18-20 November 2016; Abbey Hotel, Great Malvern, Worcestershire

conference-2016-venueThe annual conferences for the UK and Australia-NZ History of Education societies were combined in 2016, hosted by HES UK in Great Malvern under the shadow of the Malvern hills near the border of Wales and England. There were about 70 people attending, approximately 10 of whom were from ANZHES.

The conference theme of sight, sound and text in the history of education meant that there were a large number of film clips and photographs shown, which made for interesting presentations. The conference theme reflects the movement within historical research to investigate and represent history through the senses, and increasingly, using digital technologies both as methodology and presentation. Digital technologies are making history more accessible to the general public and also requiring academics to step outside their traditional research outputs. An example is the digital exhibition that Deidre Raftery and Jane Burns have created for the Google Culture Institute on the 1916 Irish Easter Uprising from the point of view of the nuns and students of the Loreto school that overlooked St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Another example is the focus on teaching using technology from Silvia Muller (see a different presentation from Silvia)

Keynote Speakers

There were four excellent keynote speakers. To open the conference we heard from Josephine May from ANZHES, talking about the representation of Australian primary school teachers in film particularly with regard to gender relations. She contrasted the representation of the teachers in “Smiley” with the representation in the 1973 “Marion” TV drama set during World War II. Smiley was a neocolonial “imaginary of the Global North” showing how the British/American film makers imagined Australia to be like, and reflected contemporary gender relations. In contrast, Marion was a postcolonial “product of the Global South”, and challenged and disrupted gender relations. For example, the series ended with Marion turning down an offer of marriage to pursue her own career! Jo described her paper as an example in hyperlineal history – bringing together different time periods to compare and analyse changing patterns. My favourite quote: “the alchemy and economy of film enables us to experience the situation”.

Inés Dussel, an Argentinian now living in Mexico, presented an analysis of childhood represented in different film versions of the 1929 German book “Emil and the Detectives”. The original book – and the 1931 film – depicts children with agency, as creative and resourceful political actors who are capable of self-organisation. Later film versions tended towards a more “pasteurized” view of children, with innocent and noble children who needed to be protected. Inés took us through a nuanced analysis, looking at how the films represented what children are capable of, how the material worlds of children changed, children’s relationships to ruins (literally and metaphorically), and the ways in which children are political actors. Being able to see the film clips was a great aid to following the arguments Inés put forward.

Twenty years ago, Ian Grosvenor wrote a book called “Assimilating Identities: Racism and educational policy in post 1945 Britain” where he concluded with a “reflection on the possibilities of producing a transformative historical narrative of the nation which would recognise the historical experiences of Britain’s black population”. In this keynote, Ian revisited this reflection to present a case for an alternative narrative of the ordinary in 21st century Britain, one that would address racism and social justice – particularly post-Brexit. He presented three media examples of alternative histories: a TV soap about black people from the 1970s called Empire Road, a museum exhibition on black British homes from 2005 called The West Indian Front Room, and a documentary photo exhibition on the history of the black population of Birmingham from 2012 called By the Rivers of Birminam. Each of these showed a Black British history that presented an alternative to the dominant representations of British life.

In yet another example of hyperlineal history, Catherine Burke, outgoing president of the HES UK, connected the ideas and practices from a trans-national group of educators and related people in the mid-20th century with current perspectives on school design. The historic thinkers included Alec Clegg (1909-1986), an English county Chief Education Officer who was well known for his innovative ways and his focus on increasing humanity in the classroom, and Phil Cullen, a former director of primary education in Queensland, Australia . A key theme for these thinkers was the relationship between modernism and progressivism, and the effect on education of material things, environmental design, and social interaction, and some of these are further explored through the Decorated Schools project. Cathy showed how their ideas were close to the visions school students came up with in the 2001 UK survey “The School I’d Like”, and again, how these ideas can also be seen in the new primary school recently designed for the University of Cambridge.

Paper Presentations

As always, the challenge with parallel paper sessions is choosing which papers to attend which inevitably means missing out on others. This is where people live tweeting from other sessions can be useful! A collection of tweets from the conference can be found here. A conference perspective from British PhD student Maria Williams can be found on the HES UK blog.

My presentation, on the changing illustrations accompanying early childhood education policies in Aotearoa New Zealand over the last thirty years, went well from my point of view. I especially appreciated the comments and questions afterwards, which has given me some new thinking points for my thesis.

The Networking

It was great to meet in person many people that I have interacted with through social media, as well as meeting new people who are working on a variety of interesting studies. I think it was also good that there was representation for History of Education Societies in a variety of countries – not only the UK and Australia-New Zealand, but also Canada and USA. Such connections should enable more international collegiality. The organising team of Stephen, Siân and Jody did a great job.

At the conference dinner there was a ceremony of passing the conference tohu from the conference organisers back to ANZHES representation. In Māori custom, a treasure is often used as the embodiment of the spirit of a conference, and passing it from organising team to organising team is symbolic of the continuity of the spirit, the society and the conference. This custom was introduced to ANZHES at the 2015 conference, and the tohu – which in this case is a book – was passed to Stephen Parker and his team from Worcester University. The organising team then passed it back at the 2016 conference dinner, and it will be returned to the organisers of the 2017 conference in Canberra.