Title:Blogging the Past: Recreating History and Creating Community with Bound for South Australia
Authors:Darren Peacock, Margaret Anderson, Allison Russell
Publication:MW2012: Museums and the Web 2012


Bound for South Australia 1836 ( is a digital reenactment of the sea voyages made 175 years ago to establish the British Province of South Australia. Using captains' logs, passenger diaries, letters and other original source material, the Bound for South Australia blog retraces -through weekly real time updates- the journeys made by nine vessels from England to Australia between February and December 1836.  Over ten months in 2011, website visitors, email subscribers and social media followers were able to re-live and engage with the unfolding story of the first 500 settlers as they made their way to an unknown land across the globe.  The blog platform and associated social web technologies enabled active user participation and promoted the development of diverse communities of interest which in turn inspired an associated exhibition, schools program and public events.  In 2012, a supporting video conference-based program will enable schools to participate remotely as part of their use of this resource.

The project has been very successful in bringing new life and new people to traditionally inaccessible historical material. Much of this material has not been published before or made accessible online.  One of the goals of the project has been to demonstrate how social web technologies can bring new life and opportunities for engagement with traditional historical source materials.  The multiple perspectives of the various passengers (recast here as posthumous bloggers) create a multi-faceted narrative of life on board and of the hopes and motivations of these first settlers, as they endure the travails of a months-long sea voyage, visit exotic ports of call and finally make landfall.  Once ashore, these accounts provide unique insights into early encounters with Indigenous inhabitants and the challenges of establishing a European-style settlement in unfamiliar lands. The serialised delivery of these stories in a blogging format enables a narrative approach that is more contingent, open ended - and dramatic- than traditional discursive presentations of historical events.

Bound for South Australia is also explicitly addressed to both schools-based and general users, with parallel blog posts each week. The website has been selected as the first online resource in the area of history for the new national Australian curriculum. The granular structuring of content, the use of rich media and embedded curriculum links support many forms of flexible re-use within different digital learning environments.

The website is a highly customised implementation of the Wordpress blogging platform integrating a unique set of widgets to support complex semantic linking of source material to create an enduring resource for scholars and school students alike.

This presentation explores how this project demonstrates the possibilities of history to actively engage and connect communities using contemporary web technologies. It considers blogging as a narrative form and how the retelling of historical events can create and sustain communities of interest and identity.  It also examines the dynamics of online communities around historical source material. The project and the presentation point to future models of digital historical narrative and interpretive practice that are open, social and interactive.