Way Back When is a team of professional historians who work with all sorts of groups and individuals to celebrate and communicate the past in a range of ways. We write commissioned histories, curate exhibitions, develop digital stories, create multimedia histories, prepare heritage reports and undertake oral history projects. All of our team are members of the Professional Historians Association and Oral History Victoria.
What academic backgrounds support your company?
Most of us followed pretty much exactly the same academic pathway, just a few years apart. In fact this is also the case for many of our fellow Professional Historians Association colleagues across Victoria. We each completed undergraduate degrees at the University of Melbourne – Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History – then the Master of Public History at Monash University. It was while Katherine and Sarah were studying the masters degree together in 2003 that Way Back When was born.
While at university and knowing that she wanted to get into consulting, Katherine also did a short course in small business, which provided a lot of practical assistance for setting up and running the company.
Increasingly we find ourselves working with other professionals, not only other historians but also designers, editors, videographers, sound engineers and programmers – to name just a few.
What is a career highlight for the company? (Ie a favourite client or project)
One of the joys of working as consulting historians is that we get to work on new and exciting projects all the time. Our skills as historians mean we can always find meaningful connections in every project we work on. Knowing how much each history means to the people who commission it inspires us to dig deep and create something that not only adds to the historical record but also has meaning and a personal connection for those involved.
That being said, we have had the honour of working with some wonderful people over the last 12 years. Every project is unique and inspiring, but some we particularly connect with. In 2013 we wrote a history of the Victorian AIDS Council, which was an incredibly moving experience. Earlier this year we completed a history of the City of Boroondara during World War I that won the Victorian Community History Awards’ small publication prize, which was a fantastic outcome for what was also a very poignant project.
What was the company’s first project?
Our first job actually came about while we were studying. It was a history of the Department of Marketing at Monash University. This was the start of a very successful relationship with the university, which has resulted in us doing a number of different projects together, including a history of the Faculty of Engineering and our current project, a history of the Monash Business School.
How has the humanities helped the business?
Our humanities training contributes to much of what we do at Way Back When: interpreting primary documents, analysing and making sense of multiple sources, shaping narratives, and thinking creatively about how to present something in a way that connects with people.
Training in humanities has given us the skills to think imaginatively and innovatively. This is a critical element of our consulting work. We are constantly working with our clients – whether they are community groups, individuals or organisations – to communicate their past in an engaging, creative and dynamic way. Our ability to do this is firmly rooted in our humanities training.
Why do you think the humanities matter today?
Humanities are essential in almost all aspects of our professional and personal lives. Excellent communication and interpretation skills mean we can effectively share ideas, thoughts and feelings, helping to shape the present and the future directions of our community. Having the ability to critically analyse and interpret information means that we can be well informed about what is going on in our world and act accordingly. Being able to synthesise information and place it in the appropriate historical and present day context means that we can be active participants in our future. Humanities matter because they help us to become better people.
What are you reading now?
We are always reading several things at any one time. Currently on our desks is Confronting Cruelty: Historical Perspectives on Child Protection in Australia by Dorothy Scott and Shurlee Swain for one of our current projects, a history of the Children’s Protection Society. The Encyclopedia of Melbourne is a useful source for all sorts of information and we frequently find ourselves lost in a Trove vortex when searching for material about local communities.
For enjoyment (whenever we can squeeze that in) two of us are currently reading Certain Admissions by Gideon Haigh, the story of John Bryan Kerr, and another has decided to plunge into Tolstoy’s War and Peace, just for something a little bit different. Three of us are also part of a historical fiction reading group run by the Professional Historians Association. We just finished reading Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht and have previously read books by authors including Hannah Kent, Emily Bitto, Eleanor Catton, Kate Grenville, Hilary Mantel, Colm Toibin and Geraldine Brooks.