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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Report on Belshaw historical research and writing

One of the difficulties faced by those of us who work alone is simply keeping in focus. A PhD student faces the same problem, but still has deadlines and supervisors. Free-lance researchers find life a little more difficult.

I find as a person that I need deadlines and external pressures. I also find, and this obviously connects, that I get dragged in all sorts of directions by varying interests. Now I am well behind in terms of my main targets. What to do?

My small number of regular readers on this blog will know that I am a member of the Heritage Futures Research Centre at the University of New England and also an adjunct of that University. At some stage, I am going to have to do a report on my role, so I thought that I would do a stock take here on my historical research. This then provides a benchmark against which I (and you) can measure my progress.

It also helps me focus on my main personal project at the present time, getting my history of New England to the point that I can seek a publisher.  

Historical Populariser

I see part of my role as increasing interest in history, in setting events in historical context. To this end, history appears in much of my writing. Excluding general pieces including history, I have averaged more than two history posts or columns a week over the last year. 

This writing gets a good response, yet is also a problem because it distracts me from my other research and writing deadlines. I don't have an answer to this. It's a question of balance.

For the moment, I am putting general posting on my other blogs largely on hold for a hopefully brief period while I just catch up.   

Unrecognised and now almost unknown: explorations through the history of the broader New England

. In March of last year I delivered a paper in the University of New England's History and Classics seminar series, Unrecognised and now almost unknown: explorations through the history of the broader New England.

In June last year I posted a copy to this blog and also put a copy on Scribd. The second allows for easier download.

An Exploration of New England's Aboriginal Languages

In July last year I delivered a paper to the Armidale & District Historical Society, An Exploration of New England's Aboriginal Languages. This paper is now being revised for publication in the Society's journal.

I have had some good comments from people on the paper, and now need to consolidate those.

Social Change in Australia’s New England 1950-2000

At the start of April this year I delivered a paper in the UNE's History and Classics Seminar series on social and economic change in New England over the second half of the twentieth century. This filled a significant gap in my history.

I am now revising the paper so that it can be considered for publication in a refereed journal.

New Companion to the Australian Media

I have agreed to write 700 words on the Vincent Family for the new Companion to the Australian Media.  Edited by Professor Bridget Griffen-Foley, the Companion is due for publication in mid 1914. My deadline is October this year.

Biography of David Drummond

In June last year I began posting my original PhD thesis, Decentralisation, Development and Decent Government: the life and times of David Henry Drummond, 1890-1941, minus the introduction to this blog to make it more accessible. You will find the entry point here.

I have written before about the particular events that surrounded that PhD. I won't bore you with that history. However, the fact that after submission I finally walked away from the PhD because of conflict and disputes over the thesis remains current because, among other things, people still assume that I got it. I still have to explain that I am not Dr Belshaw! 

My family wants me to update and extend for publication. I will do that, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, the blog posting makes the core of the original document available.

History of the Northern (New England) New State Movement

A full history of this Movement has still to be published. It remains my target to do so after I have finished my general history of New England.

In March this year, I did a quick scissors and paste on previous work plus some limited new work to provide a rough first cut history. The work that I am now doing on my general history of New England continues to fill in gaps.

In about three months, I hope to start posting structured material on different aspects of the history to encourage discussion. However, the book itself will have to wait until I finish my general history.

My general history of New England  

I completely underestimated how long it would take me to write my general history of New England over the last 50,000 years. It's partly a question of focus, I get distracted, more that the task of writing a general history for an area not previously covered is quite difficult.

In saying not covered I need to be precise in my use of English. There are histories of the various areas within the broader New England, but not of the broader territory. No one can see the whole.

Given that I am now more than eighteen months behind my original deadline for a first draft, what can I say?

  • I have the general structure (Introduction, Aboriginal New England, Colonial New England, New England in the twentieth century) right.
  • For each of the main segments, I have now identified key themes and periods, and have something written on each.
  • The richness of the material I have discovered, and consequently the scope, far exceeds my previous expectations. I have discovered just so much.

Realistically, I struggle to put sensible deadlines on the project. I am now fillings gaps in an evolving structure, yet it's still hard.

I feel absolutely blessed by the people who have become involved in the project in one way or another - now well over one hundred. I struggle to document all the contributions, for I want people to be recognised.

I don't know whether or not I could claim my evolving history to be the first of the internet age, that's a very big claim. Yet I can say with all honesty that the writing of the history has become a collaborative effort between me and hundreds of people. They actually drive what I do. This is our history, not just mine!


It should be pretty clear that as a private researcher I am struggling to complete the things that I do. There is a constant conflict between my desire to research and write and the need to find the money to live. My entire research is privately funded. I am constantly broke.

Yet I think that if I can keep going, if I can meet my targets, I will have established a good track record, I will forced an interest in the things that I am interested in, I will have established a base for future research and writing that did not exist before.

That's not bad.     

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