Paper Presentations: The “history fix” – Community histories and the university student

Presenter: Samuel Malloy

Co-presenter(s): none

Faculty / Division: Faculty of Arts and Education

School / Unit: SSWA

Session Type: Paper Presentation

Session Number: 6

When: Wednesday 16th November at 12:15 pm

Zoom link: Password: 670517


The “history fix” – Community histories and the university student In principle this paper is one of connection, that of community heritage and the university student. “Where do you get your history fix”?, is one of the first challenges that I ask my pathway and first-year history students at Charles Sturt University (CSU). Their responses are instant, enthusiastic, as they are varied. Many of their words relate to local histories, family elders and heritage places such as museums – it is not just Netflix and the internet where they source the past. I started this practice of the “history fix” some years ago, and from there I was inspired to incorporate local public history and family histories into my teaching as well as include such aspects in the development of subject ‘topics’ and ‘learning outcomes’, both in the CSU Pathway program and in particular history subjects in the School of Social Work and Arts. Specifically, the connection between the tertiary student and the museum object is a wider discussion and one that has undergone an increased focus as a form of pedagogy in higher education (Chatterjee & Hannan, 2017).

This paper has two core parts. Firstly, there is the case-study of two museums in Bathurst where students have engaged with, principally in-person – but an exercise that can be adopted by any student with heritage keeping-places in their area. This exercise is not one of pure heritage appreciation, rather it is looking at memory, biases in history interpretation, and the voices that are deliberately hidden or distorted – contested history and its telling underlines much of the student discourse. Interestingly, ‘learning outcomes’, and the students themselves, are challenging community museum presentation in the way they perceive and interpret museum collections and stories – it is very much a shared and evolving experience. This ideally supports a broader focus of developing collaborative and creative connections between higher education and the museum (Boddington et al., 2017). The other part of the paper is the student. They have inspired me to do more from what I envisaged when asking the original “history fix”. As is occurring across the public history field, students are responding and presenting their history-stories on family and community They, like others, are increasingly debating and “calling-out” history on issues of race, gender, the experiences of First Nations people, and sites of commemoration – all against the context of globalisation (Ashton & Trapeznik, 2019).

However, the student engagement at CSU has evoked digitally recalled images of family archival photos and material together with history places from their communities (with examples uploaded on smart-phones and laptops) – and then presented in class, both remotely and on-campus. This engagement and personal connection to the past is then scaffolded into the students’ research and written assessments that supports or challenges the narratives of others. Finally, looking at the past, particularly our contested histories, is all around us – it is a conversation that CSU students want to be a part of. With the increased promotion of community histories, both tangible and digital – in our local libraries, museums, cultural places, and interpretative signs – there are connections everywhere to CSU learning content and the past. Importantly, it is these community places that transcend and connect to family, and so the student feels that history is their history too – and so that “history fix” at the start becomes a personal learning experience and a lasting memory of their time at CSU.

Ashton, P., & Trapeznik, A. (Eds.). (2019). What is public history globally?: Working with the past in the present. Bloomsbury. Boddington, A., Boys, J., & Speight, C. (Eds.). (2017). Museums and higher education working together: Challenges and opportunities.
Routledge. Chatterjee, H., & Hannan L. (Eds.). (2017). Engaging the senses: Object-based learning in higher education. Routledge.