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History Matters: Picturing the Past

History Matters Series

Repurposing Victorian Asylum Photography within Disability Activism

Join Dr Alana Harris in conversation with Dr Amanda Nettelbeck.

Restaging or simulating the historical past has long been popular within living museums, school classrooms and public history heritage activities. Playing with the past has become more sophisticated, immersive, and attractive to entirely new audiences with developments in VR and historical gamification through video games such as Assassin's Creed. Such historical re-enactments and living history activities deploy embodiment, emotion, and subjective experiences of the past in the present to expand out or enhance our understandings of historical places, spaces, and people.

What are the pleasures but also the perils of such re-enactments? What are we doing when we repurpose old photographs, theatrically dress up, or use empathy and affect to recreate people or replicate events in the past? How can we ensure that the stories we excavate and reanimate are diverse, inclusive, and acknowledge difficult or ambiguous interpretations?

Dr Alana Harris, King’s College London, presents her recent collaborative project, ‘Us and Them’. Working with the UK disability theatre and media company Freewheelers, this community history project interrogated the representation of disabled people in Victorian ‘asylum’ photographs and created a dialogue between the past and the present through the production of new, and ‘paired’ wet-plate collodion photographic portraits. In conversation with Dr Amanda Nettelbeck, this public event will host an interactive conversation about whether an empathetic and experiential engagement with the past should be understood as ‘gift’ or ’trespass’. What responsibilities do we owe to the ‘haunting presences’ and ‘raw histories’ we might encounter in playing with and performing history?

This event is in partnership with Australian Catholic University and the Centre for Regional Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Doors open 5:00pm
Lecture: 5:30-6:15
Q&A: 6:15-6:30pm
6:30pm event close

Photo credit: Emma Brown

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