Sophie Vohra reports on her attendance, along with two other researchers from the York History department and supported by WRoCAH, at the 5th Conference of the International Federation of Public History in São Paulo, Brazil.
Department of History
University of York/National Railway Museum
I think it’s a rare opportunity that as PhD students we get to share our research with an international audience, let alone at a conference halfway across the world. These opportunities are exponentially improved due to the generous funding offered by WRoCAH to make the most of our time as researchers at our universities. At the end of August, I was attended and presented part of my doctoral research at the 5th conference of the International Federation of Public History in São Paulo, Brazil. Taking around 16 hours to get there, and landing in a country that isn’t exactly considered safe doesn’t set you up well mentally for spending 5 days in São Paulo for a conference. But the people we met couldn’t have been more warm, happy and welcoming, and the area’s landscape – both built and green – was breathtaking.
Alongside delivering our papers, for four days, myself and two others from the history department at York listened to an array of incredibly interesting and diverse papers about public history research from across the world by both students and established academics. It was fantastic to see academics in various stages of their careers covering a range of topics – from thinking about how we choose dates with important meaning to remember in calendars, to using digital formats for disseminating information on the history of an area of Indonesia.
The entertainment organised by the committee was incredible, including a performance by the well-respected Brazilian singer, Alaíde Costa, and a conference dinner at a swanky samba bar (I maybe should have learned to dance before I went there since everyone seemed to know how to Samba!)
This was perhaps one of the most supportive conferences I have ever attended. There was no attempt to drag down others’ research, only a real and genuine interest in the array of topics, and suggestions to build up the work the speakers presented. Talking about public history on an international level is important to consider how we can learn from different communities with their own nuances. It is also important to show how our missions to not only study but involve the public’s engagement with their past, and to take down history from its ivory tower to bring it back to those who have been a part of making it, is a united front. I am grateful for the opportunity WRoCAH made possible to form face-to-face links with academics I’m not sure I would have had another opportunity to meet with. A lot of us are very good a tweeting about our research and different projects we engage with. But to meet with this (to steal a term from Benedict Anderson) ‘imagined community’, who are fighting for the same cause to involve the public and as well as other academic disciples in the search for how we engage with our past, was a real pleasure and a privilege.