This case study was provided by Tanya Evans and details her work with The Benevolent Society (Australia’s oldest surviving charity) for their 200-year anniversary.
My work with The Benevolent Society, Australia’s oldest surviving charity established in 1813, began in 2011. Before coming to Australia as a Macquarie University Research Fellow in 2008 I had worked in partnership with a NGO Gingerbread (an organisation lobbying on behalf of lone mothers and their children which was originally established in 1918 as the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child) on an ESRC-funded project headed by Pat Thane. This was entitled ‘Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth-Century England’ and was based at the Institute for Historical Research in London.
I understand now how much I learned then about the benefits of collaborating with cultural institutions, charities, ‘ordinary people’ and NGOs on academic research projects as well as the joys of engaging with different audiences, seeking to use historical research to make an impact on policy makers as well as the general public. This British project resulted in diverse outputs and I learned to cherish team work with non-academic partners and experts and the benefits of engaging with different producers of history hoping to find new and expanded audiences for our work.
This experience gave me the confidence to ‘cold-call’ similar organisations in Australia after I moved here. I approached The Benevolent Society first with an email suggesting they might want to partner on an exhibition I was working on at the time with the Historic Houses Trust. They were thrilled I had made contact because they were just starting to plan their 200-year anniversary for 2013. I worked in collaboration with the charity and family historians whose ancestors were clients of the Benevolent Asylum in the 19th century.
The research resulted in content used:
- for a timeline celebrating the organisation’s history
- for an episode of SBS’ Who do you think you are? with Kerry O’Brien.
- As part of a pitch for a television series on poverty (which failed).
- An ABC news interview.
- Numerous public talks including one at The Australian Club.
- to produce a Radio National Hindsight program.
- in an academic article published in the Journal of Australian Studies.
- in a book published by New South Press: Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial NSW which won the Premier’s History Award for Community and Regional History 2016.
More people engaged in consultancy and collaborative work need to talk and write about it, so that it can be valued appropriately by the academy, organisations and ‘ordinary people’.
Scholars and public historians (outside of academia) rarely stop to write about the process of undertaking work like this. This is partly due to lack of time but also because paid consultants don’t want to rain on organisations’ ‘celebratory’ parades and reflecting on the process of consultancy is never part of the project brief. This means that this vital form of scholarly and community labour goes unrecognised and unvalued as academic ‘work’.
See More: Tanya Evans, ‘The value of collaborating and co-creating knowledge on the history of fractured families with family historians’, talk at ‘Family history and academic history – the value of collaboration’, Leeds, July 2018,