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Making History Matter.
Dr Hannah Forsyth: author, historian and lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, Sydney.
When I ask my students why we do history, they often tell me that we study history so that we learn from past mistakes and build a better society. But when I look around, it does not look very much like researching and writing history has had that effect. In fact, often it feels like we write history alone and then it is read by just a handful of people while the world just goes on as it would. What would it take to make history matter? We can think about this in a few ways. What if history was matter – was tangible, real and was connected to things we can touch and taste? What if history was not done alone, but was connected to communities and issues in ways that obviously matter to groups of people? And when we research and write history, what would it take to make it matter to the big questions of politics, meaning and in helping make a better world?
I have been thinking about these questions for a few years and they have started to change the way that I do history. Now seems like an important time to make history matter, too –politics, democracy, human rights and the environment seem to be changing around us and not always for the better.
In this talk I will ask you to think with me about the world as it is now and how that might shape the ways we do history. I’ll tell you a little bit about some of the history projects I have completed with these questions in mind. I will start by describing my approach to writing my book, which was quoted in parliament in opposition to deregulation of higher education. Then I will tell you a bit about the work my students and I have been doing as historians in communities; for me, this has been focused in the Aboriginal (Barkindji) community of Wilcannia, in outback NSW. And then I will describe my new big project, which seeks to understand the long, underlying causes of inequality in Australia.
You can listen to the talk below, and read the transcript.