This is the entry I did not want to write.
It is with great disappointment that the Australian Historical Association must announce this morning that our annual conference will not go ahead on the dates scheduled, 29 June to 3 July 2020. The AHA will provide further details soon about the scheduling of the conference.
The organising committee at Deakin University has put in a great amount of work already. The conference was shaping up to be a lively event at the Geelong Waterfront campus and I hope you’ll join me in praising their efforts. They are grappling with a situation unprecedented in the history of our conferences, which began in 1981.
You will be pleased to know that our prizes, bursaries, and scholarships will be awarded as usual. The announcements will have to be done virtually. The prizes to be awarded are: the Kay Daniels Award, the Magarey Medal for Biography, the Serle Award, the WK Hancock Prize, the Jill Roe Prize, the Allan Martin Award and the Ann Curthoys Prize. The bursaries and scholarships to be awarded are: the Patrick Wolfe Early Career Researcher Conference Bursary; AHA/Copyright Agency Early Career Researcher Mentorship Scheme; AHA/Copyright Agency Postgraduate Conference Bursaries; AHA/Honest History AHA Conference Teacher Scholarship; NAA/AHA Postgraduate Scholarships; Jill Roe Early Career Researcher AHA Conference Scholarship Scheme.
The AHA’s annual general meeting normally occurs at the conference. This will, of course, no longer be possible. We must, however, hold our AGM and it will run online, with details to be confirmed in due course. This year is an election year: we need to elect the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Honorary Secretary, five Ordinary Members, and PhD and ECR representatives. A call for expressions of interest will be circulated in April. Our constitution provides that if there is only one nominee for a position, that person is elected automatically.
ECR representatives have so far served for only one term each and I don’t plan to break that tradition. If you are interested in nominating for the ECR position, please feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to chat about the role. You can send a direct message to me on Twitter (at either the AHA ECR account or my personal one) or email me at email@example.com – I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have. This is not a requirement: you can nominate without saying a peep to me! But I want to be clear that I’m available for anyone who’d like to discuss the role.
I’d like to quickly open a more general COVID-19 discussion. This is a challenging time for everyone right now. Please be thoughtful and compassionate and keep washing your hands. I say this as someone who might outwardly appear an active, healthy, (relatively) young man—but one who ticks multiple high-risk boxes. Every action you take to limit the spread of the virus is valuable.
The people who run our universities face great challenges, and there are no easy or straightforward solutions. I grew curious about whether people at Australian higher education institutions think their universities have reacted adequately to date, so I ran a series of polls on my personal Twitter account for 24 hours from Monday evening to Tuesday evening (15–16 March). It’s a self-selecting sample, but the results are interesting.
The first poll got the best exposure: out of 105 voters, 46.7% are dissatisfied with their institution’s response, 19% are somewhat dissatisfied, and 34.2% are satisfied or somewhat satisfied (17.1% each). I then ran polls for staff, divided into permanent and precarious, and for students, undergrad and postgrad. All are more dissatisfied than satisfied. Undergrad students had the best rate of satisfaction but the sample size is too small to draw conclusions. Precarious staff are the most likely to be dissatisfied, which is unsurprising as too few universities have given clear indications of support for casuals. Interestingly, those respondents who consider themselves more “at risk” from COVID-19 than the general population were more likely to be satisfied with their institution’s response than those who do not, although both groups have a majority dissatisfied.
These are trying times to be stuck in insecure work and I’ll do what I can to promote fair and equitable treatment for casuals and ECRs. Universities talk a good game about how inclusive and community-oriented they are; we are going to find out who is actually serious. I do not envy senior management as they try to plot a way forward through profound uncertainty. But trust in university leadership is notoriously poor right now in much of our sector and the decisions in coming weeks will do a lot—either to regain that trust or damage it irreparably. Casuals must be treated generously. Postgrads, research grant recipients, and fixed-term staff, to name just three groups, will need requirements waived or altered, deadlines pushed back, and contracts or candidature extended. These circumstances are new, so the solutions must be original.
Please, everyone, be good to those around you. Our health is the most important thing.
Kia kaha (be ever strong),
Dr André Brett, current AHA ECR representative
Today we have an entry cross-posted with the blog of the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand (EHSANZ). It is by Henry Reese, a newly-minted ECR who picked up two awards associated with the AHA’s recent conference at the University of Southern Queensland. An AHA-CAL travel bursary supported his attendance, and he won the EHSANZ Postgraduate and ECR Development Prize for the paper he delivered. He describes his research and the challenges and rewards of working in an interdisciplinary setting—a cultural historian in the field of sound studies finding himself making a mark in the AHA conference’s economic history stream.
I was honoured to discover that I’d been awarded the 2019 Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher Development Prize. Like many others who were trained — and have long understood themselves — as cultural historians, I have been thrilled to integrate the material and economic into my understanding of the Australian past in recent years. The economic history stream at the 2019 AHA conference, deftly coordinated by the great Claire Wright, was a fantastic place to tease out the historical links between culture and economy in a constructive and warm intellectual environment. This session was a masterclass in how to fruitfully bring disparate fields of scholarship together. As you can read here, the stream’s panels were diverse, fresh and (for me) often downright thrilling. Presenters engaged with multiple facets of economic history from a slew of methodological standpoints. Postgrads and early career academics featured prominently, a good sign of the healthiness of the discipline.
The frisson of interdisciplinary is something that most postgrads face, for better and worse. It is the cousin of the perennial imposter syndrome that obtains in an academic environment in which we are expected to know everything. It’s something I’ve had to engage with plenty throughout my academic career. As a historian whose work is informed profoundly by the emerging field of Sound Studies, itself an inter-discipline, I have often felt the apprehension that comes with interdisciplinarity. A few years ago, I presented my work at a Sound Studies conference at Stony Brook, New York, where I found myself rubbing shoulders with a motley group of musicologists, anthropologists, literary scholars and even the occasional scientist, all concerned with the same big questions. It was an eye-opening experience. Everyone was equally a fish out of water, and this made for an open and exploratory intellectual space. One lesson of this experience is that, if efforts are taken to foster a respectful and reflexive environment, where multiple viewpoints and levels of expertise are welcomed, then the discomfort that comes with exploring a fresh area needn’t be a problem; rather, it can be productive. Conference organisers, consider this a challenge: be open and respectful of diversity. Postgrads, it’s worth remembering: we can’t know everything, but our views are valid and we’re much more competent than we might think.
The paper I presented at the AHA was entitled ‘Protecting the National Soundscape: The Gramophone Industry and the Nation in the 1920s.’ Whereas I had previously only ventured ankle-deep into this topic, now I had the chance to throw myself headfirst into the deep end of public battles over trade policy in the tumultuous interwar period. This was a paper I had looked forward to writing for several months as I polished off my PhD. My thesis, entitled ‘Colonial Soundscapes: A Cultural History of Sound Recording in Australia, 1880–1930,’ is the first cultural history of early recorded sound in Australia. Combining business history, the history of anthropology and sensory history with the close attention to context, performance and thick description that are the bread and butter of cultural history, I explored settlers’ changing relationships with the phonograph and gramophone over the first generation of this technology’s existence. By integrating recorded sound into the wider soundscape of Australia, I argued that the development of a modern outlook on Australian place developed in tandem with settler understandings of, and appreciation for, the fact of sound reproduction.
In my paper, I interpreted a 1927 Tariff Board inquiry into the duty on imported gramophone records as a cultural document, as well as an instrument of business policy. Perhaps this was one way of making the research task ahead of me tolerable. After all, it’s easier to read over one hundred pages of dry argumentation regarding recorded music imports if you understand the Tariff Board transcript as a document that was charged with the richness and spice of a courtroom drama! Here a small group of rich white men laid bare their prejudices regarding the gender, class and aesthetic tastes of the Australian consumer, which, I argued, were central to the eventual outcome of the inquiry. This was not just a debate over the value of imports compared to the locally manufactured product; it was an occasion when Australian business elites were called upon to adjudicate on the relative merits of musical taste in an anxious society. The bottom line: the Australian consumer, gendered female, was not to be trusted with the artefacts of mass culture; racialised American jazz music was an agent of cultural and musical decline; and compared to the older networks of wholesalers and music dealers preferred by the large gramophone importers, the modern, commercialised department store was no fit place to find musical uplift.
I had some firm precedents in my interpretation of the Tariff Board inquiry in light of wider debates about music, culture and Americanisation in Australian society. Kenneth Lipartito’s work on the expressive facets of business culture has been eye-opening for me, as has Toby L. Ditz’s artful interpretation of business correspondence, often a dry and formulaic tranche of source material, as evidence of the gendered performance of masculine identity. In the hands of both scholars, business is seen as influenced by, and productive of, wider cultural shifts in the society of which it is an integral part. In the Australian context, the work of Hannah Forsyth, Sophie Loy-Wilson, Melissa Bellanta and Julie McIntyre, among others, has been crucial in my thinking regarding the culture of business, and the business of culture, in a modern capitalist settler society. The gramophone trade, as a powerful axis of the so-called ‘culture industry,’ had an outsized impact on Australian tastes and patterns of consumption. It is worthy of deeper analysis using the powerful tools given us by such path-breaking business and cultural historians.
I was fortunate to receive an AHA-CAL Bursary for this paper. I encourage other postgrads to apply for the same at future AHA conferences. Through this scheme, each student is assigned to a senior mentor, who provides feedback on their paper. My mentor, Richard White, went above and beyond, and deserves credit in the shaping of my argument here. I am also extremely grateful to Hannah Forsyth and Jennifer Bowen for their generous comments on my paper at the conference. The final, and largest, thanks are due to Claire Wright, whose efforts to foster closer connections between economic and ‘other’ historians is paying fantastic intellectual and social dividends. Thanks all, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions or comments!
University of Melbourne
The Australian Historical Association is currently conducting a survey on casualisation in the History discipline, and its effects. The survey, which will be open until 31 March 2019, is open to members and non-members. We hope to get a wide range of responses and experiences.
Please note that in the survey, “casual position” is understood broadly, so to encompass all employment that is not ongoing/permanent/tenured. This encompasses fixed-term, full-time, and hourly employment, and all other forms of precarious labour.
The survey is available HERE. Please feel free to distribute the link to other casuals working in Australian tertiary institutions. The more feedback, the better!
Your responses are, of course, anonymous. We anticipate that the survey will take 5 to 30 minutes depending on the level of feedback you wish to provide.
A report based on the survey results is anticipated to be delivered to the AHA executive committee in December 2019 for release in the new year.
Don’t forget that abstracts for the Australian Historical Association annual conference are due tomorrow, Tuesday 12 March. The conference is in Toowoomba, hosted by the University of Southern Queensland, and it runs 8–12 July 2019. All information, including how to submit an abstract, can be found on the conference website.
If the prospect of presenting a paper fills you with dread, have a look at our recent blog entry by Lyndon Megarrity with tips on presenting at conferences. Hopefully it will be the encouragement you need to join us in Toowoomba. I promise we’re a friendly and supportive bunch!
If you are unsure whether to submit to a specific stream and your paper has an economic slant, remember that the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand offers a prize for the best paper by a postgrad or ECR that is presented in the conference’s economic history stream. The paper must be submitted before the conference, but you’ve got until 17 June to do that. The important thing right now is marking your abstract submission as relevant to the economic history stream.
Other prizes and bursaries are available; see the website. ECRs should note the Jill Roe Conference Scholarship Scheme, applications for which are due today, 11 March. Good luck to those of you finalising your applications!
Submissions for this year’s Australian Historical Association conference, hosted in Toowoomba by the University of Southern Queensland, are due
this Thursday, 28 February 2019 (new date: Tuesday 12 March 2019). For many postgraduates and early career researchers, presenting a paper can be a daunting experience. The good news: it need not be! In this entry, Lyndon Megarrity offers his tips for how to present effectively.
Does the thought of 400–500 historians creating a cacophony of noise in a conference venue fill you with anxiety and dread? Does the idea of getting up and presenting a paper seem like a fate worse than death? These are natural feelings: most of us suffer from nerves and anxiety as we try to make a good public impression. However, good preparation and a thoughtful, positive attitude can help conference-goers transcend all those internal fears and doubts when they get up to deliver a paper.
Thoughts and Advice on Giving a Paper
- You can’t do everything in 20 minutes. In preparing your speech, either try to write a broad overview, or tell a story which sheds light on a wider theme.
- Stick to time. Generally speaking, AHA conferences give you 20 minutes for the formal presentation and 10 minutes question time. It is unfair on your fellow presenters and the audience to go overtime. Time yourself beforehand so that you know that you are under the time limit, thus avoiding a) having your presentation cut off abruptly by the chairperson before your conclusion; b) having limited time for questions if the chair lets you go overtime; or c) having people look at their watches and disengage.
- Include visuals (e.g. PowerPoint Slides). We live in a visual age, and sometimes a visual element to a presentation helps us to engage with a speaker and sit up and take notice. You may believe that you can get by on the strength of your powerful and expressive voice alone, but remember that there may be many people in the audience who are not immediately enthralled by your topic: you need to get them to pay attention and engage, and well-thought out visuals can do this.
- Vary your tone, and remember that while your topic may be old to you, it is new to others. Too many presentations are spoiled by the speaker speaking in a monotone and not making the most of that powerful instrument, the voice. In some ways, the conference presenter must be an actor, highlighting the most interesting parts of the story or theme so that the full significance of your research becomes clear to the audience.
- Remember your audience. You need to think how you would like to be addressed as an audience member hearing your speech. In writing your paper, try to avoid jargon and terms which might be unfamiliar to those outside your field. Further, a relaxed but engaged tone, and a willingness to gaze at different sections of the room at various times, will help you win the audience.
- Prepare but do not over-prepare. Ideally, you need to be familiar with the contents of your paper so that you can retain a reasonable amount of eye contact with the audience so that you are not just ‘reading’ the paper with your head down. Practise the paper several times but not so much that it seems stale (if it seems stale to you, it will sound stale to others). It is a good idea to rehearse the night before, but it is equally a good idea to give the paper a rest on the day of the presentation so when the times comes, you will approach it with some degree of freshness.
- Accept that mistakes happen to the best of us. You may mispronounce the surname of a famous historian, nerves might make you trip over a phrase, the PowerPoint slides may be placed in the wrong order, a question from the audience might stump you … these things happen. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Usually, it is best to try and move on with the presentation rather than drawing further attention to the ‘faux-pas’. Make a mental note for next time if it is something you can fix at the next conference with more preparation.
- Question time comes to us all. Question time is difficult and sometimes awkward, because you are being impromptu, without the help of a text. Your personal knowledge and background re: the topic and its context should help guide you through most questions. Give yourself some breathing space before answering a tough question. Be prepared to ask someone to repeat a question if you do not fully understand it. Be prepared (very occasionally) to admit that you can’t fully answer a question and perhaps throw the question to a relevant expert in the room. In addition, be on the lookout for the notorious ‘look at me’ questioner who is essentially advertising their own position on the topic rather than genuinely seeking information. In such situations, all you can do is be as graceful as possible and do your best to make the questioner feel that their contribution has been acknowledged.
- Reflect on the presentation. You’ve got through it! Well done! Think about the positives and how you can enhance them in future. Think about what was not so effective and how you might improve it for next time.
All information about this year’s Australian Historical Association conference, including how to submit a paper proposal, can be found on the conference website. There are a number of bursaries and prizes available, too.
If you are a historian resident in Australia who is a member of the Australian Historical Association and received their PhD within the past two years (i.e. 2017 or 2018), you should submit for the AHA-Copyright Agency Ltd Early Career Researcher Mentor Scheme.
The scheme offers successful applicants $1,500 and the opportunity to develop new articles with the guidance of a senior mentor of their choice.
Full information about the award, eligibility, and how to enter are on the AHA’s website here.
Note that at least three awards will go to applicants based outside NSW, VIC, and the ACT, and that at least one will go to a regional applicant. Indigenous ECRs are strongly encouraged to apply.
Applications are due Friday 23 November 2018. Successful applicants will be informed in early to mid December. We suggest that in preparing timelines as part of the application, applicants should start the timeline no earlier than January 2019.