Pentridge Prison, 2017. Photographer: Mali Rea

‘Narratives & Power’: Melbourne Historical Journal Volume 47 Launch

Melbourne Historical Journal (MHJ), our very own postgraduate History journal, launched its much-anticipated Volume 47 on 5 November 2020. Themed Narratives and Power, the 2019/2020 edition features a range of research articles, reviews, lectures, and interviews. Each asks different questions of ‘narratives and power’, exploring themes of justice, representation, heritage, memory and honour. This piece includes an edited version of the Letter from the Editors published in Volume 47 of the MHJ, accessible here.

The edition opens with a feature article contributed by Mary Tomsic (ACU), who explores cultural representations of forcibly displaced children and children affected by war. Undertaking a close reading of Polish video game This War of Mine, she demonstrates the ways in which powerful ideas about childhood, innocence and care are perpetuated, and critically interrogates the political significance of these narratives. Her article raises powerful questions about who may tell the stories of displaced children and children in conflict zones, and the role a historian can play, not only in explaining and understanding the nature of particular cultural ideals in their appropriate context, but also in centring and empowering the voices of children and other marginalised groups.

Melbourne Historical Journal, Volume 47, Narratives & Power, Cover

The Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher articles open with Nayree Mardirian’s (UniMelb) consideration of the nature of apology in post-war Lebanon. By exploring key public apologies, Mardirian highlights the ways in which these speech acts have been integrated into Lebanese civil war discourse, and their cultural and political impact. Her article is a significant and timely intervention in studies of transitional justice, and the role historians may play in this space.

Adelaide Greig’s (UniMelb) article analyses the works and reception of fifteenth-century Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain.  Grieg demonstrates the ways in which Mechain’s poetry challenged contemporary gender norms, and how this impacted the reception of her works among her contemporaries and in subsequent centuries. Grieg challenges the use in history writing of terms such as ‘exceptional’, ‘modern’ and ‘extraordinary’, arguing for a change in the language used to describe female figures from the past. Her article highlights the significant and potentially long-lasting influence of historians’ language choices in the construction of historical narrative and memory, as well as the potential trivialisation of the achievements of women within their respective historical contexts.

This year’s winner of the Greg Dening Prize is Elizabeth Tunstall’s (UniMelb) ‘Of Honour and Innocence: Royal Correspondence and the Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots’. The Greg Dening Prize is annually awarded to a graduate article published in the MHJ that best engages with the broad themes and methodologies that were resonant in his work and ideas. Tunstall’s article considers a direct relationship between the language and narratives of Queen Elizabeth of England and King James VI of Scotland, and the nature of royal power. By taking traditions of innocence, honour, mourning and modesty seriously, Tunstall offers fresh perspectives on a notorious period of geopolitical conflict. Through a critical and considered reading of letters between the King and Queen, her article suggests new avenues of understanding vibrant and contested source materials.

In ‘“Posh People Love Gangsters” Contested Heritage: Preservation Debates at the Former Pentridge Prison Site: 1993–2014’, Mali Rea (UniMelb) explores the connections between heritage, preservation, commercial interests and dark tourism. Taking as her subject the notorious Pentridge Prison, Rea’s article raises questions of memory, identity, ownership and social history. The prison site, which today are luxury apartments with views of a bluestone panopticon and former cellblocks and marketed as a ‘heritage experience’, is both a unique and a classic example of the ways in which public histories of trauma and state violence is contended with in a commercialised context. Rae offers a critical perspective of current heritage practices which will prove meaningful for many historical sites.

Sabine Cotte’s (UniMelb) ‘Mosaic, gold, and frilly skirts: Mirka Mora’s legacy in Melbourne’ examines the material practice of Mirka Mora and her unique place in Melbourne’s history. Mora was a bohemian icon who revolutionised the contemporary art scene in 1950s Melbourne. Cotte explores the legacy of material culture she left in the city, from her bold, famous murals to the new artistic and social places she established.  This rich work of cultural and art history adds to our understanding of Mora’s range of artistic techniques, her use of material culture to shape her personal narrative, and the ways in which she was connected to, and shaped, the artistic and urban landscape of Melbourne.

Online Launch of MHJ Volume 47, Narratives and Power, 5 November 2020

MHJ traditionally publishes the text of the annual Greg Dening Memorial Lecture. This year, this task was particularly fitting, as the lecture was given by three University of Melbourne Early Career Researchers. Each paper offered a different perspective on the theme Listening Across Boundaries, and meaningfully reflected on Dening’s legacy and methodology. Nat Cutter’s talk explored the lives of three ‘little people’ in the early modern Maghreb. Henry Reese introduced us to the auditory world of rural Victoria around the turn of the century. Fallon Mody considered the experience of ‘Arthur Deery’ an ‘Alien Doctor’ working in Victoria at the height of the Cold War. Each took a creative approach to their chosen subjects, and found joy, community and humour within these often-overlooked social worlds.

This year MHJ, for the first time, published a series of interviews with historians. Exploring the connections between public history, narratives and power, and the contemporary role of the historian: these interviews survey the world of history beyond academia and celebrate the many paths young historians may take. Beginning with Carolyn Fraser (State Library Victoria), our first interview introduces readers to the revitalised exhibition spaces of the State Library of Victoria, including some of Fraser’s own memories of her time as an Early Career Researcher. Our interview with Sophie Couchman explores the connections between professional and family historians and suggests the ways in which breaking down these traditional barriers may offer new insights into transnational histories. Finally, the series of interviews concludes with Irene McInnes, Alice McInnes, Eli Farrow, and Jason Best, the hosts of popular history podcast Queer as Fact. In the interview, they discuss the challenges and ambitions that they have as young historians seeking to present queer history in a meaningful and accessible way. This series of interviews represents a new direction for MHJ, and an opportunity to engage in a conversation between a diverse range of historians, all of whom offer different perspectives, ambitions and passions for the world of historical studies, and, in particular public histories.

The reviews section this year includes new publications and new exhibitions. It is hoped that taken together, and alongside the issue’s interviews, they offer insight into the diversity of the contemporary historical landscape, and the responsibility of historians to consider the range of cultural, social and political contexts in which their work intervenes.

The online launch party began with an address from the Volume 47 Collective. Following this, there was a series of short papers presented by some of the contributors to this year’s edition showcasing their research. The evening concluded with a formal welcome of the Volume 48 Collective who announced the 2021 Call for Papers.

Copies of the journal can be ordered through the website.

Applications are still open for postgraduates who are interested in joining the Volume 48 Collective. It is a great opportunity to obtain valuable professional experience and offers insight into the mechanics of the publication process. Please email us if you would like to join.

If you’re interested in submitting a paper for Volume 48 (Dis)junctures, please take a look at the Call for Papers here and contact us for more details.

The Volume 47 editorial team consisted of Max Denton, Stephen Jakubowicz, Bronwyn Anne Beech Jones, Jessie Matheson, Jennifer McFarland, Jonathan Tehusijarana, and Luke Yin. Bronwyn, Jonathan and Luke continue on the Volume 48 Collective, joined by Catherine Gay and Joe Parro.

Feature image: Unnamed mural at former Pentridge Prison, 2017. Artist unknown. Photographer: Mali Rea