Tandee Wang

Social Science
Summer 2019

Putting historical research into practice: My Aurora internship at AIATSIS

A short fifteen-minute walk down the Acton Peninsula from the ANU’s School of History will take you to AIATSIS—the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. A treasure among Canberra’s cultural institutions, AIATSIS is Australia’s leading collecting, research and publication organisation of Indigenous cultures and languages. For someone like me, interested in Australian history, cultural history and colonialism/postcolonialism, a chance to work for AIATSIS proved irresistible, and an invaluable learning experience.   

For five weeks in November-December last year, therefore, I undertook an Aurora internship at AIATSIS. Although I had used AIATSIS collection material in the past for my studies, Aurora presented an exciting opportunity to engage with the organisation from the inside.

Over the course of my internship, I worked with AIATSIS’ Indigenous Culture and Heritage team and its Education, Ethics and Research Leadership team. I was tasked predominantly with research work assisting these units, focusing particularly on two major projects. The first was a planned exchange of an Australian delegation led by AIATSIS to Peru, Mexico and Colombia to facilitate expert Indigenous knowledge exchange. I was engaged in research into the nature of Indigenous challenges in these Latin American contexts in order to identify key stakeholders, differences and similarities with the Australian context, and areas for potential dialogue and exchange of expertise. The second project I worked on was ‘Preserve, Strengthen and Renew in Community’, a project which aims to return cultural material held in AIATSIS’ collection back to Indigenous communities. My work here involved conducting background research into the history of Aboriginal peoples on the South Coast to examine new avenues for the project.

What was particularly rewarding about my internship was the chance to put the skills I had developed through the School of History and the Bachelor of Philosophy program into practice. My previous research and writing about Australia’s past has been purely academic, and its audience has typically consisted solely of myself and my course convenor. It is a totally different experience to have undertaken work that goes directly to supporting institutions like AIATSIS in its important work in Indigenous culture and heritage.

Moreover, working in a friendly environment with the support of other researchers sharing the same passion (and more linguists than I could have ever imagined!) has been an added bonus. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the solitude of some research work, and the beautiful AIATSIS reading room, with stunning views over Lake Burley Griffin, was not an unwelcome addition either. 

If gaining an experience like this sounds like something that would interest you, I cannot encourage you enough to give it a go.  

Apply for Aurora! AIATSIS is only one of an extensive list of organisations in the Indigenous sector across the whole country that you could work for during an Aurora internship.

Or consider studying some history! Why not take Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History, a course I thoroughly enjoyed, which is running again this semester?

For those interested in Indigenous affairs, programs like Aurora offer so many opportunities to learn more and engage in this space.