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The house that Mike built


These are the people who staffed the National Museum's Centre for Historical Research, shortly after its foundation in 2007. They are standing outside the Centre's home, the Medical Superintendents' Building, a relic of the old Royal Canberra Hospital which formerly occupied the Museum's Acton site.

 In one way or another, all of these people - including me - owe the good fortune that has brought us to the Centre to Mike Smith's vision, because the establishment of the Centre for Historical Research is very much his creation. Around 2005 Mike (then the Museum's Director of Research and Development) realised that the Museum had achieved many things - a viable existence, a new building, briliant new galleries, active public programs, a growing collection, a talented and dedicated staff. But it lacked the deep engagement with research that distinguished older and more established museums. Mike set about persuading the then Director, Craddock Morton, of the need to give research (in all its guises) a greater prominence in the Museum. To cut a short story shorter, in 2006 the Museum advertised for someone to head a new 'Historical Research Centre', and I got the job. In all this Mike was inspirational, instrumental and instructive - a fitting four word summation of the man and his place in the scheme of things as I can think of.

 Mike did not become the head of this new 'Centre for Historical Research' or 'Research Centre' (as it remains). He sensibly got on with writing his book. But he remained the Centre's godfather, advising, giding, proposing - taking a prominent role in selecting its first contingent of Research Fellows and Senior Research Fellows - the people in this photograph: respected and admired not just by his Centre colleagues, but by staff across the Museum.

Since the Centre's foundation in 2007 we have collectively produced something like thirty books and hundreds of articles, chapters, papers and other products, scholarly and popular, across the range of the Museum's interests. (Many of them have been written by Mike, and it was he who did the totting up of our productivity.)

 I'll always be grateful to Mike for creating a place where I and literally dozens of other researchers and scholars, from within and outside the Museum, could find a congenial place in which to work and produce. One of the most admirable features of the Centre Mike conceived was that it would span the Museum's themes and interests. We are reminded of Mike's example and inspiration every time we meet for morning tea (a weekly institution at the Centre), when historians, curators, archaeologists, librarians, anthroplogists, museum folk, academics, non-institutional researchers and a great variety of visitors meet to share ideas, arguments, experiences and the fellowship peculiar to a place of knowledge. In this our Research Centre is - and always will be - the house that Mike built.

By Peter Stanley

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