The new convenors of the Australian Women’s History Network reflect on the challenges and opportunities for the network in the year ahead.
As 2018 drew to a close, responsibility for convening the activities of the Australian Women’s History Network (AWHN) was passed to a new team. Based primarily in Perth and Canberra, the new team is looking forward to continuing the good work of the talented and committed scholars who established and cultivated the AWHN. We are excited by the opportunity to continue building the AWHN’s reputation as a strong and meaningful actor within Australia’s academic and broader public sphere.
The new team is extremely grateful for the guidance of its predecessors, as well as members of the Lilith and VIDA collectives and the numerous long-term AWHN members who dedicated time and energy to help conquer the challenges associated with the handover process. We are also fortunate to be guided by Ann Curthoys and Jane Lydon, who offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. We are very excited to start a new chapter for AWHN in 2019, and to share our ideas for the next twelve months with you!
One of our main goals for the year ahead is to raise the AWHN’s national profile. As part of this mission, we have decided to run the 2019 symposium in Perth, and to develop a stronger presence in Western Australia. We are hoping to attract more WA-based scholars into our fold, and activate this portion of AWHN’s membership that often, owing to the tyranny (and economic challenge) of distance, cannot readily attend symposia and events run in other Australian capitals. It is our hope that through this effort we will enhance the AWHN’s national reach.
The new convening team is also keen to expand the AWHN’s disciplinary scope. While AWHN rules define the Network as an entity that promotes research and writing in all fields of women’s history and by women historians, we will be working towards opening our organisation to scholars from cognate disciplines, and seeking opportunities to connect actively with Australia’s policy and advocacy sectors. The knowledge capacity fostered by the AWHN is already frequently applied in different engagement and outreach activities, and throughout 2019 we will aim to consolidate and formalise relationships aimed at enhancing our policy and advocacy role. Our first step towards this effort will be the inclusion of a policy stream within this year’s symposium. We are also keen to explore how to systematically align our work with initiatives such as Australian Policy and History, which sees historians draw upon their expertise to inform the process of policy development.
We are also committed to achieving and building upon the goals that were outlined by the AWHN’s previous convening team. The AWHN has done a tremendous job to promote the work of scholars writing in a range of epistemologies; questioning what materials are included on reading lists and who we position as experts. These questions are critical in ensuring that the AWHN promotes multiplicity and insists that the health of our disciplines, and Australian society more broadly, are inexorably linked with the principles of inclusion and equity. The 2018 report of the Royal Historical Society on racial and ethnic equality in history research and teaching in the UK demonstrates that students and academic staff from minority backgrounds comprise a very small portion of training and research in history (p. 29). Similarly, the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 report on gender equity in history reveals ongoing gender inequities across history teaching and research at university level.
Despite concerted efforts to change these patterns of participation, the pace of progress remains a serious cause of concern. Similar trends are consistently observed in Australia. Importantly, however, the Royal Historical Society reports reveal a series of practical ways in which we can act to change this situation, including diversifying our reading lists to include a range of scholarly perspectives. The AWHN’s Resources list is therefore a critical tool of intervention in this space, which we must continue to cultivate and promote. We also remain committed to promoting the publications of our members through both national and international channels, which will be one of the major privileges that our paid members will be able to enjoy.
We also remain steadfast in our desire to raise awareness of the issue of precarious work in academia (and beyond), and the eroding effects of casualisation on individual wellbeing and (by extension) the health of our disciplines. We will aim to position the AWHN at the heart of the debate on the future of work, both in order to understand how we as historians can inform this debate, and also to ensure that research into the future of work is incorporated into how future historians are trained for work in academia and beyond. What role can professional associations and networks have in preparing historians to more easily transition in and out of academia throughout their careers? What can they do to reduce negative effects of current employment patterns?
There is a great potential for the AWHN to further align its efforts on this question with the Australian Historical Association (AHA), and join ranks in thinking more systematically about the future of our discipline and history-trained graduates. We will be keen to promote initiatives such as one recently commenced by the AHA to probe the state of casualisation in our field. In addition, the AWHN will, wherever possible, seek to respond to calls for submissions on this topic in order to influence policy. As part of its Future Humanities Workforce project, the Australian Academy of the Humanities is publishing a consultation paper, which the AWHN will use as an opportunity to make its position heard with respect to issues pertaining to future-proofing the humanities in Australia, providing support for early career researchers, and promoting gender equity within our sector.
The theme of health and wellbeing runs like a red thread through our current thinking for 2019 – whether with respect to our disciplines, to history as a profession beyond academia, to the individuals working in the field, or to the AWHN itself. We will take this theme further with this year’s symposium, entitled ‘The Female Frame: Biopolitics and Wellbeing in Australian and Global Perspective.’ As we prepare to issue our call for papers, we are excited about the range of concepts that this title opens up for consideration, from national wellbeing and reproductive rights, to women and work, the representation of women in art, aging and the female body, and many more. Throughout 2019, we will aim to raise the visibility of these issues through our symposium, and in other suitable platforms – including our Resource list and planned policy-oriented efforts.
We are very excited about what lies ahead in 2019, and we look forward to your support and suggestions!
Please stay tuned for several important announcements, including a call for papers for the 2019 Symposium, as well as review of the AWHN rules.
Dr Iva Glisic, Australian Academy for the Humanities
Dr Samantha Owen, Curtin University
Dr Christina Chau, Curtin University and University of Western Australia
Parisa Shams, University of Western Australia
Jessica Murray, University of Western Australia
Kelly Bailey, Curtin University
Dr Iva Glisic is a historian of modern Russia, Italy and the Balkans. Her work explores the history of radical ideas, creative dissent, and the dynamic relationship between art, politics and ideology. She is the author of The Futurist Files: Avant-Garde, Politics, and Ideology in Russia, 1905-1930 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2018).
Dr Samantha Owen is a cultural historian, an early career researcher and the Humanities and Social Sciences Lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University. She researches community education and development and the formation and operation of civil society and the policies which become vehicles for communicating social, cultural, economic, institutional and political norms. Samantha has a special interest in gender history and feminist methodologies.
Dr Christina Chau has a PhD in Art History and Media Studies (UWA) and is currently a lecturer at the School of Media, Culture, and Creative Arts at Curtin University and a lecturer in the School of Design at UWA. Christina has published on robots, contemporary art, kinetic sculpture, time-based art, and contemporary visual culture online.
Parisa Shams is concluding her PhD in English and Cultural Studies at The University of Western Australia. Her research addresses the intersections of dramatic literature and feminist philosophy, with a particular focus on Judith Butler’s theory of subjectivity in the context of ethics and politics and in relation to drama of transgression.
Jessica Murray is a PhD candidate and tutor at the University of Western Australia. Her thesis uses the concept of conscience as a way into exploring moral anxieties about the relationship between individuals and legal authority in the literature of Victorian England. Her interests extend beyond this to history, cultural studies, and feminism.
Kelly Bailey is currently undertaking a PhD in Cultural Studies at Curtin University. Her research examines the relationship between food rituals and cultural identity in the modern Levant. In and outside of academia, her interests lay in Middle-Eastern politics, literature, history, linguistics, and feminism.