Foundation of HTANSW

The formation of the History Teachers’ Association of NSW was conceived by Renée Fauvette Erdos (1911-1997) in the early 1950s. A teacher in NSW secondary schools from 1932 and then Sydney Technical College where she became Head Teacher of History, she represented the Department of Technical Education on both the Ancient and Modern History syllabus committees and attended Department of Education meetings of English and history teachers. It was here that she found the focus on English left little time for the consideration of history, and convinced her ‘that the teaching of history needed the forum of an organisation solely concerned with history teaching at all levels and in all types of institutions.’ Thus, the idea to establish an association specifically for history teachers, was conceived. 

Renée spent the next year writing letters and contacting anyone who might be interested, with the goal to gain support that ‘crossed both the vertical and horizontal frontiers of the various bodies teaching history’. Thus, Renée ensured that she contacted teachers and principals from state, independent and Catholic sectors. She also enlisted the backing of key figures such as Dr C. H. Currey of Sydney Teachers’ College and the University of Sydney’s Professor of History, John Ward. Finally, invitations were sent out for a meeting to be convened at Sydney Technical College on 30 July 1954, where there was unanimous support for a resolution to ‘inaugurate a History Teachers’ Association’, and thence the HTANSW was founded. A.G.L. Shaw, then lecturing at the University of Sydney, was nominated unopposed, and declared HTANSW’s inaugural Chairman (President). A Provisional Committee of six was then selected and given the task of drafting a statement of aims and rules with Renée Erdos as Convener/Secretary.

The first official meeting of the newly formed HTANSW was held on 24 September 1954. It quickly endorsed the statement of aims and rules presented by the Provisional Committee. This single page document only listed one general aim: 

‘As teachers of History we want to meet and discuss the teaching of History and issues connected with our teaching of History’.

Seemingly in justification of its conciseness, or perhaps displaying real insight into HTANSW’s potential, the statement suggested that ‘no document can anticipate all the developments that our association should make’. 

In March 1955, HTANSW went on host its first conference at the University of Sydney’s St Andrew’s College. Of the 41 who attended, 9 were from universities or colleges, 12 from independent schools, 15 from state schools, 4 from technical colleges and 1 from the Department of Education. The wide representation that Renée Erdos had aimed for was clearly achieved. One of the conference sessions explored the question, ‘What are we trying to do in teaching history in our schools?’ Contributions to the discussion included:

  • The teaching of history equips the child to stand up against the blasts of propaganda that assail him from all sides.
  • History [is] a new subject not yet worked out in its fullest implications. [It’s] always a new subject as each generation has its own values.
  • [History] begins to fill the vacuum left by [the] decline of the classics.
  • Every effort should be made to make children interested in history & every effort [made] to awaken their historical imagination in the adventure of man.
  • [A] framework of historical landmarks must be learned [just] as children learn multiplication tables.

Following this initial success, the annual conference became a fixture for HTANSW, and incorporated a conference dinner, and HTANSW’s range of activities continued to expand. 

In 1955, in a significant development for syllabus development at this time, HTANSW was invited to send two representatives to assist in drafting the new Modern History syllabus, and members were surveyed in order to obtain information to present to the Wyndham Inquiry. 

The HTANSW delegation led by its Deputy Chairman, Harry Nicolson, appeared before the Wyndham Committee on 20 May in a public hearing and underlined HTANSW’s view  that history was a ‘major subject’ that should be studied by all ‘fully educated people’. He also suggested that it had been ‘taught badly’ and would need to be ‘a very much more vital subject, to appeal to the great mass of students’. In order to improve the teaching of history, HTANSW’s submission  highlighted the need for separate history departments (‘[history] should stand on its own feet and should be run by one master’), a better provision of resources and teacher training that was  more subject specific. Harry Nicolson’s concession that the submission was ‘very idealistic’ may have had in mind the suggestion that history teachers be subsidised for ‘travel and refreshment’ so that they could gain experience abroad and interstate. More than forty years before Premier Bob Carr’s introduction of NSW’s unique Premier’s Teacher Scholarships to support teacher travel and research, this may have seemed ridiculously visionary to the committee. What is clear is that HTANSW put a very strong case for history and the effort required to do this helped to galvanise the early leadership, clarify aims and give significant impetus to an association that was less than a year old when it was so ably represented before the Wyndham Committee.

From these beginnings, HTANSW continued to grow and develop. By 1958 there was discussion about the need to visit country centres and of the possibility of HTANSW producing its own publications, which came to fruition in 1961 with the publication of the first issue of the Teaching History journal. 

Adapted from the article by Paul Kiem, Teaching History, June 2008: 'Renée Fauvette Erdos (1911-1997): Educator and Founder of the History Teachers' Association of NSW'. 

Article: Teaching History

This article presents an overview of the professional life of this significant Australian educator Renée Fauvette Erdos (1911-1997).