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Authors in conversation: Researching biography

  • Date recorded: 21 Mar 2017

  • Duration: 30:19

'The biographer has to keep a level of distance – not project ourselves onto a past world view'

– Kelly Gardiner

About this video

Enjoy a discussion with Berry Family Fellow Minna Muhlen-Schulte and Dr Sandra McComb, contributors to the March 2017 issue of The La Trobe Journal, in a conversation about researching and writing biographical articles.

Held at the Library on 21 March 2017, this Author-in-conversation talk was chaired by writer Dr Kelly Gardiner, and included a viewing of related items from the Manuscripts and Pictures collections.

In the video, Dr Sandra McComb discusses her experience researching the 19th-century botanist, geologist and ethnologist AW Howett, who was a pioneer authority on Indigenous culture.

Minna Muhlen-Schulte's topic is closer to home, exploring the wartime experience of her German grandfather and Australian grandmother, who relocated to Berlin on the eve of WWII. For Minna, their story raised questions about discussing history that opposes the Anzac tradition, the tensions between memory and history, and the silences and missing records caused by the turmoil of war.

The three writers also discuss the various tools used to research the past, including the Trove archives of digitised historical newspapers, information held by National Archives of Australia such as shipping records and State Library Victoria's Manuscript collection.


Dr Kelly Gardiner

Dr Kelly Gardiner writes historical fiction for readers of all ages. Her latest novel is 1917: Australia’s Great War. Kelly's previous books include the young adult novels Act of faith and The sultan's eyes – both of which were shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards – and Goddess, a novel for adults based on the life of the 17th-century French swordswoman and opera singer, Mademoiselle de Maupin. She teaches writing at La Trobe University, and is also the co-host of Unladylike, a podcast about women and writing.

Dr Sandra McComb

Dr Sandra McComb has been head of both Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press in Australia. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, and an independent writer and researcher. Her doctoral thesis was a biographical study of the late-19th-century collectors and creators of art and objects who formed a platform for art and anthropology in this country. Her current interests include Indigenous and colonial history, and the legacies of WWII in Australia.

Minna Muhlen-Schulte

Minna Muhlen-Schulte was the 2014 Berry Family Fellow at State Library Victoria. She has a Master in Public History from Monash University, and has worked on a range of history and arts projects for community organisations and local and state governments.