28-29 November 2017, National Library of Australia, Canberra
The organisers of this conference are to be congratulated for creating an engaging and stimulating programme which highlighted the many ways historians study the family. The decision to structure the conference using single sessions gave it a cohesion which is sometimes lost when there are parallel sessions.
Along with archival research, my history practice has included asking families to share their stories, photographs and significant objects, so I was interested to hear what was happening in this field. I was not disappointed. The speakers delivered thought-provoking papers from which I was able to take away many practical and theoretical ideas. Areas covered included: the nature of memory; the ethics of using and telling personal and family stories; the use of qualitative and quantitative methods; the impact of the digital revolution; and the challenges of researching and writing biography and autobiography. Speakers also shared reflections about recognising subjectivity on the part of the researcher, the interviewee and the creator of a document; identifying gaps and silences; sharing the outcomes of their research; and much more.
Having mainly encountered family history as the domain of the genealogist and amateur historian, I was particularly interested to learn how academic and professional historians were approaching family history and to understand their relationship with family historians outside the profession. The presence of some of Australia’s most highly regarded historians suggests that the genre is now well-accepted within the academy. The inclusion of the ‘how to’ papers by representatives of the TROVE team, the Australian Institute of Genealogy, the Genealogical Society of Victoria and the National Archives of Australia revealed a respectful willingness to listen and learn from family history professionals.
In its focus on studying the family in its many forms, this conference highlighted the diversity and complexity of the human story.