Archives for category: access

Way back in the far-away-world of 2010 I was invited to attend the tenth of a series of symposia on Knowledge and Space sponsored by the Klaus Tschira Stiftung in the Studio Villa Bosch, Heidelberg.

It was one of the most stimulating academic events I’ve yet attended. Although I had by then already begun to read outside the discipline of History, I had been doing so in a somewhat haphazard and unguided manner. It was the 2010 symposium in Heidelberg that really opened up my eyes to the conversations about knowledge, space, mobility and technology taking place in Science Studies and Geography. At it I met several scholars whose work has deeply influenced my own and encountered new horizons for my research.

Now some of the papers from this event have been published as Mobilities of Knowledge (volume 10 in the Klaus Tschira Knowledge and Space Book Series). Together they examine how the geographical mobility of people and (im)material things has impacted epistemic systems of knowledge in different historical and geographical contexts. Thanks to Springer and the Klaus Tschira Stiftung the volume is available online and as open access(Other volumes from the series are available here)

My piece considers the changing appointment practices of universities in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain and its empire. It points to the importance of private knowledge and highlights the cultures of trust that shaped an academic geography that was both expansive and exclusionary.

But it should be the last thing you read. Check out this fantastic list of contributors! Read the rest of this entry »

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Daisy in Shanghai, late 1920s (Chen Danyan, Shanghai Princess: her survival with pride and dignity, Better Link Press, New York, 2010)

Over the last couple of months I’ve been making a radio documentary for ABC Radio National’s Earshot series. It’s about Daisy Kwok – an amazing woman who was born in Sydney at the end of the 19th century to wealthy Chinese merchant parents. Moving to Shanghai with her family, Daisy became the toast of interwar cosmopolitan Shanghai only to suffer terribly during China’s cultural revolution.

Yet that’s by no means the end of Daisy’s story. Her life is remarkable on its own, but it also sheds light on the history of Australian-Chinese relations, and on the fabulous history of Shanghai itself. As the little blurb on the RN wesbite puts it, this is a story of riches to rags to redemption, set during one of the 20th century’s most turbulent eras.

Making the programme has been a great experience and many thanks to David Rutledge at the ABC for showing me the production ropes.  Here too a big a shout-out must go to the brilliant Sophie Loy-Wilson, whose own encounter with Daisy Kwok is a must read and who has been a fantastic co-producer.  I clearly remember the wide-eyed revelation that came upon us both in the studio one afternoon, when we realised exactly what we were doing: “no footnotes!” we whispered to each other, in wonder.

Shanghai Princess aired on ABC RN’s Earshot programme on Wednesday 21 September 2016 and is available now for download or podcast.

Further Reading

Photographs

with acknowledgements to Bobby Fu, Paul and Maunie Kwok and Kate Bagnall

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The TARDIS can transport its occupants to any point in time and space.

Historians too often get a bad rap for being out of touch. Stuck in the ivory tower, so the story goes, neck deep in dusty archives and lost in their contemplation of dead white men and forgotten pasts. Where’s the relevance? is frequently the refrain.

Yet my Facebook feed tells a different story. The number of articles I see written by colleagues for public audiences seems to increase all the time.

Thinking temporally in public has got to be one of the most important things we can do as historians in a period of uncertainty and change. This means going beyond the ‘Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What’s Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions’ version of public commentary (although let’s be frank, sometimes the temptation to do that is just overwhelming) and instead thinking in public about time, its politics and its effects.

The uneven and unequal legacies of empire and capitalism are all around us, but so too – if we know how to look – are the tangible reminders that as a society we once thought social change possible and were prepared to back up our dreams with money and action. I can’t help thinking that the destruction of these reminders, as Oliver Watts points out in in his piece listed below, is part of a larger project of alienating us both from our history and the possibility of a different kind of future.

Because although not a template, history can be a inspiration, showing us that, through collective action, inherited structures can be changed. Institutionalised slavery can be abolisheduniversal public health free at the point of delivery can be establishedthe Franklin River can be saved. The long-term ramifications of our own society’s policies and actions are, therefore, also a matter for critical temporal thinking.

Time is not just an axis on which processes play out, it is political in itself. In this world of distributed digital processes and the marketisation of our everyday life we increasingly ‘spend’ our leisure time shopping for essential services – deciding which financial, educational or health ‘product’ to buy, and ferrying ourselves and family members across town to access them. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people work on low-paid ‘zero hours’ contracts that leave them desperately insecure.

Universities are repositories of time in all of these senses. Produced by uneven structural processes (have you every wondered where the wealth that funded the bequests of Australia’s early universities came from?) they increasingly rely on casualised labour and the mortgaged futures of their debt-laden students.

But for all their faults, universities do still work with an understanding of time and human capacity that stretches beyond the frames of annual reports, funding cycles, government elections or even of individual careers. They draw the future into them with each new intake of students; they mix up the generations, and bring the living into contact with those long dead. They are places where deep and slow thinking is still possible. Not everyone wants or needs to live like this, but now, more than ever, as a society we need people who do.

If historians don’t think temporally, who will?

So Yay! to temporal thinking in the public domain. Yay! to the dexterity of the historical mind (cough). Yay! to a critical eye and longer view on questions that would otherwise appear to be of this moment only.

Here is this week’s haul of recent #PublicHist pieces by people wot I know, writing about stuff not always entirely within their field. If you can, give them the time (and the retweet) they deserve.

PS. I foresee a regular series on this #PublicHist friend-puff business, so please alert me to anything you have published that is directed at a public audience and I’ll add it to the next instalment.

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