…by Francesca Beddie
The PHA NSW & ACT established the Public History Prize to encourage the application of historical practice to real-world issues. This year the essays we received were diverse: one considered the heritage significance of graffiti, several looked at gender in the war and interwar years, another discussed Ernest Titterton and two were about environmental matters.
The prize is open to undergraduate, graduate diploma and master students in NSW and the ACT. Not all those students will go on to become professional historians. Their history training will, however, stand them in good stead. Proficiency in understanding complexity, communicating effectively, doing thorough research, thinking broadly and asking good questions can open all sorts of doors. The judges were looking for these attributes as well as a demonstration of how history can help our communities make better decisions.
The winning entry ticked all these boxes. Debbie Waddell from the University of Newcastle began with a question: To flush or not to flush?: Can an artificial channel help save the Tuggerah Lakes?. Her well-written essay used evidence from environmental history to build her case. Debbie showed a tolerance for the fact that the past is different, with different attitudinal benchmarks, so needs to be handed sensitively when being used to inform contemporary public policy. Despite the caricature of dithering public servants, decision makers like to receive soundly based and clear advice. Debbie’s essay delivered this in her conclusion:
The Tuggerah Lakes coastal lagoons are burdened by almost two centuries of anthropocentric sediments and nutrients, in a swirling mass of organic ooze; and it is up to us whether or not they remain this way…in addressing the question, to flush or not to flush? the answer is no, an artificial channel cannot help save the Tuggerah Lakes…
We are living in a world of multi-media. While the historian’s main tool may often still be the written word, increasingly this is being supplemented by the visual and the interactive. Digital histories have the power to make the sources of history much more accessible, especially if they are accompanied by guidance on how to use such archives. This was the premise Chloe Haywood-Anderson’s project, Erko Archives, which the judges highly commended.
Chloe has created a digital timeline, stored in Google Drive and generated through the open source tool TimeLineJS. The timeline, which starts from the establishment of the school in 1881, organises materials collected in the Erskineville Public School Archive. It is accompanied by a report that will guide future contributors on how to access and maintain the digital archive. Chloe undertook this project as part of Macquarie’s Professional and Community Engagement program in public history.