Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, August 08, 2011

The loneliness of the independent historian

Being an independent historian outside the groves of academe can sometimes be a lonely business. We work away, bore our friends, family and colleagues, but often don't have anybody to talk too. Yet every so often things happen that remind us that it's not so bad after all.

My major historical piece this week, UNE Passings - death of Anne Harris, was on my general New England Australia blog. Maybe I should I have put it here, but I just wanted to remember Anne and also felt that the piece would be of interest to a broader audience.

I spent quite a lot of time on the post for I needed to investigate aspects of her life using print sources that I already had plus on-line sources. As part of the post, I included an Australian National Library sepia photo of Dr Harris (the father of Anne's husband). Gordon Smith, one of my blogging colleagues with a wonderful New England Tablelands' photo blog, turned the photo into a sharper black and white image and sent it to me. To say that I was pleased would be an understatement.

Then with yesterday's post here, History of theatre in New England - update 1, Judi provided me with an enormous amount of material in comments, material that will take me many hours to follow up. Again, I was hugely pleased. So maybe we independents aren't as lonely as I thought?

Despite these two examples, I do think that to be an independent historian can be a lonely business. We really can't expect our friends and family to share our obsessive interests! Most importantly, we lack the backing provided by a structured support environment.

Those interested in family or local history often find solace in local history societies. These do a quite wonderful job. In this country, they have played a huge role in preserving local and family histories. Yet a difficulty remains for those who lack access to such societies or who have broader historical interests,

One of the special problems faced by independent historians regardless of their interests can be access to professional expertise, expertise about research techniques or the best way of finding and documenting source material.

Many independents don't realise something as simple as the need to properly document their sources. Then, those coming later get very frustrated because they cannot properly use the material!

I have been wondering how we as historical bloggers might best provide support, to break the bounds set by isolation and lack of skills. What do you think?          

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