, if done properly, we can come together to reconcile and start to heal the trauma of the past.

Facing Outwards – Week 6 in History Beyond the Classroom

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This week we paused to think more about our work with local and community organisations, and our major projects. To help us think through what we might do, we heard from Michaela Cameron, a PhD student in the Department of History who specialises in early Native-European relations, and particularly the “soundscapes” of early North America (see: https://sydney.academia.edu/MichaelaCameronhttp://) .
On the side, Michaela has also been exploring the local history of her own neighbourhood in Sydney, and over the past few years has developed quite a wide and interesting public history presence. She has written numerous reviews of historic sites for Yelp, for example, created a Sydney history twitter account (https://twitter.com/sydneyhistory), an instagram account for promoting Parramatta history and especially the Female Factory in particular (https://twitter.com/oldparramatta and https://instagram.com/oldparramatta/ and https://www.facebook.com/parrafactory?_rdr=p) and has also done work for the Dictionary of Sydney, including creating a walking tour app of Convict Parramatta which should be out shortly (http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/) .
Michaela showed many of us what an “outsider” and a trained historian could bring to the public history table, particular if one listens, learns, and collaborates with local experts and the vast knowledge they often bring to the subjects. Michaela offered practical tips about having clear aims, and knowing what purpose any engagement and its public outcome might serve, including thinking about the audience for any public history project.
Michaela also stressed the need to go multi-modal, and think about bringing in text, visual, and audio material. She also showed us some fabulous examples of using primary sources and social media to “sell history” – and noted that while some organisations are already very good about using social media, it is often something we can help with if we are on top of it. So, too, can we try to draw attention to great resources such as Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au/)
Primary sources in particular can entertain as well as inform, but they can also draw attention to some important causes (see for example: https://twitter.com/1815now and https://twitter.com/queenvictweets and https://pastnow.wordpress.com/ and https://twitter.com/otd_ni1825 and http://parrafactory.tumblr.com/ ). Michaela also notes that we should use a wide range of sources, and look for the ‘gaps’ – the silences, or the history that is not being done, or communicated particularly well.
Finally, Michaela also showed that history students could collaborate with each other to strengthen their efforts, and also help local/community organisations make connections between themselves and others, and with other organisations in particular that might help. Putting a grassroots campaign in touch with the Mitchell library, or the Dictionary of Sydney, for example, can pay dividends. And of course, we can use social media for activist purposes. See the petition to save the Female Factory here: tinyurl.com/mozayt6
Following this stimulating talk, we divided the class into small groups according to the kinds of organisations they were working with, or hoping to work with. There is a great range of interests and different kinds of organisations, ranging from historical societies and historic sites, museums and libraries, to sports and community clubs, health and welfare groups, and activist/political groups. Students shared experiences and challenges, and with Michaela’s talk as inspiration, began to think about how that work might translate into a public history project. The possibilities are endless…

History as Confrontation or Reconciliation? Week 5 in HIstory Beyond the Classroom

This week we had both Louise Prowse and Mark McKenna in as guests to talk about local history. Both have “done” local history, as well as engaged with their communities and with local historical societies. They spoke about the theoretical/conceptual challenges of doing local history, as well as some of the practical issues that might arise. Of course, there is a strong relationship between the two, especially when raising questions that don’t always resonate with those who you are raising them with, as Louise pointed out. This can at least help push us to change the questions or think differently about our approaches.
Discussion ranged across a number of issues, including the relationship between the local and the national, the kinds of sources that might be important, and relationships between local authorities, the community, and the professional historian as well as the “hierarchies” of local knowledge and authority too.
We also talked about the tension inherent in working with local groups and writing analytical history, which again raised questions about who our histories are for, and what are they for? Do we need a sense of personal connection, or a common point of interest to work well together? Where do we feel a sense of belonging? What do we feel connected to? Do we need to connect with communities/localities that we study? Can we “own” a history that is not ours? Or is written by someone else? What can we bring to the table as “insiders” and as “outsiders”?
And the key question again, what is our role as historians? Mark McKenna has written that history should be about confronting myths, rather than reassuring stories. But Frank Bongiorno and Erik Ekland have written in their article “The Problem of Belonging: Contested Country in Australian Local History,” that instead of confronting myths, we should think about excavating the “historical meanings of social memory.” What role do myths play in our historical consciousness?
Building on all of this, I think one of the most important questions that arose from the readings and discussion this week is whether we can/should think of our histories as acts of reconciliation?

Letting Go – Week 4 in History Beyond the Classroom

This week Annette Cairnduff, the University of Sydney’s Social Inclusion Director, came to talk to the class about the issue of inclusion, especially at Universities, and the University of Sydney in particular. She told us of her own background, the work done at the University of Sydney over the past six years, the collaborative projects encompassed in the Bridges to Higher Education Project, and why she is a passionate believer in the goal of inclusion. Both Annette and Hannah Forsyth, whose work we read in tandem (A History of the Modern Australian University [2014]), noted that while Universities have become more inclusive over the past one hundred years or so, they have also continued to be sites of exclusion, too. And Sydney University still has some way to go to fulfil a more expansive vision of an inclusive University. For some of the efforts of Annette and the social inclusion unit, including Compass, see http://sydney.edu.au/compass/.
Annette’s talk echoed the readings on community history, too, or perhaps histories in communities. As noted last week, Martha Sears has urged us to think about history in ecological terms, as a dynamic and organic system where diverse and different parts contribute to the health of the whole. A more diverse and inclusive University will be a healthier and more dynamic place, too. Genuine engagement with a broader community is also a route toward a healthier University and is of course part of the University’s strategic plan.
Based on some of the exciting proposals for community work that have emerged so far in this unit, and which we discussed a bit this week in our tutorials, I am hopeful that students can play an important part in both connecting and engaging with diverse constituencies, and thinking more inclusively about history and history-making. It is clear from the readings and discussion this week that that would involve a recognition of the limits of our own knowledge; an openness and attentiveness to new forms of expressing knowledge; and a valuing of other ways of thinking about history and knowledge.
As Michael Frisch has written, an engaged history is about sharing authority, and letting go of some of our preoccupations and interests and what we know (like our traditional idea of research, writing a history essay, and playing it safe with something that we already know we do well). Doing so does and has raised anxiety levels a bit. This is understandable. Students are doing something new here – something so new that we don’t actually know what will result exactly. As Martha Sears notes, if we take this seriously, let go of our “authority” (as a history student) and engage, listen, and learn, history and history-making can be something more alive – organic, dynamic, etc. But not knowing what will result is scary, maybe even terrifying at times (and part of the “letting go”), but it is also the point at which we’ll all hopefully learn most.