I teach Australian history and public history in the Department of Modern History at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia. In late 2016 I established a research Centre for Applied History in the Faculty of Arts with colleagues in Ancient History, Media, Culture and Communications and Geography and Planning.This Centre draws upon Macquarie University’s nationally and internationally recognised research and teaching strengths in applied history. We focus on family history, digital history and e-research, cultural heritage, museums, oral history, consultancy work for charities, local government and non-governmental organisations, policy, television, radio, community, regional and local history.
For over twenty years, my disciplinary research has focused on the history of the family, motherhood and sexuality. I have always been passionate about researching ordinary people and places in the past. Recently, I have become much more interested in incorporating ordinary people and places in the process of my research and the construction of historical knowledge.
My first three books were about the history of ‘illegitimacy’, poverty and philanthropy. Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales was a history of Australia’s oldest surviving charity, The Benevolent Society, established in 1813. I wrote this in collaboration with family historians while working as a consultant for the charity. Since curating an exhibition in London at The Women’s Library in 2008 and working as a consultant on historical documentaries I relish teaching and producing public history and working in teams.
I try to write for general as well as academic readers, politicians and social policy makers and I make radio and television programs based on my scholarship. I pitch my work at a variety of audiences because most of my research is targeted at disrupting people’s everyday assumptions about the history of the family (at a local, national and global level). I am committed to the democratisation of historical knowledge, to what historians label ‘sharing authority’ and others call the co-creation of knowledge.
With each research project that I work on, I think about how I can vary my outputs and reach different audiences. I aim to teach my students some of these skills. I am working with a team of PACE (Professional and Community Engagement) and Masters of Research students on an exhibition with Mosman Library. Going the Distance at the Spit celebrates Mosman’s swimming success from the early 20th century to today during Australia’s Heritage Festival. It also reveals the contributions and commitment of volunteers who sustained the club across a century. At the Spit baths, local swimming champions Forbes Carlile, Murray Rose, Sam Herford, Gergaynia Beckett, Brett Hill, Sue Knight, and Noeline Maclean helped change the face of swimming in Australia. The exhibition is a testament to the strength of teamwork, which is vital to the practice of public history.
Public historians reveal the value of local and community history – the treasures hidden away in our local libraries and archives, people’s attics and sports bags. With the Spit project, we hope to show Sydneysiders how conversations about local history might transform their historical understanding and to encourage members of Mosman’s community to aspire to swimming (or other) glory on the local, national or international stage.