I recently attended the annual Australian Historical Association conference in Newcastle. This year was my second OzHA conference and the theme was Entangled Histories (*cue drink*). Unlike last year, this year I chose not to present. Although I love presenting, I really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to take in all the papers without worrying about my own presentation. I was also relieved to not have to spend any of my PNG archives trip writing a conference paper.
My favourite papers, or those that most inspired me, were Christina Twomey's keynote 'When the War is Over' on WWII, Borneo and Australia's relationship with Asia, and the 'Indigenous Practise and Perspectives in Oral History' panel with Nepia Makuika, Sue Anderson and Lorina Baker. I also want to give a special mention to Nick Ferns, Patricia O'Brien and the other Pacific historians. I came away from the conference wishing I could do a thesis that somehow incorporated every approach to history (especially environmental history - you guys are the best).
Twomey's presentation was great on multiple levels. Her presentation was well-composed, engaging and she was very kind to her audience (no theoretical jargon and a great musical brain break near the end). I connected with her subject matter and the way she attempted to weave together stories of Australian servicemen and Borneo locals. She managed to find moments of hope and highlight personal stories while still conveying the complexity of the situation - her story-telling was outstanding. She also inspired me with her sensitivity to race, gender and class.
The oral history panel was wonderful for me as I'm just getting into the oral history component of my PhD research. I'm starting to wrestle with how to conduct interviews in a foreign country and over a history that is not my own. Makuika, Anderson and Baker all raised issues over the importance of conducting research with sensitivity, establishing reciprocal relationships, and building rapport and trust with the community you do research with. It also confirmed my decision to spend my first trip to PNG building relationships before jumping into interviews.
I also got into twitter big-time this year - last year I only tweeted once and this year I tweeted over 50 times. I was surprised by how this transformed my conference experience. I felt like I got to be part of a bigger conversation. It challenged me to engage with the papers in a new way - looking for the key points that spoke to me and trying to summarise them in a pithy way that would translate for a broader audience. I also loved getting to see how others responded to the same session and seeing the tweets coming from the concurrent sessions made me feel as if I was in multiple places at once.
I had to detox from twitter a little when I got home (when I start thinking in 140 characters or less I know it's time for a break). However, overall I loved being a twitter fiend and the opportunity it provided to meet new people - connecting first on social media and then in real life. The other highlight of my sophmore conference was the social aspect. I loved the post-grad drinks, our cheapskate conference dinner and staying in an Air Bnb with fellow post-grads. It reminded me of how blessed I am to get to spend everyday with so many intelligent, compassionate and curious individuals. For me this year was a great experience both intellectually and socially. This is post is just the beginning of a series of thoughts I will be posting over the coming weeks. So stay tuned and for those for those of you who attended, let me know what you thought!