May 5, 2017
by Sonia Jennings

Just finished

Jill Barnard and Sonia Jennings are off to Sydney tomorrow for the launch of their new book – It Started from Scratch: the first fifty years of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. Here’s a sneak preview.

cover pic

September 27, 2016
by Sonia Jennings

Reflections on the Working History conference


The Living Histories’ team played a major role in the planning and organisation of the recent ‘Working History’ conference for professional historians.


Jill Barnard records her personal highlights:

There were so many highlights of the 2016 Working History conference that it is hard to focus on just a few. Our guest speakers, Tim Sherratt and Lisa Murray, stimulated our senses with keynote addresses to begin each day. Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Blainey, the first practitioner of public history in Australia, held the room spell-bound with reflections on his own journey as a historian. There were so many stimulating papers, demonstrating the depth and breadth of the work as professional historians and providing ample evidence that, as practitioners of history, we are constantly assessing and reassessing aspects of our professionalism. On reflection, however, the major highlight of the conference for me, was the respect for each other’s work and the sense of collegiality that bathed both the conference room and informal discussions between colleagues during breaks.


August 15, 2016
by Mary Sheehan

Cambridge Summer School

Two weeks have flown. Trite as it may sound, it seems only yesterday that I walked along the tree-lined avenue to Clare College, and stopped on the bridge to watch a family of ducks glide by on the River Cam next to a couple of punts. It was such a peaceful setting with the beautiful Clare Fellows Garden in view on the river bank. It’s so good to be back at Cambridge University again. Once more I’m walking in the footsteps of ‘greats’ such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, Stephen Hawking … and the list goes on.


Punts on the River Cam

But it’s not just walking in the steps of these ‘giants’ that makes me feel good, nor the fact that 92 Nobel prize winners have been associated with the university, it’s the beauty and the architecture that makes it such a pleasure to be here again.

Stunning architecture is everywhere in Cambridge, and Clare College is no exception. Founded in 1326, Clare is the second oldest of the 32 colleges that make up Cambridge. Old Court, the oldest section, was built over a period of seventy-two years in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and is astonishingly beautiful. The buildings carry a patina of age that makes it easy to image centuries of scholars criss-crossing its paths.


Clare College Old Court

Yet, awe-inspiring as the surroundings are, equal pleasure is also gained in catching up with those I met two years ago at the history summer school – and meeting new students – the majority of whom travelled from all parts of the world including  the Netherlands, Japan, Italy, United States, Jordan, India and, surprisingly, a fair contingent from Australia.


The Granta, an excellent pub to sit and relax with a glass of wine and watch the ducks glide by.

Before arriving in Cambridge I felt apprehensive about the  program I’d joined, Creative Writing, a non-fiction course taught by Midge Gillies who has published multiple histories. I knew participants were expected to produce a writing piece on a nominated topic each day, that were to be critiqued by the class. But it wasn’t so bad after all.

Writing assignments over the first week focused on biography and memoir, and ranged in subject from shoes and cake, to momentous news. Focus in the second week was on people and places, with topics including describing a view from a window, the worst night’s sleep, and home (I became a little too philosophical with the last, so word limit became a great challenge). Except for the latter, tasks were not as daunting as anticipated. Indeed, for a slow writer like myself, the exercises provided confidence that a piece could be produced within two sittings totally about 3 hours. During the course the importance of voice was emphasised, and the value of creating a sense of place or location. There were good hints offered too, including the suggestion that, if having difficulties describing something, try drawing on any of the five senses to help paint a word picture..

We were kept very busy in the course, so busy there was little time to do the many things I’d planned – perhaps another trip back to Cambridge is needed?




Foreign correspondent #2

August 13, 2016 by Sonia Jennings

Mary’s ‘summer school’ trip to Cambridge draws to an end, but she’s sent us more fabulous photos.  Some words to come in the future (we hope).






This gallery contains 11 photos

Foreign correspondent

July 31, 2016 by Sonia Jennings

Mary Sheehan is currently at Cambridge University in the UK doing a creative writing course.  She’s sent us some great photos of her new neighbourhood and we can’t wait to hear about the course when she gets back.


This gallery contains 3 photos

July 22, 2016
by Karen Twigg

Bernard Bailyn Lecture

confed memorialA public lecture that raised questions about race, memory, monuments, and heritage – what a treat! Last Tuesday (12 July) I rode my bike into the wonderful old drill hall occupied by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. My goal was the annual Bernard Bailyn Lecture on North American History, sponsored by La Trobe University. This year the guest speaker was Dr James Grossman, the Executive Director of the American Historical Association.

James spoke about the large number of Confederate memorials in the United States – including schools and university named after Confederate generals as well as statues, plaques and monuments. In recent times these have emerged as sites of tension seen by some as symbols of racism that should be removed but viewed by others as representing Southern pride and commemorating military skill and heroism (regardless of the cause). Those wanting to protect and celebrate these memorials, James argued, often evoked a notion of ‘heritage’ that mythologized the past and was impervious to historical evidence.

Question time was an energetic affair, with the seventy people in attendance actively engaging with many of the issues that James had raised. A big thank you to Holly Wilson, a PhD student from La Trobe University, for organising such a thought-provoking event.

July 19, 2016
by Karen Twigg

Mammalian weeds … a report from AHA conference

jane_brown_SP1-croppedMammalian weeds? What could this person be talking about? The speaker, Professor Katie Holmes, was in fact speaking about mice. Delivering a paper at the recent AHA conference, Katie discussed mice plagues in the Victorian Mallee, drawing attention to the sheer numbers of mice that invade farmlands during a plague, infiltrating every crevice of barn and bedroom and confounding perceptions of what is ‘natural’. Such mouse plagues are familiar (at least by repute) to most of us who live in south-eastern Australia but I was surprised to learn that they are rare in the rest of the world. The only other place they occur in such large numbers is in isolated provinces in China.

The AHA 2016 conference was held in Ballarat in the first week of July. After getting lost finding the central Federation University campus in cold, drizzly winter weather, I settled down for four days of stimulating papers. Katie’s paper was just one that took up the conference theme of ‘Boom to Bust’. Stories of rise and fall, progress and collapse, rags to riches are often threaded through the work we do as historians and the many papers on offer certainly did justice to this theme. The conference offered ten separate streams on subjects that ranged from environmental, cultural, industrial, heritage, regional and feminist topics.

With so much richness on offer I faced the daily dilemma of the conference attendee. How could I possibly choose the ‘right’ session to attend? I largely solved this quandary by establishing myself in lecture halls C0001 and C0003. These were the rooms devoted to the environmental history stream, one of the most vigorous and lively of the conference program and attracting around forty-five individual papers and panel discussions.

Katie’s paper was part of one such environmental history panel, exploring agricultural boom and bust through the lens of pests. While Katie focused on mice, Andrea Gaynor investigated locust plagues and the prevalence of military metaphors as well as military equipment and personnel used in the ‘war’ against them. On the same panel Emily O’Gorman showed how the redistribution of water for irrigation purposes in the Murray River system increased mosquito numbers and the threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

For me the highlight of the conference was the launch of Tom Griffiths long-awaited book, The Art of Time Travel, in which he examines the craft of history-writing through the work of fourteen historians. I left the conference with my head buzzing with new ideas, and Tom’s new book in my bag promised to further stretch my thinking. Now I only have to carve out the time to read it…

January 4, 2016
by Living-History-Admin

Professional Historians’ conference

Flinders Street, Melbourne, SLV image



Living Histories’ partners are closely involved with the organisation of a national conference for professional historians.  The conference will be held on 19-20 August 2016 in Melbourne. More details of the conference can be found at