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HSTY 3902 - History Beyond the Classroom is now underway again in 2016. Thanks to those who made it to the first class yesterday. The sites that I referred to in the introduction are as follows:

For the blog from last year that has student reflections on the course, as well as evaluations from community partners and lecturer and tutors, see the blog posts below.

You can also view the class website that showcases some of the student projects from last year at:

You can also view a summary of the course in the first issue of SOPHI magazine, which can be accessed here:

And please feel free to join me on twitter at: @HstyMattersSyd and also our new facebook site:

If you are an enrolled student, you can find a tape of the introductory meeting here, which contains some important information about the unit:

I look forward to seeing you all next Monday.

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Welcome to another year of History Beyond the Classroom - the second year we have taught it. With the benefit of the pioneering work of the students, lecturers, and community organisations from last year, hopefully we can make it even better than last year.

As mentioned in a previous blog, feedback from last year was overwhelmingly positive. Please see my summary and the results of the feedback at:

As I mention there, in response to feedback, this year I have set earlier due dates and staged deadlines for choosing and working with community organisations, and Michaela Cameron will come in earlier to speak to students, along with some of the students from last year, and we are also requiring weekly posts of diary entries so we can keep a closer eye on everyone’s progress and development (including some mandatory blogging!).

I will also be sure to include much clearer guidelines on expectations about the community work and the projects in the initial discussions and throughout. I will also provide clearer guidelines to our community partners as well and keep in touch with them from an earlier date. Hopefully, clearer guidelines will also help students navigate the time commitment that a few students felt was onerous.

This year, we now have a number of examples to draw from in terms of engagement, and also more links with organisations who are familiar with what we are doing. These will remain options for students, but students will still be allowed – and encouraged - to choose their own organization.

Some students struggled in their initial dealings with community or local organisations. We will certainly try and smooth the way this time, but it is also worth noting that many students in their reflective diaries and their feedback have said that these initial starts and false starts were one of the most important parts of the learning experience in this class – that it wasn’t always easy to “negotiate” a project, but they felt a tremendous sense of achievement when they pulled it off.

I have also put the readings together in a course reader this year, and we will try and divide our time in tutorials a little more effectively between the lecture readings, and projects.

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We are pleased to announce that thanks to the great work of Michaela Cameron, we now have a beautiful website up and running where you can view the brilliant community-engaged public history work of the students from HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom, in 2015. Well done to all, and thanks Michaela.


A scene from episode one, season one of HBO's Rome (case study used in my research paper for HSTY3903).

While I completed HSTY3903 in semester one last year, a lot has happened that warrants my post necessary. But first, who is this ‘spy’?

One of the intellectually memorable moments from this course, for me, was hearing Sheila Fitzpatrick talk about her experiences as a ‘spy’ during her stay in the Soviet Union. More than that, it was her chapter ‘In the Archives’, an assigned reading for that week that inspired me to take the leap for history. What I learnt was that to study history and conduct historical research is not an easy task. It takes effort and time. At that point during the course, I was not sure where I was headed. All I knew was that I wanted to find a connection between popular imagination and historical reality by studying HBO’s television series, Rome. Fitzpatrick showed me how to ask the necessary questions, to seek answers and how to research beyond simply searching through Internet databases.

However, that was what I initially learnt upon reading her fifth chapter. It was not until I finished her book that I realised that what we study in these courses at Sydney University can be more than just another assignment completed, another grade assigned. I decided to bring my work into the eyes of the public though social media. I made an account on Academia and Tweeted about my work. Within a few days, my work gained considerable traction, having spread from Twitter to other history sites. I already had thirty downloads of my paper.

Moreover, I had people messaging me about using my work for their postgraduate dissertations, and recently, I discovered that my work is now being used in history classrooms in New York! How exciting is that? I now have over a thousand views on Academia and have gained followers who study history, write history, make historical films, and have learnt a lot from them in the process.

The purpose of my post, although it has taken me so long to contribute to this blog, is to show how such subjects like HSTY3903 can make a difference in how a student of history interacts with the outside world. We can move beyond just simply writing up another assignment and make what we do known if we make the effort to, just as Fitzpatrick did. From all the subjects that I have taken, HSTY3903, for me, was extremely rewarding. And John Gagné’s tireless effort to make sure his students got the most out of their research was the biggest contributor to making HSTY3903 a memorable and successful experience.

If interested, you can see my work on here: Popular Imagination vs Historical Reality: What does HBOs Rome Reveal about the Practice of History?

If interested in Sheila Fitzpatrick’s book: A Spy in the Archives: A Memoir of Cold War Russia

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I recently reported on student feedback for the unit HSTY 3902: History Beyond the Classroom (see: The feedback we have collected from the community and local organisations that students have worked with over the semester have been overwhelmingly positive, too. While survey results are still coming in, we have heard from fourteen of our thirty-three partner organisations, or just over 40%.

Over 90% said they were satisfied with the way in which our history students engaged with the organization, with one neutral on the subject, and one unsatisfied. Over 70% were happy with the amount of information they received about the course, and why students were engaging with the organization. One was neutral, and two others said they would have liked to have known more about the course. Gratifyingly, all of the organisations who have responded so far said they would be interested in working with history students from the University of Sydney again next year.

For most students, the community engagement was the best part of the course. See their comments here:

Some of the qualitative comments from partner-organisations are listed below, but highlights included a note from Gay Hendrickson, from the Parramatta Female Factory Friends, who said that student Michael Rees was making a "real difference" to the organisation and "his approach was exceptional in the way he related to the individuals involved." "I would also like to commend you and the University of Sydney for providing a subject with practical experience of history in action as well as making a real difference to communities such as the Parramatta Female Factory Friends."

Mary Oakenfull of the Marrickville Heritage Society wrote that they appreciated the "deep interest and assistance" and “genuine enthusiasm” of student Margaret Bester, and "hope to have an ongoing relationship" with the History Department and the University of Sydney. And the North Parramatta Residents Action Group reported that Katya Pesce was delightful to have on board, her enthusiasm and dedication was a joy to be around….It is great to know that Katya has become so engrossed in our campaign that she has asked to stay on and help outside the course."

And Sharon Laura of the West Connex Action Group, Haberfield/Ashfield, wrote about Lucy Hodgkinson-Fisher that: "I was delighted and surprised by her thoughtfulness and integrity, by her pursuit of information from many others, as well as from me/us. I have been blown away by what she has produced - it is insightful and timely. Her project really has connected a past community struggle to a present day battle by residents. Good on you all at Sydney Uni and good on Lucy. Thanks."


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As the dust settles on the academic year, feedback for our History Beyond the Classroom unit of study has continued to come in (HSTY 3902). We’ve been a little overwhelmed by the positive responses from students, guest lecturers, and our community and local partner organisations. We’ve now got back our Unit of Study Survey (USS) results, and we are in the midst of surveying our community partners. In an effort to be transparent, I’ve written a brief summary of the salient points from this feedback below, followed by a full report of the results, and comments (note, I've now separated out our community partner feedback into a different blog post, that can be found here:

Thirty of thirty-eight enrolled students responded to the USS survey, or roughly 80% of the class. Of these, 97% reported that they were satisfied with the quality of the teaching, with only one person “neutral” on the question. Significantly, 100% of students strongly agreed or agreed that the content of the unit “encouraged/stimulated their thinking and helped to develop an enhanced diversity of ideas, attitudes and approached to an beyond the subject matter.”

The positive qualitative comments to the question “What have been the best aspects of this unit of study?,” noted below, speak for themselves. I’ll only say here that students’ enthusiasm for the course was reflected in the results of their work, which was outstanding. In over twenty years of teaching, I have never seen such overwhelmingly impressive work. Students have inspired and energized me throughout the semester, as much as they have obviously enjoyed the course too. While many students noted it has been the best course they have ever taken at Uni, which is lovely to hear, I should also point out that it has been one of the most enjoyable courses I have ever taught! It has been such a treat and privilege for me to see students’ enthusiasm and intellectual development, and to watch these projects grow to fruition.


Overall students found History in the Making to be a stimulating and engaging course, with 98% of them agreeing HSTY 3901 had been intellectually rewarding. The course enabled these students to become advanced readers and writers of history, leaving one student feeling that completing History in the Making was ‘a challenging, yet enjoyable and uplifting experience’.


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