Ian Willis reports on the conference…
The annual Australian Historical Association (AHA) conference has wound up for another year. This year it was held at the University of Sydney, with over 400 delegates attending from Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK, and South Africa. The classic architecture around the Quadrangle guided the sensibilities of delegates and presenters at the keynotes and in the 260-or-so presentations.
The organising committee, chaired by Kirsten McKenzie with members coming from the University of Sydney, University of Technology, Australian Catholic University, Macquarie University and University of New South Wales, did a great job. They successfully fed delegates, answered all sorts of quirky questions and ensured that everything went like clockwork.
The theme of the 2015 conference was ‘Foundational Histories’. The program’s introduction explained this phrase:
History abounds with metaphors of foundation: the foundations of knowledge or the discipline, as well as the foundational narratives of nations. These metaphorical foundations do not stand on solid rock, but can be unsettled, shifted and shaken.
The two notable keynote speakers were Ann Curthoys and Peter Mandler from Cambridge University in the UK. Curthoys spoke about how the foundations of Australian political institutions and political culture in the mid-nineteenth century were shaped by the fraught relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Mandler talked about the place of the humanities in higher education.
The PHA members who presented papers fielded plenty of inquiring questions, an indication of considerable interest.
Topics covered across the program included the First World War, ANZAC, convicts, migration, Indigenous issues, place, space, religions and gender issues, and biography. On some days there were eleven sessions running concurrently, which meant that delegates were spoilt for choice but had to contend with competing interests. Some delegates were able to flit between sessions and catch a snatch of other sessions, while the popularity of some sessions challenged the capacity of some rooms.
Overall the conference was both challenging and invigorating.
Diary date: the AHA 2016: From Boom to Bust conference will be held in Ballarat from Tuesday 5 July to Friday 8 July with goldfields site visits and other ancillary events.