In this blog entry, Professor Kirsten McKenzie reflects on the utility of studying historic scandals. Her thoughts are drawn from the presentation she gave at a plenary session on Historical Curiosity at the recent History Postgrad Conference, "The Past and the Curious" in November 2017.


Historical Curiosity

I’ve taken inspiration from the theme of this conference in two ways – firstly, what use can we make of curious incidents in the past? And, secondly, how do we deal with our own curiosity about them?

I’m still not entirely sure whether this is by accident or design but I’ve come to realise that much of what I research can be classed as ‘curious’. I don’t mean in the sense that the past is another country, and what might seem odd to us was not so previously. These are events and personalities who were considered downright weird at the time. My two most recent books are both about convict impostors in the first half of the nineteenth century, although their impersonations were undertaken with very different motivations and effects.

One, the improbably named John Dow, was a con artist seeking gain through identity theft. The other, who began his life as Alexander Kaye and ended it as William Edwards, was an escapee trying to hide under a false name. Both got caught. Neither would admit their guilt. In the case of Edwards the mystery persisted even after the prisoner took his own life. These cases excited much curiosity and debate in their own time, even if they were largely forgotten afterwards. When remembered, they were never considered the proper subjects of serious history.

By their very nature, Dow and Edwards were serial liars. Their actions confounded observers at the time, several of whom described them as insane. Much of their story remains unknowable. This brings me to my second point – what do we do, as historians, with our curiosity about the past. How should we direct that curiosity?

When I was sitting where you are now – and in the last year of my PhD - I gave a presentation at a large international conference where the papers were pre-circulated and where Ann Stoler was the keynote speaker. For those not in my field, Ann Stoler is one of the big names in imperial history, and was already an academic superstar in the late 1990s. So, you can imagine how I felt when mine was the paper she singled out for praise and discussion as part of her keynote address.

When I had found the material on which the paper was based, I knew it was a huge coup – I was writing a thesis about questions of gender and honour and I had found a cache of papers about alleged incest and concealed pregnancy involving the Chief Justice of the Cape Colony, Sir John Wylde, and his daughter Jane. The day I came upon the papers saw me quite literally shouting aloud with joy in the car all the way home from the archive. Which seems a bit sick when you consider the contents of the material itself.

But this wasn’t why Stoler singled out my paper for praise – she admired what she called (and I can still remember the gist 20 years later) my ‘postmodern determination’ not to become caught up in the solution to the story, but rather to leave the mystery unresolved. Instead of putting what had happened to Jane Elizabeth at the center of my analysis – was she the victim of rape or incest? had she killed her own child? had she had a lover whom it was somehow impossible to acknowledge? – I had focused in the paper on the wider significance of the scandal for understanding Cape colonial society - how it related to debates over slave emancipation, the press, and the nature of gendered discourse in public and private.

My immediate thought when I heard Stoler’s comment on my paper was – ‘well, I’m glad this great scholar thinks I have postmodern determination, I better start pretending I’ve GOT postmodern determination because the reality is that if I could have solved the mystery from the sources available I would gleefully have done so.’

I mention this as a foundation story in my career not only because it pointed the way to the historian I would become – one who specialised in scandal – but also because it took the process of writing several books to work through quite how incisive Stoler’s comment was to how we should approach the phenomenon of scandal. Indeed, she likely didn’t realise herself the significance of what in retrospect was probably just an off-hand remark.

If historians want to understand the kind of everyday attitudes that are the focus of cultural history, why work on scandals? They are surely unusual events by definition? But, of course, some people are scandalous, only if others are not. So, they allow us to see where the lines of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour are drawn and constantly renegotiated.

Secondly, they generate extensive sources and articulate what are often unspoken assumptions about proper behaviour. Scandals can also have important effects in bringing about social change – they can involve the rise and fall of public figures, they can have concrete political effects by bringing unacceptable behaviour under public scrutiny. They can be used by the powerless to shame and expose the powerful. They can be used as political traction to bring about desired outcomes, often only peripherally related to the original scandal itself. All of this is inherently unstable and unpredictable – scandals are extremely difficult to manipulate. They often start out as being about one thing or person and end up being about something quite different. The scandal of John Wylde and his daughter is a textbook example of this.

For all these advantages, the historian of scandal must be prepared to have her curiosity frustrated. She must always face the prospect of suffering what the novelist A.S. Byatt calls ‘narrative greed’ – and of accepting that this greed will not be satisfied. This is not to say that narrative is a bad thing – but it isn’t the only thing. There is always the search for the good story when writing about scandal, the satisfaction of finding out ‘what happened’, of marshalling all the twists and turns of plots and sub-plots.

It is notable how often historians of scandal use the language of plots, or of drama when they are setting the scene. We need to be honest about the narrative pleasures of this sensationalism. There are very good reasons why we might want to know what happened. But as I tell my students in the unit ‘Sex and Scandal’, some really bad history – often for general audiences - can be written about scandals in the name of telling stories. This risks not only being bad quality, but having bad effects, simply interested in the prurient details, details that are taken for granted and sensationalized, with no attempt to understand what it all means.

It is worth mentioning that I found the Wylde material (marked as “under restricted access”) with the help of a very experienced archivist – and he said quite explicitly that he had only brought it to my attention because he knew my scholarship and he was satisfied that I would deal with it responsibly. (I’m glad he didn’t see me shouting in the car on the way home.) Our curiosity is natural, and important in getting things right, but it is important not to become caught up in a historian-as-detective approach when dealing with scandal. This is not CSI Archive. Sometimes the best solution is to set aside one’s natural curiosity to discover a secret – or to become curious about something else.

Let me end with an example of this from my most recent book. One of the most challenging parts of writing Imperial Underworld was addressing an incident in the life of William Edwards that has been written about numerous times – but never in a scholarly way. This involved a notorious scandal that was intensively investigated at the time – without a satisfactory solution. An anonymous placard was posted on the streets of Cape Town accusing the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset, of “buggering Doctor Barry”. No copy survives. Various accounts of its wording exist. There were even doubts expressed as to whether it had ever really existed, for only one person admitted to having seen it before it disappeared.

William Edwards was the chief suspect, but nothing was ever proved against him. The incident has sparked intensive curiosity amongst popular historians, particularly those writing about Barry, whose sex remains a subject of debate. Serious scholars, however, have shied away from the incident – unable to find an analytical purpose for it, even though it took place in the midst of an intensively studied period of Cape history.

What should spark our curiosity about the placard affair – what questions should we be asking about it as historians? ‘Narrative greed’ leads us to two obvious ones – were Somerset and Barry engaged in sexual relations? And, who put up the placard? The answer to the first question has eluded countless biographers of both Barry and Somerset. For what it is worth, a recent book on Barry has uncovered some persuasive evidence that the doctor was born female though that leaves us no further ahead on the question of relations with Somerset. And with regard to the second question - \who put up the placard – the historian has access to only the same evidence, admittedly voluminous, that was collected in the original case. Can she expect to succeed where a determined public prosecutor under intense political pressure failed some 200 years earlier?

I didn’t consciously think of Ann Stoler’s comment while I wrestled with how to write about the placard scandal in a useful way. Nevertheless, her response to that paper on the Wyldes some 20 years ago doubtless had a role in helping me to work out how I approached this problem. For my purposes, the scandal’s utility lies precisely in recognising its tenuous hold on reality – using that as the object of my analysis rather than an obstacle to my analysis - and in tracing the tactics of ideological warfare that broke out in its aftermath.

As a way of understanding the processes of imperial reform debates, my interest was more in the political management of the scandal than in the alleged sexual improprieties of Lord Charles Somerset and Dr James Barry or the identity of the persons who claimed to have brought them to light. If we look carefully at the sources we can see what was very clear to contemporaries but what historians have missed. What was most significant about the incident was not the contents of the placard itself but the “political ends” – in the words of contemporaries - to which its existence could be put. Despite the dangerous accusations allegedly made in the text (remember our evidence that the placard even existed is tenuous) sex drops out of the public discussion remarkably quickly. What ensues is effectively a public relations struggle between Somerset and his political opponents in both Britain and the Cape, a debate that revolved not around his sexual misconduct but around his tactics of information gathering and the use of spies. Historians can and often should use scandals to ask and answer different questions from the ones that preoccupied those living through them. Because after all, what we are most curious about is working out methods to understand the past as best we can.

Kirsten book 1Kirsten book 2Kirsten book 3 imperial-underworld.jpg

In this blog entry, postgraduate coordinator Dr Frances Clarke reports on the results of a survey she initiated of our PhD recipients over the last twenty years. You can download the results and a presentation she made on "Planning a Future in the Midst of Insecure Job Prospects" for the November 2017 History Postgrad Conference here: Download file

Alumni Activity

Over the past 20 years, 169 graduates have received doctorates. Subtracting those who have retired, died, or completed in the past five years (most of whom are still looking for full-time work), 139 graduates remain. Of this number:

31.6% have a tenured academic job
11.5% work in public history (as curators, archivists, policy officer, grants coordinators, consultants, city historians, tourism industry employees)
7.9% are in university admin (as research coordinators, faculty research managers, senior strategy and projects officers, senior advisers and governance specialists, research fellows, etc.)
7.1% have a postdoc
7.1% are in government employment (as policy officers, researchers, analysts, etc.)
7.1% work in the non-profit sector or are self-employed (as freelance writers, editors, indexers, research affiliates, or activists)
3.5% are still looking for an academic job after 5 years
3.5% are in teaching (as high school teachers, curriculum developers, textbook designers, etc.)
1.4% are employed in arts-related fields (as journalists, documentary film makers, screen writers).
3.5% are employed in the private sector (as lawyers, consultants, small business owners).
15.1% Could not be located (most likely because they have retired, moved overseas, or left the paid workforce).

The number of individuals in each category:

44 Academic (tenured)
16 Public Hist / Researcher / Editor
11 Univ Admin
10 Postdoc
10 Govt Emp
10 Nonprofit Emp / Self Emp
5 Casual 5+yrs
5 Teaching
2 Arts (journalism/doc film maker/theatre)
5 Private sector (business/law/consultancy)
21 unknown / not currently looking for work / retraining
16 Casual or contract <5 yrs
14 Retired / deceased

Survey results.jpg.png

In this blog entry, postgraduate coordinator Dr Frances Clarke reports on a new initiative, and a recent workshop, for our postgraduate community.

Many Paths Beyond the PhD
23 November 2017

During the six years that it took to finish my PhD I spent a good deal of my time in a state of mild panic over the idea that I was in my mid 30s and yet had no savings, no superannuation, a massive student loan debt, and not much hope of ever getting a tenured job. Believing—mistakenly, as it turned out—that academic employment was a pipe dream, I spent the six months after my dissertation defense reading a lot of self-help books about graduates who had retrained after the PhD or branched out into diverse fields.

It occurred to me in doing this reading that there was a world of choices I’d never considered—careers just as interesting and politically-fulfilling but potentially less competitive and stressful than a lectureship. Reading this work made me realize that my professors emphasized academic careers not because they were our only possible choices, but because these were the only jobs that most academics knew about. After all, most of us have gone straight from study to teaching without experiencing any other kind of workplace. We have no real idea what it would be like to work as a policy officer for the government, the curator of a museum, an archivist, or a documentary film maker.

But our former PhD students do have this knowledge, since they’ve gone on to all kinds of interesting careers. I discovered this fact while putting together some research on where our history graduates end up for our website. The results of this survey can be found here.

It turns out that our History PhD recipients are everywhere. They are the literary Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company; the Head of the Documentary Division at the Australian Film, TV, and Radio School in Canberra; the Executive Officer at the Historical Publications and Information Section at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the Director of the National Museum in Canberra and the City Historian of Sydney. They teach high school students, run archives and museums, administer universities, create policy, produce journalism, and manage small businesses.

Seeing the diverse ways our graduates put their training to use, it was apparent that one of the things we could do for our students is to introduce them to a range of careers, and do this while they were still completing their training, so that they could have these prospects in mind and hopefully even plan for them. It stood to reason that the best way to do this was to introduce them to former grad students who had once been in their shoes and gone into the workforce.

For our inaugural “Many Paths Beyond the PhD” day, we invited four USyd history alumni to campus to talk about their jobs:

• Dave Trudinger, Director of Energy and Climate Change, Resources & Land Use Branch in the NSW Government’s Department of Premier and Cabinet.
• Emma Dortins, Cultural Heritage Researcher at the Office of Environment & Heritage, NSW
• Richard Lehane, Archivist at State Records Office, NSW.
• Nerida Campbell, Curator, Police and Justice Museum, NSW.

I asked our speakers to describe their career trajectory and talk about how their background in history informed their current role, as well as to give advice to students who might want to consider a job in their areas.

None of the jobs sounded at all how I’d pictured them. Dave, for instance, talked about his work for the NSW government as primarily involving “packaging and presenting information” – sourcing data quickly and efficiently on a whole range of topics for use in a wide variety of ways. Nimbleness and flexibility were clearly essential in his role—and, indeed, in all of the jobs that the four speakers described, since the one thing they had in common was the necessity of dealing with a rapidly changing environment, a diversity of opinions, and a plethora of different tasks.

Emma described her work in managing the state heritage register as encompassing not just questions of what sites to preserve but also dealing with all the intersecting interests that went into such decisions as well as managing a team of staff. In contrast, Richard, working at the State Archives, described spending most of his days deciding what to destroy rather than what to keep, while also noting that archival staff were engaged in activities ranging from the conservation and digitization to curating displays and assessing collections.

For most of us, Nerida’s job was perhaps the easiest to visualize initially, since her role involves telling stories and extracting meaning from objects in ways that are common to all historical work and recognizable to anyone who has ever visited a museum. Yet she explained that even this seemingly straightforward objective requires considerable flexibility since her main dilemma is in finding ways to bring history to life that can appeal simultaneously to a ten-year-old and a retiree and to people from every conceivable walk of life.

One of the most powerful things to come out of the session was simply a sense of expanded possibility. Within the university sector there is constant crisis talk: declining budgets, rampant managerialism, expanding academic workloads, a contracting ‘job market’ for postgraduates. But here were four people with jobs that were interesting and challenging, all using history in various ways.

It reminded me of a piece that I’d read in American Historical Association’s newsletter Perspectives a few years back, which argued that academics’ discussions of a ‘job market crisis’ were overly parochial. Employment in history-related fields has actually been expanding in recent times as local, state, and federal governments pour funding into various history-related activities. It is only our narrow fixation on academic jobs that has prevented us from seeing this trend. In passing on this anxious vision to our students, we leave them with the message that we value only the narrowest range of possibilities for using history, which is simply not the case.

Interestingly, all of our four speakers had been involved in recruiting or hiring, so they had a range of useful advice about ways candidates could prepare for jobs in their fields, or prepare for job interviews.

One of the speakers suggested that all history-related employment required “core competencies.” They suggested that students look at job listings and see what competencies were requested, and then think about ways they could demonstrate proficiency in such areas. Jobs in public history, for instance, typically require the ability to talk to diverse audiences. Anyone wanting to move into this area might thus want to think about publishing in different kinds of venues or giving talks to different kinds of audiences in order to demonstrate such expansiveness.

Similarly, they might think about how to make use of the fact that they are at a large, well-funded research institution, willing to provide them with additional training. Pondering the kinds of training that might prove useful to employers (in statistical analysis, spreadsheets, data management, or digital technology, for instance), they might seek out such training, or ask for it to be provided.

Offering proof of competencies or abilities was another important point that came up. As one of the speakers noted, it’s insufficient for a job candidate to simply refer to their acquisition of particular skills; the candidate has to prove their claim. Stating that one can communicate to broad audiences, for instance, becomes much more credible if accompanied by a statement along the lines of: “I wrote for such and such a website/blog/etc. which is read by such and such an audience, measured in such and such ways.”

And in terms of applying for jobs, everyone emphasized the importance of background research. Nerida said that applicants should call the contact person on a job advertisement and ask about all the different elements of a role. They should make sure that they have questions to ask at the end of the interview. And they should understand something about the institution or culture into which you’re applying to work. Dave advised, for instance, that if the job is with a government department, the applicant should find out what the relevant minister has recently been saying.

Likewise, Nerida noted that anyone looking for a job in a particular museum should go there and see the space – not least because it’s become common to ask applicants for such jobs to come up with a creative proposal for a particular object, with the aim of seeing how well the candidate can think about diverse audiences and communicate ideas. A smart candidate would think not just about the space and the audience, but also try to link their plan to the institution’s own mission (strategic plans and mission statements are especially useful reading when you’re looking for a job).

How to find a job or get some experience in different fields understandably came up numerous times. One of the speakers suggested that postgrads might consider giving their CVs to an executive recruiter such as Charter House or Chandler McCloud. These agencies can sometimes find you casual or fixed-term work in particular areas so that you can get a taste for different kinds of employment.

Richard stressed that there may well be additional training that’s required after the PhD for certain jobs, such as in his field of archival management. For anyone interested in this area, there are online degrees in archival management and graduate programs through the National Library.

But the best way to know if an archive might be your ideal working environment is to go to the regular branch meetings of the Australian Society of Archivists

In a similar way, Nerida said that anyone interested in jobs in museums or public history would do well to go to conferences and meetings of Museums Australia, the main national association for the museums and galleries sector, or simply to attend talks at the State Library, particularly when given by archivists or curators, and make connections with people.

Finally, a couple of more concrete issues came out of the day. Richard promised to take us on a tour the stacks at the NSW archive while giving us an insiders’ view of archival management (excursion!) And several speakers noted the importance of linking one’s topic to broader themes, questions, or fields as well as thinking about the production of a thesis in terms of “project management.”

Both of these ideas, and several of the ones above, will become useful in the professionalisation seminar that the department will run next semester (and hopefully from then on). We’re intending this seminar as a way to help postgraduate students conceptualise their training, break down the discrete parts of what they do, and be able to talk about these to non-academic audiences, and generally claim the expertise and authority that comes from the completion of a history doctorate.


Police and Justice Museum, Sydney, NSW


Postgraduates of the Department of History at the University of Sydney invite you to attend a two-day interdisciplinary conference held Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2017.

Some people call historians the detectives of the past. At the University of Sydney’s 2017 postgraduate history conference, we want to know: what are the mysteries you’re uncovering? What are you curiously (and furiously) researching? How are you re-framing our understanding of the established, and seemingly ordinary, past? This two-day conference will allow postgraduate historians from across Australia, and beyond, to share their investigations of the past — and to share in the spirit of historical curiosity.

Themes, covering the ancient to the twenty-first century, include (but are not limited to):

(Re)viewing history through a transnational lens;
Investigations through Oral History;
(Re)viewing Race
Delving into Digital Histories
(Re)viewing Histories of Sexuality
(Re)viewing Gender
(Re)viewing Indigenous Histories
Public Histories
Histories of Emotion
History and (Auto)Biography
(Re)viewing Labor Histories

Click here to explore the Conference website and to view a full conference programme,

Natural Resources Conference image.jpg

Sovereignty, Economy and the Global Histories of Natural Resources

An International Symposium sponsored by the International Research Award in Global History,

Universities of Sydney, Basel, and Heidelberg

18-19 December 2017

Hosted by the Centre for History and Economics, University of Cambridge

Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century natural resources have given shape to the history of sovereignty, law, and commerce across the globe. The struggle to protect, own and extract natural resources has mobilized local authorities, national agencies and international bodies. The Standing Rock water protectors are perhaps most well-known recent example of such histories, but is certainly not the only one. From disputes over social and economic rights to dueling religious and economic understandings of resources and their value, things like carbon, gold and water have determined the lives of national and local communities.

This international symposium invites scholars to examine the history and political ecology of various natural resources – animal, vegetable, or mineral —in the modern era. It asks how natural resources such as carbon, air, and water became the subject of legal, environmental, and economic forces over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century and how, in turn, these resources have themselves came to shape national and international histories? Papers that focus on the role of local actors, rather than solely international elites, that examine contested spaces and resources beyond the Western Hemisphere, and take an interdisciplinary approach to this global history of natural resources will feature. Papers will address (but are not limited to) the ways in which the political ecology of various natural resources has come to shape:

Border disputes, international territories and national sovereignty
Minority and religious rights
Movement and mobility of people, animals and microbes
Social and economic geographies and spaces
Cultural practices and institutions
Technical expertise and knowledge
The role of nongovernmental and economic agents in local and national contexts

We are pleased to note that Professor Glenda Sluga is co-sponsor of this conference, which was the winning concept in an international competition. A copy of the poster is available here, and you can download the final program here.


History department staff are regulars in the ‘Thinkers Guide to the 21st Century’ talk series brought to you by the Sydney Ideas/Laureate Research Program in International History.

You can listen to the podcasts on previous topics such as The New International Order (Glenda Sluga), Authoritarianism (Dirk Moses), Feminism in the Age of Populism, and Globalisation (Glenda Sluga and Thomas Adams).

If you missed out on this series, the Laureate Research Program in International History is bringing it back with Sydney Ideas in Semester 2, 2018. The series averaged 300 subscriptions for each event; we hope to keep up the momentum and are holding a competition for next year's topics. More information from Sydney Ideas soon.

Monarchies, Decolonisation and Royal Legacies in the Asia-Pacific Department of History, The University of Sydney, 6-7 December 2017

Organised by Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

9.30-10.00 Welcome and Introduction

10.00-11.30 Keynote address

Harshan Kumarasingham (University of Edinburgh), ‘Monsoon Monarchy: The Mercurial Fortunes of the Crown in South Asia since 1947’

11.30-12.00 Morning coffee

12.00-1.00 India and Japan

Jim Masselos (University of Sydney), 'Decolonised Rulers: Rajas, Maharajas and Others in Postcolonial Times'

Elise Tipton (University of Sydney), ‘From Absolute Monarchy to “Symbol Emperor”: The Transformation of the Japanese Imperial Institution after 1945’

1.00-2.00 Lunch

2.00-3.30 The Dutch East Indies / Indonesia I

Adrian Vickers (University of Sydney), 'Royal and Other Portraits of Nineteenth-Century Indonesian Rulers in Transition'

Robert Cribb (Australian National University), ‘Faltering Decolonisation: The 1929 Ontvoogding (Detutelisation) of the Aristocracies in the Netherlands Indies’

Jean Gelman Taylor (University of New South Wales), ‘Sultans and the State: Power and Pretence in the Dutch Colony and the Republic of Indonesia’

3.30-4.00 Afternoon tea

4.00-5.00 The Dutch East Indies / Indonesia II

Bayu Dardias (Gadjah Mada University / Australian National University), 'Surviving Monarchy in Indonesia through the Formation of a Special Region: Yogyakarta, 1940-1950'

Susie Protschky (Monash University), 'In Disputed Territory: The Dutch Monarchy during the Indonesian National Revolution and in Dutch New Guinea (1945–62)’

5.15 Reception hosted by the Department of History

Day 2, Thursday, 7 December 2107

10.00-11.30 Special Guest Presentation

Milton Osborne (Sydney), ‘The Paradox of Cambodian Royalty, from Norodom (1836-1904) to Sihanouk (1922-2012)’

11.30-12.00 Morning coffee

12.00-1.00 South Pacific Monarchies

Matt Fitzpatrick (Flinders University), ‘The Samoan Monarchy and the Last Years of the German Pacific’

Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery (University of Sydney), ‘Colonialism and Monarchy in Oceania’

1.00-2.00 Lunch

2.00-3.00 Australia

Bruce Baskerville (University of Sydney), 'New South Wales' Vice-Royal Landscapes: Legacies Hidden in Plain Sight'

Mark McKenna (University of Sydney), ‘Indigenous Australians and the British Crown, 1954-2017’

3.00-3.30 Afternoon Tea

3.30-5.00 Roundtable Discussion

With participation by paper-givers and Miranda Johnson, Sophie Loy-Wilson, Lily Rahim and Andrés Rodriguez (University of Sydney), and Maria Nugent (Australian National University).

7.00 Conference Dinner


This is the third in a series of conferences on the history of colonialism and modern monarchies sponsored by the Department of History.

The organisers would like to thank Prof. Chris Hilliard, Chair, Department of History and Dr Miranda Johnson and the Pacific Studies Network for their kind support.

For further information, please contact or

history dept logo.jpg

Professor Kirsten McKenzie was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

PhD students Hollie Pich and Marama Whyte have both won Endeavour Awards to undertake research in the U.S. in 2018. These highly-competitive awards are provided by the Australian government to scholars engaging in study, research, or professional development overseas. Marama has been granted the Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship to conduct 6-12 months of research at New York University, sponsored by Professor Thomas Sugrue, while Hollie has won an Endeavour Research Fellowship to conduct 4-6 months of research at Duke University, sponsored by Professor William Chafe.

Marama Whyte has also won the Tempe Mann Travelling Scholarship for 2018, which is awarded by the Australian Federation of Graduate Women-New South Wales, taking up an honour that Hollie held the year before.

Professor Glenda Sluga recently presented at the Graduate Institute Geneva on the history of global governance of the environment. For the Geneva report on this talk click here. Glenda is also cosponsor of this Cambridge conference on the global history of sovereignty and natural resources. This was the winning concept in an international competition. A copy of the poster is available here, and you can download the final program here.

The New Republic (US) discussed Dr Chin Jou's new book, Supersizing Urban America about fast food and obesity, and she was interviewed by KPFA Radio (US) about it. Dr. Jou also wrote a piece on the global expansion of the fast food industry in the Washington Post.

University of Sydney PhD student Emma Kluge has a new piece on the UN History website on Decolonization Interrupted: U.N. and Indonesian Flags Raised in West Papua

Channel 7 (Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane) interviewed Dr Miranda Johnson from the Department of History about broadcaster Stan Grant’s calls to change a statue of Captain Cook in Hyde Park.

Dr. Marco Duranti’s The Conservative Human Rights Revolution and Prof Mark McKenna’s From the Edge were longlisted and shortlisted respectively for the CHASS Australia Book Prize 2017.

Dr. Duranti was also interviewed on ABC Radio National about the human rights revolution born in a conservative UK after World War II.

Dr Sophie Loy-Wilson was interviewed on ABC Radio National about Australian migration to China and the story of Daisy Kwok, a Chinese-Australian socialite who was born in Sydney and moved to China in 1917.

Dr. Ivan Crozier and Dr. Peter Hobbins have both spoken recently in the University of Sydney Rare Books 'Rare Bites' series of lunchtime talks, which they video, caption and upload to YouTube: Peter Hobbins speaks on Researches on Australian Venoms (1906); Ivan Crozier speaks on Sexual Inversion (1897), and Dr. Hobbins featured on an episode of ABC TV’s Hard Quiz, and co-authored an article published on The Conversation about misconceptions around the fatality risks of snakebites.

Professor Dirk Moses recently wrote about the pros and cons of "flipping" the classroom in a large first year unit in Teaching@Sydney.

Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick authored an article published in the Australian Financial Review about the 100 years since the Russian Revolution, and she was interviewed by ABC Radio Melbourne about her new book, Misckha’s War.

Professor Mark McKenna from the Department of History was quoted in the Daily Telegraph about Australia’s historical monuments, and he also wrote a review of Donald Horne: Selected Writings, published in the Weekend Australian.

Sky News interviewed Professor James Curran from the Department of History about US President Donald Trump’s reaction to the events in Charlottesville and was interviewed on ABC Radio Sydney, 2SM Sydney and Sky News about the history of the ANZUS alliance in light of the Prime Minister confirming Australia would join US military action if North Korea were to attack. Professor Curran also wrote an article about what the ANZUS treaty obliges, published in the Australian Financial Review, and another in the Australian Financial Times about Australia’s ongoing alliance with the US during the Trump presidency. Weekend Australia published an article by Professor James Curran from the Department of History and the United States Studies Centre about how US President Donald Trump has intensified the cultural crisis gripping the US.

The Star Tribune (US) quoted Professor Robert Aldrich from the Department of History about his research on French colonialism, while the National Post (Canada) quoted him in a story about increased attendance at the National Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris following the 2015 terrorist attacks in France.

Professor Ian McCalman from the Department of History and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute was interviewed on ABC Radio National’s Conversations with Richard Fidler. quoted Emeritus Professor Richard Waterhouse from the Department of History about Remembrance Day.

Professor Shane White from the Department of History published a review of The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison in the Sydney Morning Herald. The review was syndicated across Fairfax Media.

ABC Radio National interviewed Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick from the Department of History about the Bolshevik revolution.

Dr Thomas Adams featured on ABC’s The Drum discussing a number of topics including the Manhattan terrorist attack and US President Trump’s comments following the event.

history dept logo.jpg

Dear Colleagues,

In what I believe is a department first, two of our postgraduate students, Hollie Pich and Marama Whyte, have simultaneously won Endeavour Awards to undertake research in the U.S. in 2018. These highly-competitive awards are provided by the Australian government to scholars engaging in study, research, or professional development overseas.

Marama has been granted the Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship to conduct 6-12 months of research at New York University, sponsored by Professor Thomas Sugrue, while Hollie has won an Endeavour Research Fellowship to conduct 4-6 months at Duke University, sponsored by Professor William Chafe.

It what is surely another department record, Marama has also won the Tempe Mann Travelling Scholarship for 2018, which is awarded by the Australian Federation of Graduate Women-New South Wales, taking up an honour that Hollie held the year before.

Warmest congratulations to them both.

Dr. Frances M. Clarke
Senior Lecturer &
Postgraduate Coordinator
Department of History

NB: This blog entry comes courtesy of the students and staff at Chifley College Senior Campus, Mount Druitt. Many thanks especially to Dianne Harper.

Prize-winners Laura Sole, Rowzen Caro, and Micaila Bellanto

The development of cults in Roman Egypt was influenced by both Egyptian and Greek traditions, and the abolition of the slave trade played out very differently in England and America. Participants in the Cult of Isis were promised the secrets of life and death and the transatlantic slave trade had both long term economic and social effects.

These are some of the interesting facts that Chifley College Senior Campus students explored while researching their Ancient and Modern History Historical Investigations.

Rowzen Caro and Micaila Bellanto were named the joint winners of the 2017 Sydney University Modern History Essay Competition, one of the school’s top prizes for Year Eleven History Students.

Micaila, a prolific reader and writer about Modern History issues was praised for writing an essay on the transatlantic slave trade that “was well-written and well-presented, and demonstrates both sound knowledge of the content, and a sophisticated University-level approach to the topic. Micaila’s explanation of the shift in the status of Africans in colonial America due to changing demands for labour demonstrated a sophisticated historical analysis.”

Laura Sole, the winner of the 2017 Sydney University Ancient History Essay Competition, explored the variety of religious practices in 4th century Egypt. The judges thought the examples chosen to do this showed Laura was “thinking like an historian” and was “well-researched and argued, the essay showed good attention to the historiographical debate and had a really strong conclusion.“

The essay competition is held in conjunction with the Department of History at Sydney University, and judged by academics from both the modern and ancient disciplines. Sydney University and Chifley College Senior Campus have been working together since 2014 as part of an equity program in order to encourage students to achieve academic excellence and to consider University as an option.

In 2017, six students have been awarded conditional scholarships under the Sydney University E12 program. As well as the essay competition, the partnership includes a mentoring program with History Extension students as well as regular visits of senior students to the university campus.

Rowzen, who placed first in the competition, spent some time talking to current students at Sydney University, chatting about school and university life. She believes that the chance to work alongside university students, and have them support her in her studies, provides an opportunity “to get a feel for what University will be like. It’s really useful, it makes me think about what I will do after my HSC, and helpful in setting goals for academic success.” The judges said that her essay was “written with flair, with a good critical evaluation of a range of sources, and makes a convincing argument.”

Micaila, Laura and Rowzen were presented with their awards on November 10th, by Dr Frances Clarke and Associate Professor Michael McDonnell from Sydney University, in front of many proud parents, carers, teachers, and fellow students. The awards are presented to those students who have explored an area of history to a high academic standard, using sources, exploring historiographical issues and drawing sophisticated conclusions.

Click here for more information about the Department of History's outreach and social inclusion program

Prize-winner Micaila Bellanto with her mum, Jodie Bellanto

Many congratulations to our most recent recipients of Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards - Miranda Johnson and Hollie Pich

Dr. Miranda Johnson received a Teaching Excellence Award primarily for her outstanding work in designing and delivering a truly innovative MA unit in Museum and Heritage Studies, HSTY 6987: Presenting the Past, and the resulting public history project called "The Pitcairn Project."

One of her nominees wrote: "Dr. Johnson has worked assiduously in creating an innovative and intellectually rigorous learning environment for students that has developed and enriched skills in historical investigation, heritage preservation, IT, collaboration, public history, and cultural competency. Students have learned to negotiate with each other, and negotiate many and often difficult ethical hurdles involved with heritage preservation and the public presentation of history. Along the way, students have posted thoughtful public blogposts about their findings, created helpful marking criteria for their own work, and written reflections about their learning experiences in the unit. They have also met experts in heritage preservation, IT development, and some of the artists and historians involved in Tapa making and its history. Having read the blogposts and sat in on some of the workshops as a curious observer, I’ve been impressed with just how engaged and enthusiastic students were. From my own personal experience of co-teaching with Dr. Johnson, I know her to be a creative, caring, and engaged teacher who works tirelessly to create exceptional learning environments. She is a brilliant teacher who is not only committed to research-led teaching, but also to an engaged and inclusive pedagogy that brings out the absolute best in students from a range of backgrounds and abilities. Her work in this particular unit will serve as an exemplary model of project-based learning for the Department and the Faculty as we move to transform the undergraduate curriculum. This is all down to Dr. Johnson’s careful planning, her deep immersion in the literature of a wide array of fields necessary to pull this off, her collaborative mindset, and her critical commitment to producing intellectually rigorous yet accessible public history. Dr. Johnson is simply an exceptional teacher and deserves to be recognized for her extraordinary efforts."

You can read about some of the work Miranda did last semester with her class on the Pitcairn Project here.

And some of her student blogposts can be found here.

Many congratulations as well to Hollie Pich for receiving a prestigious Dean's Citation for Excellence in Tutorials with Distinction for her work in HSTY 2671: Law and Order in America and also HSTY 2609: African American History and Culture.

One of Hollie's support letters noted that "Hollie is the most conscientious tutor with whom I have worked in the six semesters I have taught at the University of Sydney. What struck me most about Hollie was her interest in pedagogy and her endeavours to become the most effective teacher she could be. She solicited feedback from the students in her tutorials and from me during the semester. She also asked me to observe one of her tutorials, and she in turn observed one of my tutorials, after which we met to discuss our respective observations and teaching aims. In observing Hollie’s tutorial and in my interactions with her throughout Semester 1 of 2017, I got a sense of her extraordinary dedication to students. She had a pleasant rapport with her students, facilitated a substantive and invigorating discussion of tutorial readings, achieved wide participation, and orchestrated a well-planned tutorial featuring a combination of group work and tutorial-wide discussion. It was clear that Hollie earnestly cared about her students, treated them with respect, and was approachable while maintaining her professional authority. As one student wrote in the USS survey of HSTY2609, “Hollie’s a great tutor. It’s a pleasure to go to [her class] every week.”

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching Excellence Awards program is designed to recognize and reward the teaching excellence of staff at all career levels, to encourage teachers to engage in reflective teaching practices, and to promote and support the development of high quality and innovative teaching.

Recipients have demonstrated an evidence informed approach to critical reflection on teaching and learning, evaluation of their teaching practice, engagement with higher educational research, and a focus on improving student learning.

Awards were presented by Professor Annamarie Jagose on Monday, 6 November 2016 at MacLaurin Hall. Unfortunately, Hollie Pich was in the US on a research trip and unable to pick up her award in person.


A few of the award recipients, including Miranda, were invited to give a brief presentation on how they were able to engage with and respond to evidence of effective student learning to successfully achieve excellence in teaching.


Please join us in congratulating Miranda and Hollie and the other recipients on their Teaching Excellence Awards, in the company of their family and friends.

The 2017 Teaching Awards recipient are:

Teaching Excellence Award

Dr Gareth Bryant (SSPS)
A/Professor Damien Cahill (SSPS)
Dr Mark de Vitis (SLAM)
Dr Amanda Elliot (SSPS)
Dr Marianne Fenech (SSESW)
Dr Huw Griffiths (SLAM)
A/Professor Pablo Guillen (Economics)
Dr Miranda Johnson (SOPHI)
A/Professor David Kim (Economics)
Dr Guy Redden (SOPHI)
Dr Brigid Rooney (SLAM)
Dr Jen Scott Curwood (SSESW)
Dr Aim Sinpeng (SSPS)
Professor Rodney Smith (SSPS)
Dr Louise Sutherland (SSESW)
Dr David Ubilava (Economics)

Dean's Citation for Excellence in Tutorials with Distinction

Georgia Carr (SLAM)
James Goulding (SSESW)
Hollie Pich (SOPHI)
Tim Smartt (SOPHI)
Alix Thoeming (SOPHI)

Dean's Citation for Excellence in Tutorials

Ella Collins-White (SLAM)
Alex Cubis (SLAM)
Karla Elias (SLAM)
Danica Jenkins (SLC)
Michael Leadbetter (SLC)
James Monaghan (SOPHI)
Wyatt Moss-Wellington (SLAM)
Cressida Rigney (SLAM)
Angela Rose (SSESW)
Margaret Van Heekeren (SLAM)
Peter Wasson (SSESW)

In this blogpost, current Honours student, Stephanie Barahona interviews former Honours student MIrela Kadric about history, migration, and deradicalisation.

Note: This article originally appeared in Honi Soit, Semester 2, Week 7, 2017. Many thanks to the editors and to Steph Barahona for their permission to reproduce it here.

It seems like Mirela Kadrić has accomplished so much in such a short time.

At 23, she is an experienced academic writer and researcher, and a revered community leader. She credits much of her success to her Muslim faith, and her twofold passion for history and education. However, it took a lot of self-reflection and courage to come to this point in her life, and there is a lot more she hopes to achieve next.

“I think I’d like to be a positive role model for Muslim women, to show them that you can get to where you want with determination and grasping every opportunity that presents itself to you.”

Born in Bosnia in 1994, Kadrić arrived in Australia as an infant with her mother and father who had sought refuge from the horrors of the Bosnian War. The Srebrenica genocide that Kadrić and her family fled from is regarded by the United Nations as the “worst [conflict] on European soil since the Second World War.” While she has no recollection of the events that unfolded before her arrival in Australia, she explains that studying history has given her a greater appreciation of what her parents went through, as well as a better understanding of her own identity as a Bosnian-Muslim.

“When you’re a little kid you don’t take notice of the struggle. When people ask me [about the war], I say from memory I didn’t live through the struggle, but now that I understand everything, it was hard for my parents,” she reflects. “History has actually defined my outlook on life. If I hadn’t studied history, I don’t think I would have understood the complexity of my own identity.”

In 2016, Kadrić completed her history honours thesis at the University of Sydney. Earning first class honours, her thesis focused on how the Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina developed a distinct Bosniak identity under the leadership of Alija Izetbegovic, from the aftermath of World War Two and the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995. She explains that it was through honours that she was able to develop the research tools necessary to aid her in this journey of self-discovery.

“I started to think critically about myself and the people around me and about the world… and so when I wanted to do honours I started to ask people who were Bosnian, ‘how do you think about yourself?’ … and no one really said they were Bosnian Muslim which was interesting due to this double identity.”

Kadrić attributes this concept of a “double identity” to the categorisations of the Bosnian identity during the latter half of the twentieth century. As she describes it, the idea of being solely Bosnian did not translate in the nationalistic and global sense. For this reason, all Bosnians were often seen as Muslim. Religion could not be separated from one’s national identity, which in turn often contributed to the existing tensions experienced within the region; while outsiders often assumed Bosnian was synonymous with Muslim, some in the region found this affronting.

“Bosnians were defined as Muslims. For example, you go and meet a Bosnian and they’d be called Muslim. But the question for me was like, why can’t we just call them Bosnian and see them as Bosnians since we are from Bosnia — we are not from ‘Muslim land’. So it didn’t add up.”

Discovering this had informed her of her own double identity, and those of many other Muslims in the post-Trump age.

“I started to understand that there was a double identity at play — that I had a double identity being a Bosnian and a Muslim.You can see that today with a lot of Muslims ... I feel like more Muslims are turning away from their faith as they don’t want to associate themselves with the notion of ‘extremism.’”

However, she does not point the finger of blame at those who choose to opt out of their faith.

“I don’t blame them… because you get so sick and tired of trying to justify yourself and defend yourself. And no matter what happens in the world, it is the Muslims who have to defend their own actions and faith.”

Kadrić is now studying a Masters of Islamic Studies on a scholarship at Charles Sturt University, through the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy Australia (ISRA). Established in Sydney in 2009, ISRA is the country’s first and only Islamic research-based organisation that is affiliated with a university.

Kadrić reveals that she had planned to take a break from studying this year, but saw this as an opportunity to further explore her faith and give back to her community at the same time. After having published two of her honours seminar papers through the Chicago Journal and ISRA, she was approached by the organisation’s director, Dr. Mehmet Ozalp, to join the team as a research officer. One of the main focuses of her research looks at understanding the perceptions of Muslim identities in Australian society.

“The project that I am doing, it’s being done for Charles Sturt University by the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation (CISC)… The aim is to trace the patterns and factors that led to the transformation in Muslim youth [age 20 to 28] from struggling with their Muslim identity and place in Australian society by being labelled as unpromising youths, to becoming upstanding and contributing citizens engaged in positive action.”

Ultimately, she explains, the centre wishes to explore what is called “Muslim youth positive transformations.” The project aims to seek out ways to depart from the stereotype of Muslim youth being key targets for radicalisation — something that has never been done before.

“Muslim youth positive transformations suggests successful integration, inclusiveness, and commonality with the wider Australian population, and dismisses notions of Muslim youth as an ‘out-group’.”

Asked about how her degree and her experience with the organisation has shaped her faith, she says, “I think the knowledge that I am gaining now is a bit more personal… because we are now learning how to talk about our faith with people of other faiths and how we can talk about it in a way that they understand us… as they say, we are one in the same. We all have our differences, but it is all about trying to find that middle ground.”

Towards the end of our discussion, I ask Mirela about her goals for the future. She talks about her passion for education.

“Education gives you a sense of fulfilment,” she says, “and that is what got me here today.”

Her ultimate goal is to become an academic and teach history at a university level.

“I think tertiary education is the perfect place to inspire a new generation of students, and as interest in the arts is slowly declining, especially with government cuts, I’d like to inspire students to engage with arts and study history. Having the opportunity to study history opened up so many doors that I could never have considered, or imagined could direct me to where I am now — and hopefully, to where I want to be.”

Kadric hepburn.jpg

Art: Mirela Kadric; Check out: ‘Art by Lela’ on Facebook

A slightly embarrassing confession: before my supervisor mentioned it, the need to travel overseas to do archival work had barely occurred to me. This might sound quite surprising coming from a PhD student in a history department, but in the historical work I have previously done I’ve used sources accessible online or in widely available books – for example, UK Hansard. My current research has led me to sources that are not available by digital means, and so in September of this year I went to London to visit the National Archives of the UK and the British Library to view them.

This is my first year of postgraduate study and I am working on the intellectual history of free trade and liberalism in Britain in the early-to-mid nineteenth century. I came to this from an undergraduate major in political science, and now working in a history department has been eye-opening for me in many ways. I have been playing catch-up with stacks of classic works of history, learning to ask new questions about my subjects, and thinking carefully about the nature of the work I am doing. Learning about archival research and doing it myself has been one of the most unusual experiences of my study so far.

This was my first research trip and a relatively quick one – I had four weeks to photograph as much as I could to bring back home to study and write about here. I was working mainly in the archive of a UK government body called the Board of Trade, located at the National Archives. I found certain information about the contents of this archive online, such as the names of its different sections and documents that comprise these, but I had no indication as to what it was all going to be like physically. This uncertainty made me very thoughtful about how the materiality of research materials and processes can shape the kind of work I am able to produce. What if the documents I wanted to see were extremely lengthy or difficult to manage? I would need to spend a long time copying each one and this would necessarily limit the amount of material I could collect in the time I had. If the documents were very short and light on details, however, I might need to seriously rethink aspects of my topic and expand or change the range of sources I planned to use.

I was concerned about making sure my time in London was productive and ended up becoming a bit anxious as a result of not having a clear idea of the nature of my archive. To help sort out my concerns I made a plan that would serve in a range of scenarios, setting out a core collection of documents that I especially wanted to see, as well as a larger range of things of interest. I kept firmly in mind that this was my very first research trip and that I needed to find a balance between being ambitious and realistic.

A particular challenge was deciding how I would gather all my research materials and how to store them securely. I knew I would most likely be taking thousands of photographs and wanted to have them organised in a way that would make them easily accessible for ease of use by my future self. I went with the programme Evernote, which can be used across multiple devices and would allow me to organise my photos very neatly. I have found it an extremely useful tool for taking photos and organising materials, but I would have benefitted from some deeper investigation into how it works. My tablet’s internal memory eventually came close to full capacity and I discovered that Evernote would not work if I shifted the application to my external memory card. This seems unusual for a programme that is quite clearly designed to store things – eating up internal memory is a nuisance and something I could only “solve” by resorting to using my phone to take photos for the last few days of my trip. I was also caught out by Evernote’s upload limit, and ended up needing to pay for a premium subscription to expand my upload allowance. Despite these setbacks (extremely stressful at the time!) Evernote worked quite well and, importantly, enabled me to store my photos online as well as in my devices’ memory to greatly reduce the chance of anything being lost permanently.

Difficulties aside, it was very exciting to actually be in London and feel a sense of being in the history I am writing. The archives presented many intriguing and funny moments: unfolding huge ornate petitions from groups of silk makers, holding letters handwritten by such prominent figures as Robert Peel, reading a note from one distinguished politician to another asking to catch up for a gossip session. I enjoyed even such simple things as feeling different kinds of paper and admiring beautiful handwriting. Spending long days on my feet was not always fun, but sheer fascination with everything I looked through made it easy.

I could have visited other archives, including some outside London, on this trip, but decided to stay focused on the Board of Trade as the point of connection between many of the people I am interested in and a curious institution in its own right. After just my first week looking over these materials, I began to see many interesting associations between individuals and details of their roles in or adjacent to the Board, and to free trade debates. I realised that I will gain so much more from visiting other archives on another trip when I have a more generous amount of time to spend and a clearer idea of what precisely I would be looking at. Documents like personal correspondence will be so much more meaningful to me once I have better general knowledge of the webs of connected people and institutions in my period of interest.

This research trip was a steep learning curve for me. I got a lot of “new things” out of the way, and I know that walking into an unfamiliar archive will seem much less daunting now. Figuring out how to manage my sometimes erratic attention span is an ongoing issue, as is management of adequate coffee-and-cake breaks. I am very much looking forward to my next trip, and until then I have thousands of pages of meeting minutes to keep me occupied.



Something special at 67 Fleet Street. I found this address on a letterhead of the Anti-Corn Law League in the archives, and then went to find the actual location a few days later. One of the advantages of actually being in London!


First page of the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty, a significant trade agreement made in 1860 between Britain and France. At the National Archives, FO 93/33/68A.


Some of the beautiful handwriting I admired


Lovely afternoon at the National Archives, Kew


Swan family I saw every day at the National Archives

50,000 years of Australian History: a plea for interdisciplinarity

Professor Lynette Russell, Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Monash University
The 2nd Bicentennial Australian History Lecture, hosted by the Department of History, the University of Sydney

Lycett aborigines resting.jpg

Joseph Lycett – Aborigines Resting by a Camp Fire near the Mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle, NSW. (National Library of Australia)

How do we understand, imagine, visualise and create narratives for 50,000 years of Australian history?

As commonly presented, Australia’s past seems to consist of 230 years of European colonisation and over 50,000 years of Aboriginal culture, the former the purview of historians and the latter of archaeologists. Yet it presents striking opportunities for a truly integrated and seamless deep continental history, combining disciplines and methodologies.

Such a history would consider the full range of human experience from arrival, through changes in climate, technologies and belief systems to interactions with Maccassan, Portuguese, Dutch, French and finally the British. It would stretch across 2500 unbroken generations of people birthed, nurtured and sustained: people who modified landscapes, hunted, sang songs, practised religion and buried their dead.

This lecture argues for mixing epistemologies to create historical narratives of the deep past that may be taught in schools and universities, presented in museums and popular culture, and proudly shared by all Australians.


Professor Lynette Russell is Director of the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Monash University, and Node Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Australian Biodiverstiy and Heritage. She traces her Aboriginal ancestry via her grandmother from Western Victoria with connections into Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands; on the other side she is descended from transported convicts.

Lynette has a PhD in history from the University of Melbourne and has taught and researched in historical studies for over twenty years. In 2015 she was visiting fellow at All Souls College Oxford. Her monographs include: Hunt them, Hang Them: The Tasmanians in Port Phillip, 1841-1842 (2016); Roving Mariners: Aboriginal Whalers in the Southern Oceans 1790-1870 (2012); Appropriated Pasts: Archaeology and Indigenous People in Settler Colonies, coauthored with Ian McNiven (2005); A Little Bird Told Me (2002); and Savage Imaginings: Historical and Contemporary Representations of Australian Aboriginalities (2001). She is the current President of the Australian Historical Association.

The Bicentennial Australian History Lecture is a biennial public lecture hosted by the Department of History in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney. Distinguished historians offer engaged and critical perspectives on Australia’s past and the legacies of colonisation.

Date: Thursday 19 October, 2017
Time: 6 - 7.30pm
Please join us before the lecture for a reception in the Nicholson Museum at 5pm.
Venue: General Lecture Theatre, The Quadrangle, The University of Sydney. Venue location
Cost: Free and open to all with online registrations required
Register: here

Mckenna edge.jpegSandstone Hobbins.jpgJohnson land is our history.jpg

Many congratulations to Mark McKenna for winning the Australian History Prize for his book From the Edge: Australia's Lost Histories

And to Peter Hobbins for winning with NSW Community and Regional History Prize with Annie Clark and Ursula Frederick for Stories from the Sandstone, the book that grew out of the Quarantine Station project.

The Department also congratulates Miranda Johnson, whose The Land Is Our History was one of the three finalists for the extremely competitive General History Prize.

It's an honour for the Department to have been so well represented in the Premier's Awards this year.

Chris Hilliard
Chair, Department of History


Steph Mawson, who did her Honours and MPhil degree with the department (winning numerous prizes, the University Convocation Medal, and co-founding the student journal History in the Making), has continued her award-winning ways with two articles that she wrote up from her MPhil research.

Steph's article entitled "Convicts or Conquistadores?: Spanish Soldiers in the Seventeenth-Century Pacific,” published in the prestigious journal, Past & Present (232 [2016], pp. 87-125), won the Royal Historical Society’s (RHS) Alexander Prize.

past and present logo.png

Named for L.C. Alexander, the founding secretary of the RHS who endowed the original award, the Alexander Prize “…is awarded for an essay or article based on original historical research, by a doctoral candidate or those recently awarded their doctorate, published in a journal or an edited collection of essays.” Prize winners receive a silver medal, two hundred and fifty pounds and an invitation to submit a further article for consideration by the editors of the RHS’ in house journal Transactions.

In awarding Stephanie the prize the judges remarked:
“This ambitious and important article examines the ragtag army which colonized the Spanish East Indies during the seventeenth century. Its deep archival research reveals ordinary soldiers to have been quite unlike their stereotypical depiction as conquistadores. They were a motley collection of criminals, vagrants and fugitives, many conscripted and mostly from New Spain, who seldom shared the spoils of conquest with their commanding officers. The author at once restores agency to these historical figures and displays its narrow limits. Mutiny and desertion were among the few pathways open to the conscripted and the mistreated. Such a small, impoverished and volatile force could not be relied upon to achieve Spain’s imperial ambitions, resulting in the recruitment of increasing numbers of indigenous troops. The article offers a compelling portrait of the early modern Philippines. Its intertwining of social and military history makes it distinctive among submissions dominated by intellectual history. Its success in ‘[h]umanising and complicating the face of imperialism’ invites historians of empire to take account of the conflicting interests and motives of the colonisers and their correspondingly diverse relationships to the colonised.”

For further information, see:

If that wasn't enough, Steph also won the Dr. Robert F. Heizer Award for 2016 for another article she published in Ethnohistory, entitled “Philippine Indios in the Service of Empire: Indigenous Soldiers and Contingent Loyalty” (Vol. 63, No. 2 [2016], 381-413).

The award is given to the article that the committee believes exemplifies the best in Ethnohistorical research. The committee was impressed with the originality of the research, the strength of analysis, and the importance of its scholarly intervention.

For more on the award, please see:

Steph is now completing her PhD at Cambridge University.

Many congratulations to Steph!

It’s time to congratulate a few more of our stellar postgrads.

Michael Warren, PhD

The examiners’ reports for Michael Warren’s doctoral thesis - Unsettled Settlers: Fear and White Victimhood in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 1788 – 1838 – have just come in. In what is undeniably a crowded field, Michael’s ‘outstanding’ thesis has been praised for its originality. In the words of one examiner: ‘In breaking new ground on matters of historical and current importance, and in providing a history of some of the deepest emotions arising from the colonisation of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, [this thesis] deserves a wide audience’. Michael’s work has been deemed ‘worthy of publication’, both as a series of ‘journal articles’ or as a ‘book’. This is an extremely impressive result.

Billy Griffiths, PhD

The Department also congratulates Billy Griffiths on what his examiners agreed was a stunning PhD thesis. As Billy’s supervisor Iain McCalman notes: it’s difficult to choose from among the shower of plaudits from his examiners. Here is one of the best short summaries of Billy’s extraordinary achievement: “Deftly weaving together biography, history and literature, an immense variety of Australian landscapes and ecologies with the many and complex strands of archaeology, Griffiths brilliantly charts the history of modern Aboriginal archaeology in Australia, and how the continent’s astonishing deep time history was discovered. … it explores the ways these new understandings transformed and continue to transform national narratives and sensibilities – the remarkable shift from the ‘young’ nation, a footnote to empire, to a continent with an ancient heritage, the ‘oldest continuous culture in the world’; from a nation which for most of its modern history forgot or ignored Aboriginal people and their culture, to a country where people increasingly realise that ‘Beneath a surface veneer, the evidence of ancient Australia is everywhere’ (p.4), a pulsing presence.” The examiner concludes by suggesting that this could be ‘a landmark book’.

Rainald Roesch, MA

And warm congratulations to Rainald Roesch whose MA thesis on Queensland’s attempted annexation of New Guinea in 1883 has received high praise from both examiners. It’s encouraging to see Rainald’s years of hard work in both German and Australian archives acknowledged. As one examiner noted, 'Roesch is clearly across the relevant peaks in political and community interest in both Australia and Germany on the question of New Guinea. He makes excellent use of both English and German language sources and offers some cogent modifications to the earlier historiography, particularly the work of Tampke and Hiery. Bringing together the German and Australian material clearly enriches the historiography of both fields’. Both examiners praised the thesis for the quality of its research and writing. Rainald’s primary supervisor was Judith Keene, until Mark McKenna took over this role.

Many congratulations to all three.

Frances Clarke, Postgraduate Coordinator

In The Land Is Our History, Miranda Johnson shows how the forces of globalisation - much maligned in the current political climate - allowed previously marginalised indigenous peoples to form transnational networks of solidarity with which they asserted strong claims against national governments. This was the beginning of a powerful new ‘politics from below’. For the first time, minority indigenous groups in Australia, Canada and New Zealand successfully engaged with the legal systems of these states to insist on their distinct identities and, importantly, land rights. Rejecting policies of assimilation, indigenous activists radically challenged assumptions that the nation-state was one single and unified entity. Beginning in the 1960s, indigenous peoples established a ‘fragile truce’ with settler-states that would last for the next three decades.  Crucially, their claims carried extra weight as these nations attempted to cut ties with their British pasts, redraw their foreign policies in light of decolonisation and forge new cosmopolitan national identities.

Johnson book.jpeg miranda.jpeg

RC: The book places indigenous legal claims in this period in a global perspective, and shows how closely their success or failure was tied to global politics and anti-colonial discourses.  In the increasingly interconnected world of the 20th and 21st centuries, is it possible to separate nations from global or transnational contexts? What implications does this have for writing indigenous histories of this period?

MJ: Nationally-defined fields are still the norm in history departments and that is still how we frame many of our undergraduate classes. Of course, in the last two decades or so, transnational and global approaches to historical inquiry have been in the ascendant, so that those who work exclusively within a national framework may feel like they need to defend why they do so, which is interesting. I think few historians would write now without a sense of how the global impacts the local. Even if you frame a project within the context of a single nation-state, most historians are alert to how globalization––variously defined––impacts their study.

Indigenous history as a field plays a very interesting role in all of this. The fields of Aboriginal history and Māori history, for instance, emerged in part as a critique of settler national history. So historians involved in the construction of these fields such as Henry Reynolds here in Australia framed their projects in terms of the nation, but as a critique of the costs borne by Indigenous peoples in the making of that nation. They were critical nationalists. The effectiveness of the field of Aboriginal history in leveling this critique can be seen for instance in the infamous History Wars of the late 1990s and then in the development of another approach, that of settler colonial studies.

In the last few years, a new kind of critique has emerged, influenced by the work of historians arguing for transnational, trans-imperial, trans-regional approaches, which is that the frameworks of the nation-state really delimits, even conceals, Indigenous peoples’ agency. In response, some scholars are arguing for a focus on the mobility of Indigenous peoples both within nation-states and across them. This critique arises from different political circumstances, as a response to the effects of the legal claiming that I talk about in my book. As we well know in Australia, “native title” which, it was hoped in the early 1990s, would revolutionize Aboriginal peoples’ place and status has in fact led to new forms of inequality and constraint. In representational terms, there’s a lot of concern that the process of claiming native title has actually further intensified the operation of an “oppressive authenticity,” as Jeff Sissons calls it, in which Indigenous peoples are fixed in time and space. So, the argument for tracing Indigenous peoples’ mobility is in part I think a response to this distinctive legal process and political moment in settler states such as Australia, as well as broader trends in the historical discipline. As you can see, I am interested in the transnational, the global and the national. I think all these frameworks are important in thinking about the twentieth-century histories of Indigenous peoples.

Activists in these decades forced courts to accept indigenous testimony and to incorporate indigenous practices and oral traditions into western legal systems. Does indigenous engagement with the settler-state legitimise it? Is it possible to resist the state without engaging with it? 

Engagement with the state, or refusal of the state’s power, are two poles of Indigenous politics. These might be more significant than conventional distinctions between “Left” or “Right” politics that are used to define majoritarian politics in liberal settler democracies. Yes, to be a claimant in a settler court means that to some extent you are legitimizing state sovereignty, the state’s power to offer limited justice, to redistribute property, to mediate disputes. At the same time, I think for a lot of Indigenous claimants it’s certainly the case that while one might recognize the authority and the power of the state to make decisions about one’s future that this doesn’t mean you think that the state is morally legitimate. So a large part of what was at stake in the cases I talk about in my book was demonstrating this gap between law and justice, showing up the immorality of prior legal rulings and policy-making, to force a change. Of course, some Indigenous people would say that to engage at any level with state processes is to cede a degree of sovereignty and so they refuse to do so.

At the end of the book you suggest that the ‘fragile truce’ struck between indigenous polities and settler states has come undone in the face of neoliberal reforms that limit the commitment of governments to equality and social justice. Is there an implicit narrative of progress in many activist histories? What are the implications of this?

The Indigenous rights claims that I talk about in my book came to national attention in a period of heightened awareness of racial discrimination, of anti-colonialism, civil rights protests and so on. Aboriginal rights became a progressive cause in this context––the 1967 referendum was, for the majority of the population in Australia, an issue of equality and social justice. But Indigenous rights struggles were about more than equality; they were claims to the state for recognition of the distinct sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, often based in land rights. So they always troubled a progressive consciousness for it was never going to be enough to simply establish rights to equality; Indigenous peoples wanted something more than that. I think this claim is not very legible to settlers and yet at some level it registers and troubles them.

This trouble came more out into the open in the 1990s, post-Mabo, in Australia, and as claims to the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand increased in number and extent in the same period. Many white settlers began to feel that their rights to land, and their sense of identity and belonging, was under threat. At the same time, the old social contract was being pulled apart, as you say, through radical neoliberal reforms. Suddenly, I think it seemed to a lot of white settlers that Indigenous peoples were getting things that were being taken away from them, whites. So this particular and complex set of changing political conditions were what I was trying to allude to in saying that the “fragile truce” was undone during the late 1990s/early 2000s. And I think this breakdown of the brief consensus around the importance of recognizing Indigenous rights was really disheartening for many Indigenous activists and leaders, even if they also expected it. In the sense that in order to fight for change, you need to believe that change is possible, then certainly activist consciousness is progressive (or even radical in some instances); but I think for many Indigenous activists there is a critical awareness of the specific constraints and limits of how far one can get in a settler majority democracy.

Since the 1990s, the politics surrounding indigenous history in Australia have been intense and divisive. What are the challenges of writing indigenous histories in this climate? Does it affect the kinds of histories that are told? What attitudes do students bring to the study of indigenous history?

I see a lot of students come into my classroom who think that Indigenous issues are important but they don’t know why. As I’ve been briefly alluding to, the issues are incredibly complex and we don’t have a “go to” shared language for talking about these politics. So I feel like I need to teach a new language to the overwhelmingly non-Indigenous students I have, one that will take them beyond the guilt or shame or denial that still characterizes public debate about Indigenous issues in this country. This is one of the major challenges for writing or teaching Indigenous history here in Australia, establishing a useful, critical language for thinking and talking about the distinctiveness of Indigenous-settler state politics. Studying Indigenous history is hard, it is challenging intellectually, ethically, politically.

The (at times) thorny question of agency is crucial to histories from below. You describe The Land is Our History as ‘a rare story about the disempowered changing the status quo’, yet you never diminish the ability of powerful state institutions to affect indigenous lives.  Can an overemphasis on agency run the risk of obscuring the determining role these powerful forces can play?

Great question! In fact, this is the question I was wrestling with in writing this book; how far can I take the story of agency? Is structural oppression of settler colonialism really the true story? As you point out, I try to have it both ways because this is the reality that I perceive and that I have drawn out of the archives I used for this project. The story of a struggle, which this book is, is necessarily a dialectical one.

You argue in the book that for a variety of reasons - including shifting global political paradigms - there was a reversal of the 'relations of power' between indigenous peoples and settler-states in the 1960s and 70s.  As the modern neoliberal era is threatened by a new politics that promises a reclamation of national sovereignty, do you see opportunities for the creation of a new truce between indigenous peoples and states? What do relations of power between these two groups look like in 2017?

It really depends which Indigenous people you’re talking about and where. I think one of the things that is really different about 2017 from, say, 1967, is that there is now a recognition on the part of the state of a plurality of Indigenous representatives, political communities, voices (even if this is not necessarily well-represented in mainstream media). So there are multiple forms of relation, opportunities for compromise, negotiation etc. There is also a marked difference between and among Indigenous nations in terms of socio-economic wellbeing and so on. It’s hard to tell a single story about advantage or disadvantage because the reality is so complex. And yet, you have a fascinating and important story of unification in the making of the Uluru Statement recently. How that came about, and what it’s effects politically will be, is yet to be told.

What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started working on the book? 

That the hard part of bringing a major project to completion is the psychological game, the kind of faith that you have to maintain in order to get there but which, after many years, is often wavering because you think that what you’re saying is so obvious.

The Land Is Our History is published by Oxford University Press. Order it here

29 Jul


Established by the History Department, USYD First Gen aims to celebrate the skills and perspectives that first generation students bring to academia and beyond.

Our objectives include:
1. Providing support to students in the transition from high school to university through initiatives
such as sharing social and academic resources among members on campus and online;
2. Fostering a community amongst First Gen students who share common experiences; and
3. Providing the First Gen community at USYD an inclusive platform where they can express
themselves and embrace their identity as First Gen students

A First Generation student is a student who is the first in their family to attend university; whose parents or guardians who have not completed tertiary study, or an equivalent qualification abroad. We also acknowledge students whose older siblings have gone to university, as well as staff and graduates.

To find out more about us and receive updates, visit our Facebook page: USYD First Gen

Or, send us an email:

A few days ago I spoke at the annual conference for the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean. The University of Ghent was this year’s host, and the medieval trading city was a perfect setting for a group of medievalists.

A view of St Nicholas' Church in Ghent, taken just around the corner from our conference HQ.

It was a wonderfully diverse set of attendees (Austria, Beligum, Canada, Cyprus, Czechia, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States … and Australia). The diversity was matched in the presentations, with sessions ranging from the Cairo Geniza to religious minorities in medieval Iberia, Islamic and Christian accounts of the crusades to the circulation of intellectual culture across Mediterranean communities. It was inspiring to see this idea of a ‘the medieval’ decentered.

Professor Marina Rustow (University of Princeton) and Professor Nikolas Jaspert (University of Heidelberg) both gave keynotes. Of course, I delivered my paper but I was not the only person from the University of Sydney to do so. Dr Jan Shaw (from the Department of English) spoke as did the Department of History’s own Dr Hélène Sirantoine.

During one of the lunch breaks, I chatted with Hélène about where conferences sit in a historian’s work, what advice she had for those new to the experience, and why medieval Spain (her field of research and teaching … with a unit this coming semester) is important to medievalists and historians more broadly.

First up, what’s your conference paper on?

My paper was entitled ‘The Emperor and his Muslims: Andalusí identity through Christian eyes under the reign of Alfonso VII (1126-1157)’.

Where do conference papers sit within a historian’s work? How do you find them most useful?

Well, a conference paper can sit at various points of the historian’s work timeline. It can be the occasion to pitch a new research project and feel how the audience reacts to it. It is also the moment when one will make contacts with other scholars in the field, and maybe create fruitful collaborations. However, in most cases, a conference paper will be the opportunity to divulge the results of an ongoing or almost finished project. In a way, it is a sort of declaration to the academic world: ‘Look, this is what I’ve been doing in the past months/years. Be prepared to read my next article/monograph!’. And the deadline set by an upcoming conference also works, for many of us, as an incentive to finally write down what we would have otherwise left lingering in the limbo of procrastination.

Just before you were here you were at Leeds International Medieval Congress, which is one of the larger medievalist conferences. I was watching the #IMC2017 feed on Twitter and it is almost like a festival for medievalists as well. How does a big conference like that compare to something more focused? What are the benefits but also challenges?

The Leeds IMC is indeed one of the annual grand-messes of medievalists worldwide, with a paper programme so heavy that it can easily jeopardize one’s luggage allowance on the way back home! This year, I heard that there were about 2400 of us, and the number of parallel sessions was so large that the organising committee had to request one more building than usual to accommodate us all. I recall very well how intimidated I was the first time I attended the IMC a few years ago. But you have to keep in mind that such events are primarily designed for scholars to network, so the more of us there are, the more connected we get!

In that sense, the Leeds IMC is hardly comparable to a more human-size conference, whose purpose will generally be to discuss a particular topic in deptH. At those conferences, both participants and attendees are expecting scientific results above all. There are no book fairs or medieval reenactments, but many new ideas at the end of the day.

What things should a postgraduate consider when choosing a conference?

Sometimes, the conference chooses you! It is not rare to receive a CFP (call for papers) that matches one’s doctoral project. It is then a good opportunity to make a name for yourself among the community of scholars in your field. In any event, before sending a paper proposal, I believe that a PG student should always consider how the conference will fit into his/her agenda. If it is leading you too far from the immediate demands of the dissertation, then make sure that it won’t put you in a delicate situation in terms of timing. Ideally, the closer you get to your submission deadline, the more you should prioritise papers that will directly feed your dissertation.

I find sticking to a twenty-minute limit a real challenge. We hold our topics close to our heart and spend a lot of time researching the field, so it can be tough. How do you deal with this challenge?

Ah… Quite badly in fact! I generally write an over-large first draft of my papers, and then spend the days and hours before it is my time to speak shortening my whole argument (with a huge dose of frustration generated in the process). But then I remember that: (1) it was not a waste of time, as I will use my over-detailed draft for a later publication; (2) my audience was probably very thankful that I did not enter into too much detail that would have made my paper hard to follow. A conference paper is a subtle exercise of communication, so a short but well organised argument will convey your point in the most efficient manner.

What is the most defining characteristic that sets a conference paper apart from other scholarly ‘outputs’, such as an essay or article?

Again, a conference paper is an oral performance, during which footnotes and lengthy sentences will not help you make your point. At the utmost, projected slides, if they are well done, will assist. Besides, we do not read in the same way that we listen. Have you ever heard someone reading out loud something that was clearly meant as a written piece of rhetoric? It is a very painful experience!

Medieval Spain is your specialisation and you’re about to teach an undergraduate unit, ‘Reconquest: A History of Medieval Spain’. What does this particular history of medieval Spain offer the the discipline more broadly? Why is it important/intriguing, not just to Iberianists, but historians generally? Has scholarship on intercultural relations in medieval Spain offered methodologies and frameworks for other histories of intercultural/interfaith relations?

The main theme of the Leeds IMC this year was ‘Otherness’, and the conference you and I attended in Ghent dealt with ‘Emotions, imaginations, and communities in the medieval Mediterranean’. In both cases, the medieval Iberian Peninsula represents a particularly rich domain of investigation, with its multi-faith and multi-linguistic communities. It is actually quite interesting to observe that, decades ago, the Iberian Peninsula was for most medievalists a periphery of Christendom and a guarantee of exoticism. Nowadays, it is rather considered a centre of interculturality and a case study to measure changes in historiographical practices. This is partly what I aim to convey to students in my course on medieval Spain. It is actually called ‘Reconquest? A History of Medieval Spain’. The question mark is very important, as the notion of Reconquest is highly problematic, though commonly used. After all, it expresses none other than a Christian point of view that makes the Islamic history of Spain a deplorable parenthesis. In the unit, we study the origins of that notion of ‘Reconquest’, and how it was a construct of Spanish nineteenth-century national-catholicism. We also examine the tensions that the debates surrounding the notion generated all through the twentieth century, and the social and academic anxieties that its use still reveals today.

What project are you working on at the moment?

When I first started to investigate the history of the past in my Honours year, I wanted to work on the relationship between Christendom and Islam through the specific prism of multicultural Spain. My PhD dissertation then led me quite far from this project, and I wish now to make it the centre of my attention, with research focused on perceptions of the Islamic world by Christians Spaniards. By examining how the Islamic world was depicted, named, and utilised in Christian Spanish documents of the early to high Middle Ages (9th-13th c.), the idea is to decentre traditional approaches to the field, which have privileged religious perspectives at the expense of polities, geopolitics, and history. The paper I presented in Ghent was directly linked to this project.

About the Blog

A space for history majors, professionals, citizen-historians and the community to exchange ideas and build new histories.

Aboriginal History


NGO/Public Groups


Holy Cross College, Ryde

Cammeraygal High School

O'Connell Public School

Compass Compass supports students to reach and succeed in higher education.