I completed my PhD in 2013 at Flinders University, which focussed on Australian soldiers’ letters and diaries during the South African and Vietnam Wars. While I was still a postgraduate, I taught casually in the Department of History and served as Associate Lecturer at the Student Learning Centre at Flinders University, and after my move from Adelaide to Melbourne, I have continued to teach both history and academic skills. I currently teach at the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University, and have done so since 2012.
1. Describe your PhD research.
My PhD examines the experiences and attitudes of Australian soldiers in the South African and Vietnam Wars, two similar wars where both our reasons for involvement and opposition are concerned. My dissertation investigates their letters and diaries written from enlistment to their return back to Australia, and compares what they wrote in terms of changes in both Australian society and its military in the years between the wars.
2. Why does it matter?
The effects of the home front on both war itself and the soldier experience have always been an important consideration in warfare, but technological and societal changes over the first half of the twentieth century had a particularly transformative effect on soldiers’ attitudes while at war. One of my major findings was that those writing home from South Africa were often more candid about any negative feelings towards the conflict, whereas men in Vietnam employed self-censorship to a larger degree, expressing any desire to return home in terms of the loved ones they had left behind, with few direct statements indicating any specific attitude towards the war itself. These findings tell us both about the soldiers themselves, as well as the tremendous impact of home on them, an area that needs further investigation, particularly in Australian military history.
3. What are you researching now or intending to do next?
Right now I’m investigating a little more closely cases of war trauma from the South African War, as this area has been little-explored in past histories of the conflict. These first appeared in my published dissertation Australian Soldiers in South Africa and Vietnam: Words from the Battlefield, which was published by Bloomsbury Academic last year and is out in paperback in September of this year.
My next project is a closer examination of individualism in the military forces. This particularly focusses on the changes in emphasis on individualism versus collectivism by the military throughout the twentieth century, and particularly if and how the shifts in levels of individuality in Australian society affected how soldiers responded to military collectivism during this period.
4. What do you love about being an historian?
Although I enjoy the writing process, there is nothing better than sitting in an archival repository anywhere in the world and reading words written by men and women during time periods that I’d love to visit – even just for a little while – but I will get to that below. I remember once hearing Professor Jay Winter speak at the University of Adelaide some years ago, and saying that we do not become historians because we wish for financial success, but because we truly love it. I think his statement describes well how I feel about most aspects of being a historian.
5. What’s the one aspect you find most challenging about being an ECR?
We’re sadly living in a time where history is not as valued by political authorities as it was in previous decades, which has created a lot of job uncertainty for many of us. I am lucky, as I have worked at the same universities for some years now, but these are still casual contracts so I am constantly aware of the precariousness of my position. I think it’s necessary for many of us to change our expectations of our future employment, and this is probably one of the hardest things to come to terms with as an ECR – that perhaps we won’t get that position we have always expected, but will have to find work elsewhere, but still continue to keep researching in our spare time.
6. What do you find most exciting about being an ECR?
Meeting other historians, whether in my own specific field or in others. I find that establishing and continuing regular contact with other academics is essential to my own productivity. I’ve been lucky enough to join the AHA Melbourne Writing Cluster, which aims at both ECRs and others who have lost contact with their home departments for any reason, and gives them a place to receive feedback from other academics on papers they would like to have published.
7. If you could go back to any historical period, where would you go and why?
Believe it or not, I have thought about this at length, but can’t decide between two periods in particular.
The first is East Berlin on 9 November 1989, when masses of people began rushing to the Wall to try to get into the West. I always play a video from this night every time I teach about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I always get a bit misty-eyed during it.
The second relates closely to myself as a Greek-Australian with a strong connection to family overseas – I’d love to visit Greece in the immediate post-Civil War period, from about 1950 onwards. My grandfather came to Australia shortly after the Greek Civil War, as his brother died during the war and he was experiencing trouble finding work as a communist. I’d love to experience that atmosphere first-hand so I can understand my grandparents’ personal histories a little better.