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The Australian National University

Pasts and Futures in the Digital Age: Shared Histories and Knowledge Exchange across the Generations (Shannyn Palmer)

History assumes a particular significance in a colonised settler nation such as Australia. History here, like much of the physical landscape, is contested territory. Aboriginal perspectives need to be part of a shared history rather than just consulted after the fact; telling their own stories how they would like them to be told. This paper will seek to demonstrate that the rise of digital technology, particularly the digitisation of archival material and the increased popularity of tools such as digital databases and GIS, brings with it the possibility of creatively and collaboratively researched histories that explore a plurality of voices and historical experiences. The success of digital archival databases, such as the Pitjantjatjara Council Social History Unit’s Ara Irititja, demonstrates the possibility of new mediums to both engage young Indigenous Australians with their histories while also facilitating the exchange of cultural knowledge between the different generations.

Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians imagine, represent and experience History, and the various places evoked in its telling, quite differently. Aboriginal modes of historical practice and interpretation possess their own regimes of knowledge that work to unsettle Western conventions of History. The rise of ‘Digital History’ represents the possibility of addressing some of the limitations within the discipline and challenging the power relations from which they emerged. Vastly under-utilized and heavily controlled primary sources of the archives are becoming more widely accessible. Digital recording devices are facilitating the creation of archival material for future generations that captures the spatial, visual and experiential dimensions of people’s lives. A more active engagement with the possibilities delivered by these new mediums can create opportunities for collaboratively researched histories that engage Aboriginal people in history making and knowledge exchange across the generations.

Conference Presentation
AIATSIS National Indigenous Studies Conference
Young and Old: Connecting Generations
19-22 September 2011
Canberra, ACT Australia

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