UOW historians win History Council of NSW award

UOW historians win History Council of NSW award

Online exhibition recognised for bringing the stories of Indian and Chinese nursemaids to life

Two University of Wollongong (UOW) historians were named winners of the 2022 Addi Road Award for Multicultural History at the History Council of NSW Annual History Awards last night (Tuesday 6 December 2022) at the State Library of NSW.

Associate Professor Claire Lowrie and Dr Lauren Samuelsson are part of a team of five who developed Ayahs & Amahs: Transcolonial Journeys to explore the lives and experiences of the world’s earliest global domestic workers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The online exhibition is at the cutting edge of digital histories and focuses on the stories, memories and histories of Indian and Chinese nursemaids, known as ayahs and amahs, who travelled across the British Empire.

The work of caring for children was considered vital to colonial and imperial projects and ayahs and amahs helped shape the interconnected world we live in today.

Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Lowrie, from the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry said she was delighted her team was the recipient of the 2022 Addi Road Award.

“We’re honoured to receive the award and to have Ayahs & Amahs recognised – it’s an important part of Australia’s multicultural history,” Associate Professor Lowrie said.

“The exhibition not only explores the lives of Chinese and Indian women that travelled across the British Empire as carers to children, it also charts how objects related to the women, such as photos, postcards, dolls and paintings, also travelled across the world.

“It’s a very innovative exhibition that allows visitors to engage with the objects in different ways, for example via StoryMaps. These are digital maps that visitors can click on to follow the travels of women, such as Wong Chun Sung, and artefacts, such as ayah and amahs dolls.” 

The online exhibition is part of a broader Australian Research Council Discovery Project shared by the University of Wollongong and the University of Newcastle. Ayahs and Amahs: Transcolonial Servants in Australia and Britain 1780-1945 brings together prominent historians from Australia and the US to research the transcolonial origins of global migrant domestic work. 

Website developer and exhibition curator Dr Lauren Samuelsson is a UOW graduate and Honorary Fellow. She has a passion for making history accessible and for telling stories through digital technologies.

“Online exhibitions have been growing in popularity over the last few decades and the COVID-19 pandemic has established the online exhibition as an alternative to physical exhibitions,” Dr Samuelsson said.

“It’s wonderful to see online exhibitions growing in popularity and being recognised. They can present objects and their associated narratives in endlessly creative ways which allow the audience to interact with and engage with our history in the digital space.”

Professor David Currow, UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Sustainable Futures) and Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), congratulated Associate Professor Lowrie and Dr Samuelsson on their award.

“To receive the Addi Road Award highlights the important role our researchers play in exploring and sharing the very important multicultural history of Australia to a global audience,” Professor Currow said.

“It’s a great achievement for Associate Professor Lowrie and Dr Samuelsson and the UOW community is very proud of their work and the impact they’re making in the digital history space.”

About the Addi Road Award for Multicultural History

The purpose of the Award is to encourage new and emerging historians to discover, analyse and explore multicultural histories and the history of multiculturalism in Australia, helping to increase academic and public engagement in a topic that has ongoing relevance to Australian history and society today.

In 2022, the winner receives a citation and a prize of $1,000. The winning entry (essay or multimedia) makes an original argument using primary historical sources and demonstrate the capacity to develop complex arguments linking the past to contemporary, multicultural issues that have, or are currently impacting on the Australian community. The award is supported by the Addison Road Community Organisation.

More information about Ayahs and Amahs: Transcolonial Journeys

The online exhibition Ayahs & Amahs: Transcolonial Journeys will run until 8 June 2023 and can be viewed here: https://www.transcolonialjourneys.com/

More information about the ARC project Ayahs and Amahs: Transcolonial Servants in Australia and Britain 1780-1945 can be found here: https://ayahsandamahs.com/

Images from the exhibition are available for media use and can be downloaded from Dropbox

Images of amahs that came to Australia during World War II can be found at the State Library of New South Wales (these photos are in the public domain)