Commissioning A History

Every person and every organisation has a story to tell. A recorded history is a tangible way of both preserving and sharing the story of your school, business, company, charity, church, union, community group, local or regional council, government department, family or local area. Perhaps you would like to mark a specific event or anniversary?  A history will allow a clearer understanding of the role and culture of your organisation and assist in planning future directions. Recording your history contributes to a better understanding of our society and our world.

Apart from commissioning a publication, you may wish to have a professional historian undertake specific historical research, write a report, conduct a heritage survey or an individual heritage study, manage heritage conservation and other projects, obtain documentary evidence, conduct an oral history project, undertake research on a legal matter and, for a court case, present an evaluation or provide advice on a historical matter. Professional historians can provide advice in areas ranging from modest displays to complex, long-term exhibitions. They play a critical role in producing heritage booklets, walking trail guides, museum exhibitions, promotional material, film and radio presentations and multimedia productions.

While good research and analysis will be necessary in all such projects, it will be crucial in the assessment of historical significance for heritage registration, resolving disputes over heritage significance, providing evidence in court cases and undertaking native title research.

Anything that relies on key historical information is best placed in the hands of a professional historian.

What is the best way to tell your history?

Those commissioning a history often think first of a book, be it 'coffee table' or scholarly. However, a booklet or a collection of oral histories might be preferred. Or would a radio program, audio-visual production or exhibition tell your story better? Or perhaps a website featuring audio and visual material would reach more of your audience? You will be able to find a professional historian with the necessary skills and experience to present your history. Indeed, professional historians can provide sound advice on appropriate presentation techniques. They can also oversee or advise on the production of an attractive end product - be it a book, exhibition or website.

What resources do you have?

An organisation or individual may have written records, photographs or other media. Other available resources may include contacts with people of interest, knowledge of other sources of information, and the provision of equipment, office space and administrative assistance. In cases where little information seems to be available, it is not uncommon for a professional historian to uncover material that ultimately proves to be valuable. Historians are well versed in seeking out a wide range of material in libraries, archives, museums and private collections.

What will a history cost?

Good history is not cheap.  Like other professionals, historians expect appropriate remuneration for their services.  The cost of employing a professional historian will depend on the scope of the history you decide to commission. Some organisations and individuals find it helpful to engage a professional historian to assist in designing the project from the outset, while others will require a professional historian for just a small part of their project.

The budget should include the historian's professional fees, fees for any research assistance, a research allowance (for example, for scanning and copying or obtaining photographs) and the cost of any travel or associated expenses. The expenditure on the finished product may include printing and associated publication costs, fees for the use of images, editing and/or proofreading, indexing, marketing fees for a publication, the fee to employ a web developer, copying and distribution costs for heritage assessment reports and documents, and any additional fees for presenting evidence in court cases.

See the recommended scale of fees and associated user guide on the Professional Historians Australia website for details.

How to find a professional historian

The PHA (Vic & Tas) Employment Service circulates information on a regular basis via email to over 200 members around Victoria and Tasmania. This ensures that the employer’s brief is circulated quickly amongst a large number of qualified and accredited professional historians with a wide range of experience.

In addition to distributing briefs, the PHA (Vic & Tas) Employment Officer also offers the following telephone or email assistance to employers:

  • Advice on employing an historian for a commissioned history, exhibition, oral history, significance and museum work, or heritage work, including advice regarding copyright and contract provisions.
  • A guide to preparing a brief.
  • Assistance checking the brief once prepared by the employer.
  • Advice regarding different types of publications, formats or presentations of history that will suit a range of purposes and budgets.
  • Advice on publishing a history project.
  • Estimates of the probable length of time required for research and writing.
  • The Professional Historians Australia Scale of Fees and estimates of the probable costs of employing an historian.

These services come at no cost to the employer. In some instances employers may require a greater level of involvement from the Association. PHA (Vic & Tas) is happy to be involved in personal meetings, interview and/or steering panels on a consultancy basis.

For more information or for any enquiries, please contact us.

Briefs and contracts

After discussion with the professional historian selected for the work, a clear brief and contract needs to be drawn up.  See How to Plan a Project and the Professional Historians Australia website for details.