When Dr Hannah Forsyth’s history students joined theory with community engagement the results were remarkable. They built community websites, led historical street-walking tours, compiled oral history, translated poetry and even archived traditional costumes.
“By paring history theory with the actions of working in the community and doing something of value for the common good it all made sense,” she said.
“For the students it was extra special. They were not just writing essays that only I am going to read, but were reaching out to the community in a real way.”
Community engagement is a key part of a student's education at ACU through the core curriculum. This gives students the opportunity to widen their horizons, gain new skills and experiences, improve their resume, and make a difference in the wider community.
Dr Forsyth, who last year published The History of the Modern Australian University, said historiography is highly theoretical and very difficult for many students to initially understand.
“They came into it quite frightened about what they had to do, but by going out into the community they added real value,” she said.
“We are making history inclusive rather than something narrow and elite.”
One student, with a Croatian background, approached a local Croatian community group, and interviewed 20 people about their Australian journey.
Dr Forsyth said many members of this community had come to Australia after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and had interesting stories to tell.
“The group was so impressed they paid the student to conduct 20 more interviews,” she said. “Here was an example where history came alive,” she said.
“As a teacher it was a wonderful experience and so much fun.”
Dr Forsyth is also a member of ACU's Historical Studies Research Concentration.
Her research focuses on the history of knowledge: she is interested in the ways that knowledge is structured and valued in society, as well as who controls or 'owns' it.
In this she focuses on the history of universities, the history of work and professions and on connections between 'historical consciousness' (knowing about the past and being aware of one's own place in history) and active citizenship in disadvantaged communities, especially in country Australia.