Change, the Creative career and Me.

I haven’t posted in a while. Statistically speaking I’m in the same category as the bloggers who gives up after the first three months (which, a great number do actually). I never intended to go on an unannounced hiatus, but that’s kind of the way young lives pan out sometimes. Especially when chronic illness and a PhD is involved! However, my break away really gave me time to think.

I’ve been to some wonderful places over the last couple months, done some fun things, and tackled some hard decisions. Mostly, I’ve been working on getting my health to a place where I am not struggling to get through each day. Though, I have to admit, nothing helps put things into perspective like travel; during my unexpected hiatus I had the pleasure of visiting both Canberra, and the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. The latter of which is kind of my home region, it’s where the majority of my family come from, and always brings me a lot of happiness going back there. The cool weather agrees with me too (so little humidity!).

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Canberra was a different story! It was kind of a non-essential research trip. I loved it. Five days spent with the wonderful Jo, stomping around in perfect weather, meeting a heap of darling birds, and visiting some amazing places – like the National Archives of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, National Library and the Museum of Australia.

Two particular moments stood out for me though. The first being my visit to the National Portrait Gallery, where I discovered that there was an excellent display on about the famous surf film, The Morning of the Earth. I grew up with the soundtrack, and it was truly breathtaking to see not just snippets of the original film but also an excellent collection of photographs.

The second moment was during our session in the National Library, where I decided to pursue my developing interest in May Gibbs. Well now! Would you believe it, I managed to borrow a copy of Prince Dandelion to examine. It was truly amazing. Gibbs’ creativity and playful Australian illustrations just floor me every time. (If I’m truly lucky I might get my own copy for Christmas!)

It was through these visits, my travels, and some very hard work on myself and my health that I came to the decision to refocus my efforts to what I really love: illustration, food and history.

After all, what use is it pursuing a creative career if it’s not what you truly care about? That’s the thought I leave you with today. That, and this video by Ze Frank. When I’m struggling with the jumbled mishmash decisions about my future, I find watching this gives me the inspiriting to go seek out what really matters to me.

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Up Skilling.

Despite a cold Saturday spent shivering in front of the television watching Destination Flavour – Down Under, Sunday’s turned out beautiful here on the GC. I’ve had a morning swim, read the Sunday Mail, and caught up on some drawing work that I’ve been meaning to get to. Now I’m working back through my notes from Friday at the digital history workshop led by Professor Tim Hitchcock from the University of Sussex. Professor Hitchcock blogs at Historyonics.

Held up at the Nathan campus of Griffith University, the workshop -at least in my interpretation- was focussed on the idea that we think we understand doing digital history but in actual fact, mostly, we don’t. But we should! Of course, we should. As professionals and as enthusiasts, its critical that we not only maximise our skill sets for effective, creative and authoritative history writing but also that we truly understand and make the most of digital/digitised source material. This made me think of Dr Nikki Henningham’s  paper at the Australian Women’s History Network Symposium, run alongside this year’s AHA – Henningham’s paper, and current work, is on the Australian Women’s Register. Henningham discussed how important meta-data is to those interested in history online, meta-data being like information about the information. Meta-data could be the size of a picture, but it also could be how many times that picture is removed from its original source. Meta-data tells you about the trail you took to get to that information, as well as telling you how that information got there and was created. As people who are incredibly interested in sources and where sources come from, it seems like a natural progression for us to care about these details in the digital realm.

Prof Hitchcock also explained the mechanics of using search engines in greater detail than I’d heard before. He explained that we read/find what Google wants us to read – building on your search history, Google structures your results in a particular way. This raised the question: are we actually disempowered by the search engine? Does this actually mean that improperly catalogued information, information butchered by optical character recognition tech, and information that does comply with our accidental shaping of search results, is lost to us forever? Before considering this, I thought the “white noise” of the Internet was mostly ads and neknominate videos but now I understand that some of that white noise is actually stuff I’d probably love to read but in reality I probably won’t be able to find it at all!

So while my brain was being fried thinking about all that, Hitchcock blazed through a short list of excellent tools for historians and history-buffs to use online. Google’s own Ngram Viewer was a hit, showing the percentage of phrase/word mentions in Google Books over a particular period. Embarrassingly all I could think of at the time were animals, so that’s what I looked at.

Ngram Viewer

Go horse, look at you, being all popular and important up until the industrialisation of transportation! Such a good horse.

The Ngram Viewer strikes me as being a bit like QueryPic (created by Tim Sherrat, @wragge) which graphs hits on Trove documents. It’s also incredibly useful for seeing publishing peaks, and then finding those publications. In the graph below I’ve looked up “May Gibbs” of Gumnut Baby fame and “Dorothy Wall” of Blinky Bill fame – it’s an interesting comparison.

QueryPic

We also played around with Voyant Tools. Voyant gives you the opportunity to either paste in text or simply copy in a URL and it will give you a large amount of information on the most commonly used words, graph the frequency of words and phrases, and create one of those cool cirrus clouds. This kind of tool can be useful for finding meaning in a text. I was impressed with the tools available for graphing and mapping data, because what Prof Hitchcock said at the start of the presentation was right – while I knew OF a lot of this, I wasn’t fully aware how to use these tools. Tools which, I think, might actually be useful for my thesis work.

Now, I’m off to go practice and learn coding via Codecademy. For somebody with diddly-squat experience with HTML, I’m actually finding it easier and more interesting than I thought. I recommend giving it a try if you want to broaden your understanding and use of code.

Cheers.

Creativity and Illustrating the Past

I am watching an old episode of River Cottage completely dedicated to chocolate, just to continue the running idea that, yep, I’m a bit of a foodie at heart. My partner has made me a coffee in my incredibly classy “Dr Dinosaur” mug. And like many people with limited time but wide interests though, I’m multitasking. I’ve also got a book open on my lap: Muir’s A history of Australian children’s book illustration (1982). Despite the aged ideas about the nature of illustration, their reflections on the illustrators, questionable use of particular words, and the notion of “indigenous” illustration (which is incidentally actually not indigenous by any means, but refers to the illustrations emerging from colonial Australia) – Muir’s text brings to my attention the creativity we are granted as history writers, readers and commentators, and, to top it off, is a fascinating collection of art from across Australia. These illustrations tells us so much about aesthetic trends, cultural trends, popular myths and stories, educational tools and literacy levels, and, of course, about the artists themselves. I feel like there’s a thesis in here somewhere! But alas, it is not mine.

Perhaps one of the most interesting points of Muir’s text was the inaccuracy of illustrations of landscape and people of Australia in early children’s books in England. When I mention stretching out the creative muscles in history making, I meant in more of a stylistic way – we have the word processing power to insert notes, pictures and, depending on how we publish something, maybe even sounds and film. I didn’t mean, however, this:

“For the first hundred years of settlement illustrations for Australian children’s books were bizarre or romantically unrealistic. They were almost without exception drawn by artists who had never visited the antipodes. Neither publishers nor artists in Europe were concerned about realism in illustrations for children’s books, especially when set in remote and little-known places like the Australian colonies. Even the early artists who came to Australia had their own preconceptions of the country and found it hard to paint the scenes before them as they actually were. This is why Aboriginals resemble Africans, or sometimes Red Indians, trees are either dense like broad-leaved oaks or feathery like exotic palms, and dwellings look like English country cottages.” (Muir, pp.10-11)Muir

Can you imagine children all through the Britain and America being educated with illustrations of Australia that look nothing like Australia? I had simply never thought about it. I imagined, like the some of the work seen in The Art of The First Fleet by Lisa di Tommaso, that educational material would contain a higher degree of accuracy – even with the high costs of printing pictures in texts (and the even higher cost of coloured pictures!). To see some of the art from the first fleet, check out this NSW State Library page. Being more familiar with the fantasy work of May Gibbs and Ida Outhwaite, which is rather detailed in a lot of places, I had naively assumed that most Australian illustrations came from a tradition of detail and care. Oh how wrong I was.

If you like being flabbergasted by artwork, I recommend Muir’s text for a read (though that’s not to imply that the text is without issue – as mentioned above). So far this has been one of my favourite images, other than the featured work of Gibbs, Outhwaite, and Dorothy Wall of Blinky Bill fame.

Rose Casey

I would offer a ukulele serenade in exchange for any cool May Gibbs or Outhwaite artworks, but I’m actually working on something for the Melbourne Museum team and the PHA Vic, I can’t sing and I can only play three chords – but the amazing @curatorcurious sent me a Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History badge and I’m determined to do right by the Universe and send something back.

Expect an updated sooner rather than later, as I’ve been to an exciting workshop today! “Digital Histories: A practical workshop about the online representation of eighteenth-century stuff and dead people”, with Tim Hitchcock from the University of Sussex. I wore my best dinosaur jumper for the event.

Cheers.

Celebrating the Lamington and Doing History

As much as I’d like to say that this soft adorable physique is all completely and innocently due to my sedentary lifestyle as a PhD student, I would be telling a wee fib. Let’s be honest, it’s due to cake and biscuits. I don’t mind. I can be honest about it. I’m a young lady with a hankering for a traditionally made date-loaf, moist banana bread, fluffy scones and, oh, yes, lamingtons.

Chocolatey, coconutty lamingtons.

A sweet of such cultural importance that it has a national day in Australia! The 21st of July, from 2006 onwards, is National Lamington Day. For many, it’s an excuse to pop down to Coles or Woolies and indulge in some moderately priced commercial cakes. For some, it’s a chance to get back to our roots and whip up Nan’s, Pop’s, Neighbour Jane’s, Aunty May’s etc etc famous old recipe – a nostalgic, gastronomic, visit to the past. And, for some of us history buffs (or extreme cake enthusiasts), it’s the inspiration we need to track down the sensational past of a delicious family favourite.

The lamington is pre-Federation in terms of origin, said to have first been made in 1900 for Lord Lamington, the then Governor of Queensland. Of course, it was delicious, a fast favourite among both those at elegant high-teas and those with a bit of old sponge cake and a half cup of desiccated coconut to use up in the pantry. It’s only a year later that we start seeing recipes for lamingtons in print: check out this 1901 edition of Queensland Country Life to see what I mean! (Also, if you try this recipe, I recommend using caster sugar rather than regular granulated sugar)

For those who don’t know, this was a full 21 years before the Queensland Country Women’s Association was baking up a storm of these at fairs, stalls and shows! And 14 years before Lord Lamington had Lamington National Park, in the SEQ Hinterland, named after him.

But what’s the point of all this, you ask? Well, what’s the point of doing any history?

We do history because these tid-bits are delicious. We do history because the past can be interesting, nostalgic, challenging, and confronting. It can be an escape-  from the present and from the imminent future. History provides context and purpose to stories and people and places. History is so many things, and affects us in so many ways. Even (dare I say, especially?) in academia this is important to recognise. History isn’t just about things that have been, it’s about things now too, and things to come.

So what’s the point of my 114 year old cake tale?

  • Food is an important part of history, tradition and family.
  • 114 years ago people were still throwing together terrific dishes from pantry scraps.
  • And, most importantly, lamingtons are delicious.

Starting in the Muddle

Do you ever feel like its just the “right time” for something? Some bizarre-o cosmic forces align and you – the PhD student, the researcher, the complex human being –  finally manage to do something you’ve been scrambling towards for months. Well, that’s what this blog is the result of!

In July, 2014, I attended the Australian Historical Association annual conference.  It was my first AHA conference, and the second conference I’ve attended during my candidature (the first being the exciting POPCAANZ 2013). As a spectator I learnt a lot: skirts, scarves and statement necklaces are the bomb-diggity first of all. But, more importantly, I learnt about making history and breaking the rules. A message that I really needed at this point in my very young academic career.

Particularly, I was inspired by the Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History panel, featuring the impressive talents of: Dr Clare Wright, Dr Barbara Lemon, Lucy Bracey, Dr Richard Trembath, and Dr Liz Rushin.

Of course, I doodled my way through this session (and I should do a post some point about creative note-taking, because if I draw during your paper it means I 100% am trying to listen in a deep and meaningful way), and wound up with the simple message of “BREAK RULES, MAKE HISTORY”.

Break Rules, Make History

Everything just clicked after that, you know what I mean? I felt relevant, I felt proud of the collective work Australian history-makers do, and I felt like I could do some exciting stuff with the notes I took during the conference. I felt, as my supervisor had suggested just a week before, like I could blog about things! Considering my thesis intends to focus on blogging about the past, I think having some first-hand experience will be extremely important too.

I presented my paper about an hour after this inspirational session (btw, if any of the WBWSMH panel ladies read this – I would really like one of your fancy yellow badges. I am willing to trade some of the following things for one: a ukulele serenade, the monetary contents of my boyfriend’s wallet, or one hand-knit mustard coloured beanie with a bright pink pom-pom. I expect a tweet to arrange business promptly). My paper on the complexity and issues of using historical content on digital archives went, like, 100% better than I anticipated.

I did not vomit on anyone. Which was really good because Prof. Ann McGrath was sitting in front of me – and she had to present next. She even recommended that I develop my paper for the Jill Roe Prize. Then she delivered her paper on the magnificent work of the late Alice Kelly of the Mutthi Mutthi, the return to country of Lady Mungo’s remains, and McGrath’s upcoming documentary Message From Mungo.

It was an amazing way to finish my day. Technically there were more sessions, but I was offered the opportunity to have a frothy cappuccino with fellow presenter Jo Grant and the lovely Jill Beard, another Griffith University PhD’er, who is researching conciliation in colonial government. Jill wasn’t presenting at the AHA, probably because she’s been super busy – her first two papers have just been published. I’m probably going to spend my next Saturday reading them both, with a hot milo.

To see some of Jill’s work, check these out:

  • Jillian ​Beard,’Conciliation in New South Wales, 1788-1815: A Colonial Governance Strategy’ in J. Bonnevin, D. Waterman, and S. Ryan-Fazilleau  ​(​eds.​),​ Aboriginal Australians and O​ther ‘Others’, (Paris: ​ Les Indes Savantes, 2014​), pp.171-185.
  • Jillian Beard ‘Conciliation at the Margins and Peripheries of the British Empire, 1788- 1815’ in M. Gillespie, Philippe and Michel Savaric Laplace (eds.) Margins and Peripheries in English-Speaking Countries, (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014), pp. 217-228.

Me at UQ

Here is a picture of me flouncing around the glorious University of Queensland campus, elated on the last day of the AHA. Just to finish things off nicely.

So what are some things you can expect on this blog?

Well, being exegetical in nature, you’ll probably see a few posts on how and why we “do” history in Australia. I also intend to use this space to discuss local history, creative humanities projects, literature, and being chronically ill in the Academy. Until then, cheers.