October 28, 2016 by Sharee Cordes

From Oldendayism to Participation 2.0 – the potential of local history

(You may be wondering what this has to do with pop-culture, but I assure you that family and local history is very ‘pop’ with the older set – and also Kate told me this would be the best week for this review – thanks Kate!)

Recently I have been involved in a couple of the community history talks at my local library – once as an audience member and another time as a presenter.  Our local history librarian organises history talks on the last Thursday of every month at 10am, with presenters talking about local history topics, usually with the obligatory Powerpoint slide show.  The one I attended was an interesting lecture about historic Ormiston House and the one I presented was a talk about an oral history project I am co-ordinating in the local area.

The talk I attended was very interesting and well researched with a slide show of photos.  It was well received by approximately 10 attendees who all stayed on for a short time to enjoy a cup of tea and cake afterwards.  At one point a lady with young children poked her head in, she had recently started homeschooling her children and was interested in educational activities, but she decided it might not be relevant and did not stay.

Recently, at the 2016 Library History Forum: Diverse Voices, I attended an interesting talk by Mr David Brooks, the Community Events and History Co-ordinator for the City of Tea Tree Gully (Adelaide).  The Tea Tree Gully library had been running a series of history talks similar to those at my library.   A very interesting point he made was that user surveys showed that people were very happy with the existing program of lectures – he had about 30 people who regularly attended the lectures and they all said they were very happy with them.  However, Brooks recognized the need to broaden the program to appeal to a wider range of people.  He was wary of getting caught up in what he called ‘olendayism’ – beards, bonnets and sepia photos, or family history.  Instead of lecturing people in a one way conveyance of one ‘official’ history, his aim was to create opportunities for conversations about history that would enable more diverse and inclusive representations.

Brooks decided to think outside the box and do something different.  Some of the events he has organised so far include “Fast times, facial hair and fondue” 70s history and fondue party, “Day-glo, Go-Go and Roller Discos: Tea Tree Gully in the 1980s – The Roller Disco” at the skating rink with a history presentation given while people were skating, and “Back in Time-Zone: The 90s Arcade Experience” with a display of 90s video games that people could play in the library.

The portrayal of history by our public institutions is a huge topic – way beyond the scope of this blog post, but in a nutshell, for hundreds of years we have been fed a Euro-centric, sanitized version of history sold to us as being the one truth, but people are now realising that history is much wider and varied than that and is often not what it seems.  Implementing some participatory practices (such as facilitating conversations) in to local history is one way to create a more balanced and relevant view.  Nina Simon in,  Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, outlines some benefits of this type of participatory history.  It celebrates diverse voices, makes institutions feel more dynamic, provides alternative context for the information, makes a more creative and social place, and it introduces new opportunities for learning – “it’s about opening up the institution to the possibilities of what visitors have to offer”.   Now I think that sounds a lot more interesting than the beige world of ‘oldendayism’ – don’t you?

(the featured image is a photo taken by me of an activity I suggested and helped to facilitate as an alternative to the regular history talk – making lanterns from copies of old photos.  I found it a lot of fun and a great opportunity to sit around the table talking to other people but was unfortunately not well attended – this could be the subject of a whole other blog post!)


#community engagement#conversations#history#lectures#local history#participatory#programs


  1. Anitra Ross
    October 28, 2016 - 10:43 pm

    Hi Sharee,
    i completely agree with you about participation, David Brooks sounds fascinating. I think there can be the potential to focus so much on the Program forgetting about; conversation/participation and outreach /attracting non library users. I do like how history now looks at more “ordinary” people , not the elite and the participatory ethos assists that.
    Do you think your oral history project has succeeded in these endevours ? (a tough call I know!).
    Back to Popular Culture- yes I agree this is popular culture , I would not have called it that before the Twitter Chat but now think so.

    • Sharee Cordes
      October 29, 2016 - 1:46 pm

      Thanks for your comments Anitra – yes, David Brooks was a fantastic speaker and such a great advocate for participatory history – he was really in to the spirit of his events too showing some funny photos of himself dressed up in his 70s gear! A great role model for these sorts of programs. For my research project subject this semester I am actually investigating how much my oral history project has been able to contribute to building a stronger community – many of the criteria for doing this are included in the project, but getting people to commit their time to be involved is a struggle!

  2. Karen Eyre
    October 30, 2016 - 1:07 am

    I love what David Brooks is doing – that is my kind of history! That kind of living history also really helps makes connections with younger generations who often don’t have an understanding of the socio-historic-cultural contexts that have shaped ‘how we got to now’. I have noticed in the teens I teach that once the connection is made more real for them, they are more likely to independently go further. Social media sites like “Lost Brisbane” are also popular with some students to help see what their area used to be like at various times in history – not just in the ‘olden days’.

    • Sharee Cordes
      October 30, 2016 - 8:45 am

      One of other students is doing her research project this semester on ways libraries could connect teens with history – it will be interesting to see what she comes up with!

  3. MegLaverick
    October 30, 2016 - 2:27 am

    I must admit, when I think of the past I do tend to think in terms of sepia and old timey-ness. I love the idea of bringing history to life in an interesting and engaging way. It’s a shame that the woman who poked her head in to look at your session didn’t feel there was anything for her or her kids there. Are there any other programs at your library that would appeal to that demographic? Or is that an untapped market?

    I think that because we are starting to recognise that history has traditionally been told from a singular and very biased point of view, we have a prime opportunity to start teaching kids without the veil of olden dayness and through participatory practices such as conversations, making history accessible rather than something that can only be viewed through a grainy photograph.

    Also, I love your lanterns.

    • Sharee Cordes
      October 30, 2016 - 8:43 am

      Thank Meg – the lanterns are a great idea, the best part was that we got out folders full of old photos and everyone sat around a table sorting through them looking for a photo to use for the lantern – it was a fun way to explore the collection. I got the idea from the State Library of Victoria here.
      Yes, I think the homeschooling community is a huge untapped market for libraries – libraries could easily fill up activities for school aged kids running during school hours if they promoted them to homeschool groups – they are easy to find, just talk to the families who come in regularly during the day with kids and borrow wheelbarrow loads of books!
      History is such a great option for participatory fun activities – I wonder how long it will take to change peoples thinking so that they will embrace them!

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