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COVID-19 and Historical Teaching and Research

By Associate Professor Nathan Wise, Public and Applied History, University of New England (UNE)

In my last blog, I urged people to ‘come together to talk about the past’.

Despite now needing to urge people to ‘stay at home’ and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the message remains the same, while the method/mode of ‘coming together’ needs to change. Indeed, our increased physical isolation demands we embrace digital forms of social interaction.

At the University of New England our classes have all moved to online modes of delivery, and we’ve shifted our regular face-to-face classes and meetings to Zoom. Just as this works well for teaching, it can work well for talking about history with colleagues and co-researchers. Our regular face-to-face reading groups have moved to Zoom sessions, and our email inboxes are filling up faster than ever before with rapid exchanges of communication.

Instead of quick conversations in corridors or offices, we’re having quick phone calls or online conversations. Teaching, research, and service all continue, largely uninterrupted, our mode of exchange has just changed subtly.  In the past [and as I’ve discussed in a previous blog post], the use of digital and online resources has been a useful option for historians. However, in the current climate, as libraries and archives close and we’re all urged to stay at home, it has quickly become the only option. Because of this, I had expected that access to Trove [which I’ve also discussed in the past] would see a massive increase, but a quick glance of their statistics [] reveals only a slight increase in ‘active users’ during the month of March.

Perhaps, with the latest stage of movement restrictions, we will see this increase substantially in April? For many of us, those changes have also demanded a wave of technological-knowledge development. Some have had to make adjustments to our home office [such as setting up a regular work space and computer], and we’ve had to learn how new software works. Throughout this period of adjustment, my previous note about the importance of ‘coming together’ remains. But, we need to find new ways to do so.

If you’re feeling isolated, a good way to reach out to others is to explore the internet and find a forum within your area of interest, join an online research or reading group, and, perhaps what I’m most optimistic about, use the time saved in commuting to research, write and talk about history!

For those of you who are now home schooling – why not make this a family venture? Pick a different topic each week and conduct historical research – share the passion for history and learning with your family.  

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