Image: Portrait of Harry Winters, postcard, c.1909, Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority

The New Year is a time for reflection of what is to come, but also what has been achieved over the years. The Department of Archaeology, Classics and History at UNE is doing just that as they begin their first steps into 2022.

One particularly significant achievement from 2021 was the Department of Archaeology, Classics and History completing the year with the publication of Volume 23 of its renown Journal of Australian Colonial History (JACH).

A peer reviewed journal and the flagship of nineteenth-century studies at the UNE, produced and published by UNE historians since 1999, the JACH has a well-established reputation for distributing cutting-edge research on Australia’s early social, economic and political history. Over twenty years the JACH has published around 200 important and influential essays on a variety of topics, including convict and criminal history, Aboriginal-settler relations, colonial nationalism and republicanism and nineteenth century legal and medical developments.

The journal is especially admired for its track record of setting the works of the most established and respected Australianists alongside the research of early career and emerging historians, including numerous UNE history postgraduates.

“That’s always been a core mission statement for this journal” says the editor, UNE’s Associate Professor David Roberts.

“One of the first articles I published, as a postgraduate many years ago, was with this journal, back when UNE was the undisputed national leader in nineteenth-century Australian studies. My work featured alongside articles by some of Australia’s most famous historians. It was a massive boost for me. I can’t underestimate the joy I still get from nurturing the research of junior historians, many of them getting their work into print for the very first time”.

The most recent volume is no exception, featuring an essay by UNE Masters graduate Sarah White, who researched ‘The Tour Guides of Port Arthur’ while working with UNE historians and archaeologists on the ARC-funded Discovery Project, ‘Landscapes of Production and Punishment’. Her article complements the contributions by some of Australia’s most significant scholars, such as Emma Christopher (on the ‘Legacies of British Slavery in Australia’) and former UNE Professor Alan Atkinson (on ‘The Multiple Voices of John Macarthur’).

The latest volume also marks a further shift towards exhibiting exemplary new research in the digital humanities. “That’s another key agenda for the journal now”, says Associate Professor Roberts. “History is turning digital at UNE – the knowledge and competencies we are teaching, and our own research methods, it’s all about becoming digitally-enabled. The transformation is astonishing, and rapid. And we’re seeing that in the research we’re receiving and promoting through our Department history journal”.

In the latest volume this is exemplified by a methodological piece by UNE student, Margaret Strike, in which she articles a technique for identifying and tracing over 700 Vandemonian magistrates through the nineteenth century archive. That method forms the basis of a PhD project which will explore the behaviour and customs of the magistrates who were commissioned to maintain law and order in colonial Tasmania from 1804 to 1860.

“It’s frontline research”, according to Associate Professor Roberts. “Previously we didn’t know who these magistrates were. Now they’ve been named and sequentially coded, so we can start applying data-linkage techniques to analyse their life courses and to trace all their familial and social connections. I’m thrilled to have emerging historians using our journal to describe and publicise their state-of-the-art methods in this way”.

There are other similar articles in Volume 23 of the JACH, explaining how digital methods can be used to assess the post-emancipation prospects of male juvenile convicts in early Tasmania, for example, or the occupational class mobility of the children of the immigrants who founded the Wakefieldian ‘free’ colony in South Australia in 1836.

The JACH also provides an annual review of the most important monographs in nineteenth-century Australian history. The 2021 volume features the largest collection of book reviews every published by the journal, edited for the first time by UNE’s Dr Matthew Allen.

The volume is dedicated to the late Babette Smith OAM, a long time UNE adjunct and celebrated historian of colonial Australia, and a regular contributor to the JACH, who passed away shortly before Christmas.