Harnessing the past for present purposes: self-reflexivity in researching and teaching Western Australian gay history
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Contemporary historians and educators have a responsibility to highlight marginalised voices in their research and teaching work. The past experiences of gay and lesbian Australians is one area of historical study that should thus be further explored and discussed in undergraduate history courses. Yet, the historical research process must always be informed by a self-reflexive questioning of the role of contemporary discourses in the analysis of past events. This article describes some of the challenges that arise when teachingfocused researchers aim both to highlight new historical knowledge and address the silencing of marginalised voices in the classroom. An exploration of a 1931 Western Australian ‘unnatural offence’ case initially appeared to highlight some historically unique characteristics and apparently fitted neatly into contemporary discourses around the historical marginalisation and victimisation of gay men. However, the case threw up many questions about the role of the researcher in historical research and reinforced the relevance of self-reflexive practice for historians. Harnessing the past for present purposes has many pitfalls but also some unexpected educative benefits.
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