The Hon. John George Ajaka, MLC with Dr Tanya Evans, at the 2016 NSW Premiers’ History Prize.
Dr Tanya Evans from the Department of Modern History is an acclaimed author and was recently awarded the NSW Premiers’ History Prize in Community and Regional History. We sat down with her to learn more about her role as a public historian examining the history of family, motherhood and sexuality.
What drew you to your research field?
I am passionate about researching ordinary people and places in the past and incorporating ordinary people in the process of my research and the construction of historical knowledge. I love teaching and producing public history and working in teams. I pitch my work at a variety of audiences because my research is targeted at disrupting people’s assumptions about the history of the family. I am committed to the democratisation of historical knowledge.
In layman’s terms, what is the wider impact of your research?
My current research is taking my focus on Australia and my background in British history to compare the different genealogical communities in Australia, England and Canada. An examination of the exponential growth and impact of family history around the world reveals the democratic possibilities of public history, the different constituencies involved with historical production and consumption, and the complex ways in which many of us make meaning of the past through our own family story.
Who has been your most significant research mentor?
My PhD supervisor Professor Sally Alexander taught me how to be the best researcher, teacher and scholarly citizen I could be. I also learned a lot from her about how to work as part of a team, among a huge international network of scholars, political activists and cultural commentators and to think carefully about the impact of my work.
If you were given one million dollars in research funding, what would be the first thing you would do?
My next book is a community funded, supported and written project involving colleagues, students and locals. I’d like to use it as a model for community history projects across NSW that bring together my research, teaching and community engagement passions and produce co-created outputs with students, community and cultural organisations targeted at different audiences. I have plans to expand existing research and PACE/MRes internship student projects in places like Bourke and Orange. I also want to establish research and community projects on family history in aged care facilities across Sydney and elsewhere.
What has been your favourite and/or proudest research moment?
Hearing from family historians from all over the world saying how much they value my work and my interest in their passion. They are ardent fans of social history and the keenest collaborators I know. They undertake their research in a huge global network of people, knowledge and information, often using social media to communicate. We need to embrace that potential if we are serious about life-long learning.