No doubt in part because of the discussions held by the steering committee of HISTSOTL with then ISSOTL President Barbara Cambridge in Washington last year and further discussions with the conference organisers, the 4th ISSOTL conference set aside an afternoon (Wed 4 July) for discipline specific meetings. While only three disciplines took this opportunity, history was one of them. With South Australian wines and Victorian and Tasmanian cheeses provided by the School of History and Philosophy at UNSW a most pleasant afternoon unfolded.
Eleven historians (which was not quite the total number of historians at the conference) from Australia, UK, USA and South Africa attended the meeting. Three members of the HISTSOTL steering committee (Leah Shopkow, Geoff Timmins and Sean Brawley) were present. Three of the attendees were not foundation members of HISTSOTL.
After a welcome and introduction from Sean Brawley as the local organiser for the steering committee, Geoff Timmins with assistance from Leah and Sean discussed the activities of HISTSOTL to date. After this context setting the gathered were divided into small groups to ponder what steps forward the organization could take.
The groups were asked to write down their responses and these follow:
- The Society should reach out to teaching intensive institutions
- The Society should be a source for publicity of SOTL in History
- The Society should consider hosting its own regional or theme specific conferences
- The Society should sponsor workshops/panels at gatherings such as ISSOTL
- The Society should take special interest in training graduate students and new faculty
- The Society should set great value in sharing ideas but it was acknowledged that a cost-benefit analysis at this time would show that it will be difficult to secure immediate benefits due to a lack of resources and time.
- The Society should be interested in issues of reward in terms of:
a. teaching better
b. discipline benefits
c. personal satisfaction
- In thinking about the basis for collaboration the Society should consider routes to publication, resource provision, connections with the wider discipline community, and how resources are shared and pooled to raise the profile of history.
- The Society should concentrate its efforts on performing the role of a clearinghouse of ideas of teaching and learning as they apply to the study of history. It should seek to regularly produce edited volumes to share ideas with colleagues.
In the wake of these reports discussion flowed.
- The issue of a publication was discussed and it was agreed that at this stage a regular journal, while a possible future aim, would be too difficult to do. Strong support was endorsed for the Society sponsoring regular edited collections that might bring to a wider audience up-to-date developments in the field.
- On the issue of our own conference it was suggested that the current arrangement with piggy-backing on the ISSOTL conference was the wisest path forward. Suggestion of regional/national conferences was discussed with a mixed response.
- The question of funding was discussed as an important step forward for the sustenance of the organization. Australian and British funding possibilities as well as other types of support in kind were broadly discussed without any significant resolution.
- Another important issue that was discussed was the question of constitutional arrangements and the adoption of a more formal office-holding structure. The reason for the current approach of a steering committee was explained but there was strong support that for the authority and status of the Society consideration be given to the formalisation of a constitution with more traditional management structure. The possibility of using the bye-laws/structure of ISSOTL as a starting point was discussed.
- The degree to which the Society was truly international was also discussed. Mention was made that the founding membership reflects a fairly significant success in the Society getting its message to a diverse range of historians. It was however acknowledged that the Society currently remained dominated by the English-speaking world.
After these discussions the meeting discussed two pertinent issues. The first was how one structures a Gateway course for History and the second was on the issue of progression.
- Sean Brawley led the discussion on Gateway courses and a very fruitful exchange ensued. Issues of approach, and how content and skills were mediated were discussed and served as a useful entrée to a session on first year history teaching held the following day with presenters Dr Jennifer Clark (UNE-Aust) and Dr Elisabeth Ludlow (Wits-South Africa).
- Geoff Timmins led the discussion on progression and related it to a project he is currently working on.
- Another useful discussion ensued which also showed that we are gradually developing a common language (or at least understanding others). The different meanings of the seemingly simple word ‘seminar’ was but one example. The differences within nations was also an interesting discussion point.
All up, the afternoon session was a great success and does over something of an approach for future disciplinary meetings.
The conference itself was, as always, brimful of useful ideas and insights. My Australian colleagues learned much from our visit to DC the previous year. There was an excellent conference dinner (with two historians, Brawley and Baker the last to leave!) and at the various receptions the alcohol flowed freely (rather than being issued by a ticket with a limit of two drinks). A university rather than hotel location also seemed a winner.
As well as the various presentations by historians, Leah Shopkow and Arlene Diaz’s ‘Decoding the Disciplines Workshop’ was one of only three held at the start of the conference and was very well received. The next ISSOTL conference (and the next opportunity for HISTSOTL members to meet face to face) will be in Alberta Canada 16-19 October 2008.