During the second day of the After Standards conference here in Sydney, an issue that really animated discussions among the delegates was whether the AHA (Australian Historical Association) was the right body to represent all historians in Australia during a time of significant transition in the profession?
Unlike the American AHA, the Australian AHA has not, until very recently, aspired to represent all historians in Australia. Instead, their mission has been to represent those who work on the history of Australia. And it has been an organization focused on research about the past and has taken no significant notice of teaching and learning.
A member of the secretariat of the association attended the sessions and asserted that the association was interested in and likely to expand it’s focus to teaching and learning as well. I was asked to describe how such things worked in the States. I explained that our AHA was both similar and different.
Our AHA is and has been clearly much more interested in teaching and learning for decades and has a Vice President for Teaching. At the same time, the senior staff person at our AHA detailed to focus on such issues, is also tasked with focusing on women and minorities, both a dilution of her efforts and a kind of ghettoization of all three subject areas.
The other issue we spent a fair amount of time on in Day 2 discussing the skills versus dichotomy. I hate this way of presenting what we do, because it’s a false dichotomy in my mind. Do we ever teach skills without reference to content? Do we ever teach classes without any reference to the skills of historical analysis? I suppose the answer can be yes in isolated cases, but in my experience only rarely do we keep the two separate.
That said, there were many good ideas presented on how various faculty members use this of that strategy to teach both things simultaneously. The richness of this discussion speaks volumes for my call in yesterday’s post for more and larger common discussions about teaching and learning in the profession.