Archive for May, 2011

Researching & Writing History

May 17th, 2011

I attended the Unlock the Past Researching & Writing History Seminar in Adelaide on 13-14 May 2011.

I’m starting to wonder if I attend too many genealogy seminars – why? At this seminar I caught up with people I met at the Genealogical Society of Victoria’s Australasian Scottish Conference in Melbourne a few weeks ago and I met the husband of a friend I caught up with at the Auslib Sense of Place local studies conference in Sydney a week ago. Plus I caught up with various Adelaide friends as well. Genealogy and family history is a great way to build up a network of friends and colleagues around the countryside.

In my various studies and government jobs over the years, I have been involved with or had responsibility for various publications so I was familiar with a lot of the content of this seminar but it was good to get fresh perspectives on some of the issues.

Day one started with Peter Donovan, professional historian from Donovan & Associates talking about So, You Want To Write History? and this was an informative talk illustrated entirely with cartoons which I loved. Included in the seminar satchel was a copy of Peter’s book Adventures With Clio: Historians Recounting Their Memorable Experiences and for the bargain price of $5.00 I was also able to buy Peter’s book So, You Want To Write History which was the basis of his talk. It was a great introduction to the two day seminar.

Next was Peter Bell a professional historian and writer talking about How Old Is My House and this was an introduction on how to trace a house history with lots of practical hints and good illustrations. Peter’s handout summarised the major sources. I first met Peter back in Brisbane in the early 1980s when I was working in the John Oxley Library – good to see we are both still involved with history 30 years later.

Due to illness, Cassie Mercer from Inside History a new magazine launched last year, was unable to attend and Alan Phillips from Unlock the Past (UTP) spoke briefly about Inside History, UTP and Find My Past Australasian collection.

After lunch was Ashley Mallett, an editor and author, talking about Sporting History and Biography and this was one of the topics I was most interested in. However Ashley’s presentation was more suited as an entertaining after dinner type talk rather than a how to session and I am no wiser on how to research sporting history and biography.

The next speaker was myself talking on Writing Resource Guides and this is an area well outside my usual comfort zone as I have never talked on this subject before. I agonised over what to say, what to include and in the end I opted for basic advice based on my own experience and included some of my favourite resources so that attendees could go home and check them out. I was grateful for the feedback over afternoon tea which was positive I’m happy to say. I might blog this talk as the websites might be of interest to others.

Carol Baxter, genealogist and author, was the next speaker on Writing Creative Non-Fiction. Carol is an enthusiastic and motivating speaker who set the scene for her two talks on Writing Interesting Family Histories the following day.

Jackie van Bergen, a proof reader, was next with What I Meant To Say Was … and this was an interesting and humorous session which was summarised in her handout. A key lesson was not to rely on spell check alone as it only picks up words spelt incorrectly, and won’t pick up where you have used a wrong word. She gave examples where publishers had to pulp books because of inappropriate words not being picked up in the editing and proof reading stages.

In the last session of the day on Publishing and Marketing – Self Publishing or With a Recognised Publisher, John Scardigno from Peacock Publications and Michael Bollen from Wakefield Press talked about the issues involved.

Day 2 started with Graham Jaunay from Adelaide Proformat talking about Accessing Government and Private Archives. As a former government archivist I always find it interesting hearing researchers talk about using archives and some of the issues they find frustrating. It was good to see Graham talking about private archives in Adelaide as all to often researchers only think about government archives.

Carol Baxter was next with Writing Interesting Family Histories which is the title of her book on the subject and I think most attendees went home with a copy – I know I did! Carol gave examples of how to turn boring paragraphs into something much more interesting and appealing to readers.

After lunch, Annie Payne from History From The Heart gave a talk on Gather, Organise & Preserve Your Personal & Family Stories which was also a bit of show and tell. Annie held up items such as a green butter dish and asked attendees what memories did the dish invoke and we could all identify with it (although my Gen Y son wouldn’t have a clue) .

One thing I especially liked was when she handed out three jars, each with a particular smell inside and people were asked to recall what memories the smell brought back. I use photos and documents to stimulate memories but had never thought of using smell before.

Patricia Sumerling then spoke on Oral History: Tips For Historians and her informative handout summarised her various points. Patricia also gave the next talk on Understanding Context in History or A Work of Fiction, again with a useful handout. She was an entertaining speaker giving her own experiences  on various projects and books to highlight the points she was making.

The final session was Printing Your Book with David Sweeney from Openbook Howden. He illustrated his talk with examples of various books and gave costs for each type which was quite useful for those planning to publish.

Earlier I mentioned the seminar satchel and it had lots of useful flyers and handouts from publishing companies and presenters so that attendees can learn more after the seminar. There were trade display tables including Gould Genealogy & History, Unlock The Past, Wakefield Press and History From The Heart.

All up it was a very intensive two days and as usual I have come away with new ideas, new things to do, and renewed inspiration to finalise all those various draft family histories I have sitting in my filing cabinets. Now to find the time!!


Local Studies Centres in Australia & New Zealand: Unknown and Under-appreciated?

May 9th, 2011

This week I attended the Sense of Place local studies conference in Sydney. It was a very stimulating three days which started with a half day sites bus tour. Places visited included:

The bus trip was very well organised and ran with almost military precision – no one was left behind and we stayed more or less to the timetable. Everyone was given a handout with each venue listed together with relevant facts and figures on each site.

At each place we were given a talk and quick tour of facilities and afternoon tea (delicious scones, jam and cream) at Old Government House. I collected various fact sheets and brochures to read up on later and at the end we were given the choice of returning by bus or taking the ferry back. I elected for the ferry trip down the Parramatta River to Darling Harbour which was a great way of seeing more of Sydney’s sights.

The conference proper started the next day with 11 speakers (the links are to the local studies pages on the relevant websites):

  • Working Collaboratively in Local Studies in Orange NSW – Jan Richards, Central West Libraries
  • Connecting Our Past With Our Future: A New Gateway to Maitland’s History and Heritage – Keryl Collard, Maitland City Council Library
  • Sustaining Community Archives in the 21st Century – Joanna Newman, Archives New Zealand
  • The Bendigo Regional Archives as a New Collaborative Model – Vivien Newton, Bendigo Library
  • Looking Out, Not In: The Greatest Little Archive in New Zealand – Sandy Green, Masterton District Library
  • Waratahs and Kookaburras in the Library: The Role of Survey Exhibitions at Mosman Library, NSW – Donna Braye, Mosman Library
  • Innovation in Local Studies Collections and Programs: How Melbourne Library Service is Fostering Community Pride – Shirley Bateman, Melbourne Library Service
  • Local Studies Cooperation in Camden, NSW – Jo Oliver, Camden Council Library Service
  • Fostering Family and Local History in Libraries: the Hawkesbury Experience – Michelle Nichols OAM, Hawkesbury Library Service
  • Museum Initiatives and Projects Applicable to Local Studies – Jayne Fitzpatrick, Toowoomba Local History Library
  • Local Studies in the Wentworth Library: Our Sense of Place – Leanne Watmuff, Wentworth Shire Library (at the time of writing this blog the URL for the library was not working)

There was a panel session at the end of the day where all speakers responded to questions. Straight afterwards there was the conference reception in the Friends Lounge of the State Library of  NSW with some tasty finger food and drinks. Maggie Patton Maps Librarian at SLNSW gave an entertaining talk and there was lots of chatting and networking.

The second day there were only nine speakers (the links are to the local studies pages on the relevant websites):

  • From Manuscripts to Metadata: The Changing Face of Local Studies Librarianship – Diana Dixon, Southwold Museum, UK
  • A Virtual Sense of Place: Public Libraries as Creators of Local Studies Indexes and Resources – Fran Inkster, Manly Library, NSW
  • A R u Feeling Appy: Augmented Reality, Apps and Mobile Access to Local Studies Information, Ellen Forsyth, State Library of NSW
  • In Google We Trust: Gen Y, the Internet and Local and Family History in Libraries – Carly Reimann, City of Tea Tree Gully Library Local History Office, SA
  • Blogging and Local Studies: A New Approach to Old Stories – John MacRitchie, Manly Library NSW
  • Digitising Council Minutes at the City of Nedlands, Western Australia – Anthea Harris, City of Nedlands Library, WA
  • From Filing Cabinet to Cultural Centre: The Creation of a Community History Centre at the City of Wanneroo, WA – Carol Leigh, City of Wanneroo Libraries WA
  • Many Interests, One Group: Creating and Celebrating History in a Modern Environment – Amanda Peckham, Hobsons Bay Libraries VIC
  • Unlock the Past: Promoting History, Genealogy and Heritage in Australia and New Zealand – Shauna Hicks, Unlock the Past

Again there was a panel session at the end of the day where all speakers responded to questions and the final session discussed conference recommendations that will be followed up to promote local studies in a wider forum.

One of the things I like is that all the papers will be published and should be out by July 2011. It is very hard to take in so many papers each day so it will be good to reread all the papers in a few months time. Another feature of this conference is that copies of the Powerpoint slides from presentations will also be sent to those who expressed interest in receiving a copy.

The conference satchel included lots of interesting brochures all to be followed up at leisure (but who has time for that?).

I came away with a greater sense of just how much is out there in local studies land and how much is being done to make that more accessible and known to potential users. However there is still so much more to do and I still don’t think that researchers make the most of these resources.

One of the conference recommendations is that it be repeated, perhaps in five years time – in my opinion, local studies should be getting far greater exposure than that but then I have always been a fan. In the meantime, I will be doing my bit to spread the word on how great local studies centres are and why researchers should start seeking them out!


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