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!)