Family Secrets, National Silences: Intergenerational Memory in Settler Colonial Australia

Family Secrets, National Silences: Intergenerational Memory in Settler Colonial Australia


In this talk I will share some of the work-in-progress from my research into how inherited family secrets, stories, and memories inform Australians' understandings of colonial history. So far, efforts to address historical silences focus on how we can change narratives at the macro level – in public commemorations, national museums, and school curricula. The role of the family as a place where colonial histories are told, edited, and hotly debated, has received far less attention. But the stories we inherit within families – stories that anchor our very sense of identity and belonging – may be the most deep-seated, and the most difficult to transform. By examining how families negotiate difficult memories, emotions, and silences, the study seeks to learn more about how Australians deal with historical responsibility, inherited trauma, and diverse cultural histories in everyday life. In this talk I will discuss some of the patterns that are emerging in the archival research and interviews I have done so far, especially around the circulation and reproduction of colonial narratives within settler descendent families. I will also explore some of the ways that family members are questioning and revising shared memories about particular ancestors, sometimes in response to Indigenous and decolonial activism or specific political events.  

About the presenter:

Ashley Barnwell is a sociologist at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on memory, narrative, and emotion, and explores the role of life writing, archives, and literature in sociological research.

This event will take place via Zoom:
Meeting ID: 973 8522 1865
Password: 583538

Date & time

Mon 02 Nov 2020, 1–2pm


Via Zoom


Dr Ashley Barnwell


School of Sociology


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