One of the challenges of any conference is the selection of competing topics when inevitably we want to listen to at least two of the choices, if not more.
Perhaps that’s why Keynotes are so appealing – not only are the presentations by experts in their field but we don’t have to pick and choose.
I’m going to stick my neck out and make a couple of “Top of the Pops” Keynote picks from Congress 2015. My choice of these is based on how much a talk engages me and makes me think about big-picture issues or new strategies, rather than just about learning new techniques and tools. Others will have different selection criteria and a different response to the speaker’s content.
Mathew Trinca: Opening Keynote
For my money, Mathew Trinca’s Opening Keynote hit the spot for the start of Congress. Migration research is a passion of mine so the story of his own family’s migration within the broader span of history totally captured my imagination.
Mathew used his son’s growing understanding of his place within the family, and ultimately the community, as a template. He enjoined us to look at the dynamic between our personal, family and social history and broaden our own historical understanding. We need to understand “the clay between the joins (of our families and trees); and connecting to a wider understanding of history gives validity and meaning to what we do.”
My favourite quote from his talk: “migration is a journey of the mind as much of the body”. How very true this is for our migrating families, even more so perhaps for those early immigrants who never expected, or were able, to return “home”.
For further reading he recommended Romulus My Father by Raimond Gata and Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War by Joan Beaumont.
Have you looked at the National Museum’s 100 Defining Moments of our Nation’s History? Do you agree? What would you add from a personal perspective?
Josh Taylor: Connecting across past, present and future.
What an engaging talk Josh gave us about the joys of family history and how children can be bitten by the genie-bug. He won lots of points by telling us that “grandmas are great” as there were plenty of grandmas in the audience all too willing to agree with him!
He challenged us to include the younger generations in our enthusiasm for genealogy and family history. It’s about more than data: how do we share a rich family experience. We need to attract new members to our societies by diverse means: word of mouth, website, community outreach, social media and email.
Josh reminded us that not everyone suffered from the genealogy addiction: some were curious, others casual explorers or frequent explorers.
Quoteable quotes: You will never find everything: It’s okay to be discouraged but you need to keep going. There is always another way.
Remember only 15% of available documents are online right now.
Twitter is an opportunity for 145 characters of your words to be left for your descendants.
Richard Reid: if you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Honestly, I could listen to Richard talk all day….you’ve heard me say before that he’s my history hero. Why? Yes, he’s an engaging and informative speaker but it’s more than that. Ever since I first read any of his research publications it is his “everyman” approach to history that totally appeals to me. He digs beneath the surface of “the great and the good” to uncover the story of the ordinary people lost to the grand span of traditional history.
Richard asked “how do you understand what it means to live through the Famine?” Similarly in a later talk he asked how can we understand the impact of WWI on families. Surely we can only gain these insights by reading as widely as we can around the subjects.
He reminded us that for the post-Famine emigrants from Donegal the people told their own tales of life when they were brought across to the UK from Ireland to report to the Select Committee on the Destitution of Ireland. I had read these over the years, but never realised the people had not been interviewed in situ: imagine how they felt when they arrived in the big city from the small settlements or clachans of Donegal.
Richard made the point that it is a furphy to think that all emigrants changed their ages on arrival. His Tipperary study showed that 98% tallied with the data from the baptismal registers. For those not familiar with his studies, this was the breakdown of Irish migration: 21% families; 4% couples; husband or wife 2%; alone 44%; widow/widower 6%; relatives in Australia 17%.
Michael McKernan: Writing War on the Home Front
Although I’ve read some of his work, I’d never hear Michael McKernan present and I found this keynote totally absorbing. He highlighted the transition to a greater interest in the “ordinary soldier” – a change from the cannon fodder of previous war.
Who could forget the pathos of the family who wrote personalised poetry every year for 30 years in memory of their son who was killed?
Or those who could not afford the fee the government charged families to engrave on their headstones? I had known this and it always outrages me that, despite the loss and sacrifice of their sons/husbands/brothers, relatives were once again imposed on to pay for their gravestone memorials.
Quotable quote: we need to avoid thinking of them as “just numbers”. We should never lose sight of the grief for each soldier – it was always personal and tragic and had consequences.
I truly think we were well-served by the Congress committee’s selection of keynotes in 2015. There were so many great offerings and these reflect my own interests…other delegates will have different choices.
4 thoughts on “Congress 2015: Inspirational Keynotes”
I thoroughly agree with your choices and you have summed each one up so succinctly. Speakers who are passionate about their topics and deliver well, enhance the content and experience for the audience.
Thanks Carmel – always hazardous to single out speakers but they were my favourites.
Pauleen – Pleased you stuck your neck out.
I heard Matt, Josh and Richard and agree that their content was thought provoking. I wish that Matt would have adlibbed a bit more instead of reading his talk. I gave myself a sleepin on Sunday because I had heard Michael present on this topic at a previous event.
I was underwhelmed by a couple of keynotes and annoyed that one presenter gave a lecture that was practically the same as one he delivered at Congress in 2015. It was humorous the second time around and got many laughs but should not have been presented as a keynote.
Thanks for your reply Jill. It’s always a difficult line to follow especially when presenting oneself…”people in glass houses” etc. Perhaps there’s a tip there for future congress planners to check what’s been “done” at previous Congresses. Luckily for me I wasn’t at Congress 2012 so that didn’t affect me.
Perhaps it’s having seen a number of academic presentations but I am less concerned when people read their paper so long as they also engage the audience. The more depth to a paper the harder it is to just “talk to the slides”. It would be good to see the paper itself as well…not sure if it’s in the proceedings as mine are still en route with Australia Post.
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