Archives for category: humanities

Olivia_TamsonOne of the best things I did in 2018 was help make the History Lab podcast. I’ve had the immense privilege of working with some amazingly talented and dedicated young producers and learnt a lot from them about story telling and meaning making and also just sheer hard work. Let no one cast shade on Millennials! These people have poured their hearts into this endeavour.

Together we have brought to life through audio the process of historical investigation – the asking questions and the sleuthing through sources and in many cases the not knowing.  Hearing steps echoing in empty corridors and puzzling over handwriting invites the listener into the process of discovery.  It opens up the experience of history-making to all who listen.

We wanted to do this because we are convinced that doing the work of thinking and making meaning together is central to building a good society.  And I think we really have made a difference. So far the podcast has had 44K listens in under 6 months! (how’s that for academic impact?!) And we’ve also hosted two events in Sydney that have brought together the community of listeners, culture-keepers and meaning-makers.

So if you are looking for something to listen to whilst driving across the Hay plains or waiting at Gatwick airport or flying across the Pacific, there are 8+ History Lab episodes that will surprise and delight you. They are each about 30 min long and you will get to hear me, among other things, puzzling over colonial love triangles and thinking hard about jelly babies. And if you like them we’d love it if you shared them with your friends.

Just visit https://historylab.net/ or search for “History Lab” on itunes or google podcasts or in any of the usual audio places.

Season 1

  • S1Ep1: Lindy Chamberlain and the afterlife of evidence – What happens to evidence after a criminal trial? Tamson goes looking for answers and finds herself in the shadow of one of the worst miscarriages of justice in Australian history.
  • S1Ep2: Damages of a broken heart – Why would the Courts be interested in the failed love lives of working class people? And what does a convict’s daughter, a barrister and a former Prime Minister have to do with it? We discover litigious lovers, colonial love triangles and the emergence of medicalised heartbreak on a quest to understand the history of love.
  • S1Ep3: When the Titanic sank in the desert – In the middle of outback Australia, over 400 kilometres from the closest ocean, stands a monument dedicated to the memory of the Titanic. Why? Encountering the politics of memory, Ninah and Tamson discover that a story about trying to remember reveals much about what we choose to forget.
  • S1Ep4: The making of History Lab – What does it take to make History Lab? Find out in our ‘Making of History Lab’ bonus interlude episode. Featuring some audience listening participation!
  • S1Ep5: Fishing for answers – Jutting into Sydney’s glittering harbour, the Sydney Opera House plays host to musicians and dancers, actors and singers. But beneath the notes of their voices, another song echoes across the city’s waters. Can we still hear it?

Season 2

  • S2Ep1: The Bank, the Sergeant and his bonus – In 1817, the Bank of New South Wales opened as the first financial institution in the Australian colonies. But when the first customers arrived for the grand opening, they found someone had already made a deposit.
  • S2Ep2: Invisible Hands – Where do jelly babies come from? Mass-produced things are all around us. But they all start with a single object. Olivia goes looking for the patternmakers, whose invisible hands create many of the products we use every day.
  • S2Ep3: Skeletons of Empire – Is world peace just a dream? In the aftermath of WWI, nations came together in an attempt to ensure such a war would never happen again. In this episode, Glenda Sluga and Ninah Kopel search for the ephemeral traces of that belief in a unified world.
  • S2Ep4: Making history in audio (behind the scenes of Season 2) – The History Lab audio makers explore how they’ve tried to understand the past through sound in History Lab Season 2.

If you are a researcher or historian and are interested in making a History Lab episode with us, please do get in touch. There’s a pitching form on our website and a bunch of information about how it works, or just email me. We are open to all discussions.

History Lab podcast is a collaboration between the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS and 2SER 107.3.  Huge thanks go to Emma Lancaster, Tom Allinson, Miles Martignoni, Olivia Rosenman, Ninah Kopel, Jason L’Ecuyer, Joe Koning and everyone else involved in making this show happen, including our fantastic collaborating historians – it’s been wild. Bring on 2019!

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Impact is not just coming, it is already here. Rant and rage, it’s a fact of academic life. In my view that’s (mostly) not such a bad thing. As a researcher I want my work to reach broad audiences, though I recognise that attempting to measure the impact of research is a fraught exercise with potential perverse effects. Our physicist friends tell us that observing a phenomenon changes it, and even “quality metrics” are pretty bad at capturing the kinds of value produced by culture. Scholarly work not only has intrinsic merit, but its “real world” effects or applications can take decades to manifest.

Yet like it or not, impact assessment is upon us. This means that historians need to spend a bit of time getting their head around what it means and how it might shape their work. And to my mind, there’s good political and disciplinary reasons for doing so.

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I spoke recently with the Times Higher Education Magazine about reading. It is commonplace now to observe that our digital age entails attentional effects that play out in all aspects of lives, including the university classroom. The philosopher and bike mechanic, Matthew Crawford, is particularly astute on the subject of attention deficit, though in The World Beyond Your Head he locates its source not in the iphone, but rather in the idea articulated by Immanuel Kant that experience must not guide reason. Crawford recommends a re-engagement with material reality and with skills (this is where the bike-repair comes in) that bring us into contact with the physical world, requiring persistence, entailing difficulty and resulting in the production of an object that contains the results of our labour. He sees these as a way to reclaim the “attentional commons”.

I suppose long form reading is a bit like that. It requires time to be poured into it. There is a kind of physicality to it, as the bookmark moves slowly through the thumbed pages, and the experience is just as important as the content.  In the world of 500-800 word blog posts, an idea or set of arguments elaborated in a book of 500 pages can feel heavy, complicated and difficult. Yet as anyone who has worked at the coal face of knowledge knows, scholarship is difficult and frustrating and laboured and slow. But it is in this difficulty that the rewards not just of scholarship, but also of life, so often lie. One of the things universities do is facilitate (in the face of student reluctance) forms of engagement with ideas and arguments that are deeper and slower than those usually available online.

The THE wanted to know what books university lecturers thought secondary school students should read before coming to university. The recommendations were diverse, but my suggestion was Susan Sontag’s Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963 (edited by David Rieff, 2008). They show Sontag uncertain, sometimes scared and yet intoxicated by ideas and the possibilities of life and sexuality. I love them for the permission they give to take risks, chase passion and, most of all, not to know. All students starting out at university should remember that not having answers is at the heart of scholarship and learning – as long as you keep asking questions.

This has reminded me it is high time for another:

Occasional dispatch from my big green reading chair #2

  • Richard Dennis, Econobabble: How to decode political spin and economic nonsense (Redback Quarterly 8, 2015). This is fantastic no-nonsense piece on the work of economics talk, how it is used to forestall and obfuscate, and how you can blow it apart. It should be required reading for everyone remotely interested in political debate. This is such a brilliant series from Black Inc – longer than a Quarterly Essay but not too long that you can’t finish it in a couple of days. I’m now onto Jessica Rayner’s Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young.
  • Andrew Pettegree, Brand Luther (Penguin, 2016). This book has a subtitle worthy of the 16th century and indicative of its slightly breathless (!) style: ‘How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe – and Star the Protestant Reformation’. There will be books aplenty coming out in 2017 for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but Pettegree’s focus is Luther’s adept use of the new-tech of the day: printing as a mass medium. This attention to the intersections between technology and ideas has, of course, many resonances with the present, but thankfully these are not drawn too explicitly by Pettegree, who instead allows the reader to think about disruption and change, politics and power through the lens of a period at once familiar and very different to our own.
  • Rahul Rao, On StatuesThe Disorder of Things blog (April 2 2016). Beginning at the University of Cape Town with a (successful) campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes that dominated the entrance to the university, Rhodes Must Fall has grown into much broader movement which seeks, as its Oxford website outlines, ‘to decolonise the institutional structures  and physical space in Oxford and beyond’ including the ‘structures of knowledge production that continue to mould a colonial mindset that dominates our present’. In this thoughtful piece Rahul Rao (Senior Lecturer in Politics at SOAS) writes about statues, who needs them, and the politics of their removal, not just in Oxford and Cape Town, but also in Iraq and India.