Historians communing: part one


In the next two blog posts, Laila Ellmoos reflects on two conferences held in Victoria in 2016: the Australian Historical Association (AHA) conference in Ballarat and the Working History conference in Melbourne, organised by the Professional Historians Association (Victoria) (PHA Vic).

This year the annual conference of the AHA was held in the Victorian regional centre of Ballarat. The conference, which ran for five days from 4 to 8 July 2016, was hosted by Federation University (aka FedUni), Australia’s newest tertiary institution. One of the highlights of the conference was its location in this evocative heritage townscape.

The FedUni campus is spread out across Ballarat, occupying an array of historic buildings, some originally used for industrial education relating to the mining industry such as the former School of Mines. The ‘hub’ of the conference was the wonderful Ballarat Mechanics Institute on Sturt Street. The recently restored Minerva Space within the institute building was the location for the keynotes and plenaries, while the regular breaks between sessions – morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea – were held in the Humffray Room. (John Humffray was the Institute’s first president.)

Most of the conference was held in two venues on the campus: the former School of Mines and the Camp Street building. They were separated by an energetic 10 minute walk along Lydiard Street, a bit of a challenge in the cold and rain. The distance between venues also made it hard to move between papers, a practical necessity when there were usually between 10 and 12 parallel sessions.

Although the conference theme ‘From Boom to Bust’ was very fitting with the location of this historic gold mining town, only a few of the papers directly related to the theme. But this wasn’t too much of an issue, as the conference was notable for the number of practitioners – public historians, archaeologists, novelists – who presented papers, particularly on local projects relating to the gold fields and the heritage townscape of Ballarat.

Overall the conference was very well run, the conference papers presented were informative, and the venue was great. The conference organisers were friendly and helpful: any technical difficulties were resolved painlessly and there were always people to direct latecomers to the right rooms.

The highlights for me included papers with a methodological bent: the keynote on the first day delivered by Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, and a panel presentation on ‘Exhibiting the Great War’ that focussed on how curators and history academics have worked together to curate an exhibition at Museum Victoria, World War 1: Love & Sorrow, and create a book on the war on the home front in New Zealand, Holding on to Home.

Also noticeable was the strong environmental stream throughout the conference, which was very well attended. More here from Yvonne Perkins on the Twitter stream from the AHA conference: https://stumblingpast.com/2016/07/17/blogging-the-2016-australian-historical-association-conference

In contrast to the AHA’s sprawling conference was the Working History conference, organised by PHA Vic held in Melbourne on 19-20 August 2016. But more on that next week.

Image: Engraving by Campbell, Oswald Rose Campbell showing students in the in the Metallurgical Laboratory at the Ballarat School of Mines in 1873.   (State Library of Victoria, IAN15/07/73/SUPP/121 http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/241664)

3 thoughts on “Historians communing: part one”

  1. Again, thank you. I like these reports on conferences I did not attend.
    Enjoyed the link to the Museum of Victoria’s exhibition on WWI. One telling exhibit I found helpful in understanding the impact of the war was the analysis house by house down a named suburban street, telling how residents in each household were engaged in the war effort at home or abroad.

  2. Thanks Bruce. I spent a lot of time at the Love & Sorrow exhibition on Monday. The web presentation of the exhibition is equally excellent. I too especially liked the house by house analysis of Normanby Avenue to explore the war’s impact – it’s great that this type of research can be integral to both presentations of the exhibition.

  3. Sounds like an interesting conference – how did you manage to choose between all those competing parallel sessions?

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