21 April 2008

Researchers from The University of Queensland, in partnership with Queensland Museum, are driving an exciting project designed to generate a new conception of Queensland’s cultural and environmental history.

The Queensland Historical Atlas will be the first of its kind produced in any state, drawing on cross-disciplinary approaches in history, environmental studies, archaeology, anthropology and cultural geography, to produce a truly multidimensional record of the sunshine state.

Professor Peter Spearritt said the project would provide a timely opportunity to reflect on the state’s recent history, with Queensland set to celebrate 150 years of self-government in 2009.

“Queensland as a state has been so entranced by its own growth in the last 50 years, especially in mining and holiday accommodation, [that] there’s been very little scholarly analysis of what’s happening in Queensland, either historically or in the present,” Professor Spearritt said.

“[In contrast], there are at least 20 short histories of Australia that have been published over the last century and I guess with the federal government largely taking centre stage since World War II, people have become less focused on the state as a sort of canvas for thinking about Australia.

“The idea of a historical atlas was an opportunity to reflect on how the colony and then the state has developed, but in new ways where we [incorporated strands from] a variety of disciplines.”

The project will exploit the University’s expertise across a range of key areas, occupying the likes of Professor Peter Spearritt, Dr Geoff Ginn and Dr Marion Stell from the School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics; Dr Sean Ulm from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit; Dr Clive McAlpine, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture; Dr Nicole Bordes, School of Physical Sciences; Professor David Carter, School of English, Media Studies and Art History; and PhD students Luke Keogh and Owen Powell.

The end result will be published in both print and electronic forms, with the “e-atlas” to function as a piece of living history, open to revisions and commentary.

By way of the interactive resource, Project Coordinator Dr Marion Stell said interested parties would be able to examine their own local histories, creating personalised pathways through Queensland’s past and present.

“The atlas itself will approach its themes in new ways, combining historical maps, authoritative text, graphics, objects, literature, poems, songs, oral history and eyewitness accounts; but the e-atlas will also add interactivity, video and audio,” Dr Stell said.

“People will be able to take their own journey through Queensland, looking up things that are interesting to them and compiling the material in a different way to suit themselves.”

Individuals who use the publication will also be gaining access to an unprecedented collection of resources from key cultural institutions, with collaborations with museums, archives, libraries and other contributors promising a particularly object-rich atlas.

“Queensland Museum will be identifying their material culture holdings and illustrating the atlas and [those contributions will] vary from historical manuscripts to actual objects” Dr Stell said.

“But we’re also drawing on the expertise of particular curators, and that’s where it’s a sort of complementary process, because the Museum has curators of history and culture, Indigenous studies, maritime archaeology, mining and technology and a range of other areas.

“And we’re certainly drawing on the outlying museums, like the Workshops Rail Museum at Ipswich, the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville and the Cobb and Co Museum in Toowoomba, so we’re using that diverse expertise.”

Researchers are encouraging scholars and other specialists in related disciplines to get involved in the project, but Professor Spearritt said you don’t have to be an academic to be able to make a contribution.

“Some of the best historic records in Australia are still held in private hands – they may be manuscript documents, they might be diaries, they might be family photographs,” he said.

“A lot of that kind of material can be terribly important if you are interested in anything from the floods in Rockhampton to the recent floods in Mackay, or what your suburb was like in the 1930s – the best records will be held often in family photographs, not newspaper offices.”

So far the project has generated significant interest from the general public, with talks, workshops, and a range of other activities giving everyday Queenslanders the chance to make suggestions or contribute information.

With about two years to go before the project is fully wrapped up, there are sure to be many more opportunities for public input in the near future.

Dr Stell said researchers were already planning a workshop for North Queensland, and would continue to provide updates on progress through the atlas’ regular newsletter.

More information about the project is available on the Queensland Historical Atlas website, www.uq.edu.au/qhatlas, where you can register your interest, sign up to receive the atlas newsletter, or get in contact with Dr Stell.

The Queensland Historical Atlas research project is supported under the Australian Research Council’s Linkage funding scheme.

MEDIA: Professor Peter Spearritt (p.spearritt@uq.edu.au), Dr Marion Stell (m.stell@uq.edu.au), or Lucy Manderson (07 3365 2339 or l.manderson@uq.edu.au).