From the Ground Up: People and Places in Sydney’s Past

Dixson Room, State Library of NSW, 23-24 August 2012

In an article in the Journal of Urban History in 2002, Grace Karskens recounted an overheard train conversation in which a boy, around ten years of age, asked his brother: ‘What is Sydney? Where is it?’ In the article that followed, she noted the difficulties in conveying the complexity, substance and feel of a city. She suggested, though, that it was possible to develop such histories ‘from the ground up and from the inside out’ through critical and substantive research into, and with, places and people.

By bringing together academics, postgraduate students and professional historians engaged with the history of Sydney and its suburbs, ‘From the Ground Up’ offers an opportunity to explore the complexity of the city’s past, and to consider how we might rethink the history of cities, and Sydney in particular.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University, the State Library of New South Wales and the Dictionary of Sydney.

A selection of papers from the conference will be collated in a special edition of the refereed Sydney Journal, and published in the Dictionary of Sydney.  For inquiries about the conference, please contact Dr Matt Bailey at

Keynote speaker

Grace Karskens, whose most recent book, The Colony: A History of Early Sydney won the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for non-fiction, as well as the 2010 American Urban History Association’s Best Book (Non-North American).

Shirley Fitzgerald Festschrift

This panel celebrates Shirley’s significant contribution to the history of Sydney and its cultural and intellectual life through her work as the City Historian for the City of Sydney, the inaugural Chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust, a public historian, an academic and writer.

The Sydney History Group panel

This panel features members of the Group that pioneered urban social history in Sydney during the 1970s and 1980s. Jill Roe, Shirley Fitzgerald, Peter Spearritt and Garry Wotherspoon will reflect on their experiences as urban historians, the changing faces of Sydney and how future engagement with the city’s past might take shape.

Ragged School Harrington Street c1911, City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 51/283)

Detail from MS Hill's 1888 map 'The City of Sydney',  a birds-eye view over the city looking to the south and west across Darling Harbour.