Teaching and Learning Australia: rethinking the archive in the Australian Humanities

Our recent symposium brought together 22 speakers, each addressing different aspects of working with and in the archive. A key objective of the symposium was to investigate the ways in which bodies of knowledge are managed, accessed, and translated for education, and also how archives perform, more broadly, in the production of cultural, literary, virtual, performative and artistic works.

Teaching and learning symposium

As the title suggests, there were two main and interconnected threads of enquiry. The first related to approaches in teaching and education in the humanities, assessing what the humanities look like in contemporary Australia, and how this landscape might shift in the future. The second thread investigated the role and concept of the archive in forming cultural histories and bodies of knowledge, from which educators and cultural workers alike have drawn inspiration.

Performing the archive panelDuring the course of the day a picture about archives and their role for education in the Australian humanities began to emerge. The redressing of lost or hidden histories, in the form of cultural experiences and identities, urban landscapes, historical events, and popular ephemera, was prominent in the project of rethinking the management and significance of archival work. The speakers each elaborated on questions such as: How do archives perform as depositories of official knowledge; how might we expand on the idea of the archive to include marginal stories and identities, sites of unofficial culture and consideration of popular forms?

Embodying Indigenous knowledgeSpeakers included award-winning author Melissa Bellanta who discussed the process involved in searching and accessing archival materials to produce a social and cultural history of disorderly urban youth or ‘larrikins’. Playwright and Education Manager of the Ilbijerri theatre company, Kamarra Bell-Wykes, spoke about the affective translation of archival materials, such as community reportage, into powerful verbatim theatre for education. Kamarra reflected on the ways in which the verbatim dialogue used in Illbijerri’s theatre prompts us to redress dark historical episodes such as the 2004 Palm Island protests and Aboriginal deaths in custody. Nerida Campbell, curator of the Justice and Police Museum discussed the ‘dark Inspiration of the NSW Police forensic archive – its diverse users and some of its most intriguing stories’.

Curators, education officers, artists, and archivists from organisations such as ACMI, Auststage, Austlit, Australian Lesbian and Gay archives, Performance Space Archive, The Immigration Museum, The Germaine Greer archive, AIATSIS and more, contributed to an important discussion about the significance; intellectually, historically and affectively, of archives in contemporary Australian life.  We hope to keep this discussion going throughout 2015.