“For as long as I have been interested in history, I have been fascinated by the person of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The first likeness of the Kaiser I can recall seeing – and one which appealed to my other hobby, cartooning – was Sir John Tenniel’s “Dropping the Pilot”, reproduced faithfully in Modern Times, an old (and heavily defaced) textbook belonging to my mother.”
I remember debating whether or not to begin my BA Honours thesis in such a fashion – personal, reflective, using the dreaded ‘I’ – before deciding ‘Ah, what the hell – I’m being honest’. And it’s true, that book, Modern Times, is in many ways the whole basis for my chosen profession, and for the direction in which I have gone. Focused on ‘modern’ history, defined as ‘The French Revolution to the Present’, Carlton J. H. Hayes and Margareta Faissler put together a terrific textbook for the Mainstreams of Civilization series published by Macmillan, in London, but also by its US and Canadian counterparts Collier-Macmillan, for distribution in North America.
I remember during my early teens (c.1990-1995) reading and re-reading Modern Times from cover to cover; skipping ahead to my favourite chapters (‘The Conservative Restoration’ and ‘Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary, 1871-1914’); and tracing the maps, 35 of them in-all, and all lovingly-rendered in black and white, shades of grey, and an odd shade of camel/brown. After ten-or-so pages of lucid, straightforward text, there were sections on ‘Persons and Terms’, key words and concepts to remember, like ‘William II’, or Kulturkampf; study questions ‘To Master the Text’, ‘To Interpret the Facts’, and ‘To Put this Chapter in a Larger Setting’.
The interplay between illustrations and the main text is still, I think, unsurpassed in similar books, and writers of academic monographs would do well to learn from the example of Modern Times. The cartoons made sense in context; so too did the woodcuts and photographs of everyone from Disraeli to Marx. About the only thing missing was much about ‘The World Outside Europe’ (the title of a chapter, pp.413-427).
I still have mum’s copy on my shelves at work, and refer to it often; with her ever-so-precise name ‘Gillian Cain’ written on the front page, and her hilarious doodlings of King Louis Philippe on p.140 (‘Gill Cain, yu should be studyen, yu moron!’; ‘OK, Punk – are you de dirty brudda who killed my rat?’, etc…).
 Richard Scully, ‘Punch and the Kaiser: Complexity and Continuity in Cartoons of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888-1914’, unpublished BA (Hons) thesis, Monash University, 2003, p.2.
Richard Scully, Associate Professor of Modern European History, University of New England. Born in Melbourne and educated at Xavier College (1991-98), Richard discovered an early passion for History (and Doctor Who, before it was cool). He studied at Monash University (1999-2003), where he was awarded the Ian Turner Memorial Prize for his BA (Honours) thesis (2003) and the J. D. Legge Prize for the best overall result in fourth-year History (graduated 2004). While studying for his PhD (awarded 2008), Richard worked as a sessional tutor, Associate Lecturer, and Lecturer, in History and International Studies. He came to the UNE at the beginning of 2009 as Lecturer in Modern European History, pursuing his interests in teaching the 1789-2000 period, and his main areas of research interest (the cultural history of Anglo-German relations; the Great War; and the political cartoon). In 2012, Richard was awarded a DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) by the Australian Research Council, to explore the global history of political cartoons (funding for 2013-2015 inclusive). In 2014, Richard was Visiting Scholar at the Flinders University of South Australia, and was also accepted as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge.
My name is Claire Wright, I am an economic historian, and I have recently completed my PhD at the University of Wollongong. I am currently a casual academic at UOW, the biggest component of which is co-coordinating a first-year history course. My new position – as salaried researcher on an ARC Linkage Grant looking at the natural history trade – kicks off very soon.
1. Describe your PhD research.
My PhD research examines the development of Australia’s economic history field in the post-WWII decades, focussing on the way in which social relationships and institutional developments affected ideas in the field. I mapped geographic proximity and collaboration amongst scholars using social network analysis (SNA), using this alongside a range of other historical methods to look at the degree to which ideas reflected social or geographic groupings.
I argued that as members of an interdisciplinary field, the Australian economic historians engaged in a continual process of negotiation amongst themselves, and between the ‘parent’ disciplines of economics and history. Over time, the approach to economic history in Australia drifted more towards the economics discipline, largely because scholars were located in economics or business faculties, they tended to collaborate more with economists, and the interests of the history discipline moved away from economics and towards cultural matters. Having said that, the approach to economic history was localised a lot of the time, with unique ‘brands’ of economic history in different cities.
2. Why does it matter?
My research focusses on context in intellectual communities, highlighting the way in which local environments affect the research questions scholars ask, and the answers they find. This is important for contemporary intellectuals (that means you!), and higher education organisations. For instance, if we want to produce new ideas or innovative research, my research suggests that shaking up the local environment will help. This is particularly important for interdisciplinary fields like economic history, because although interdisciplinary research is really hot right now (some even go so far as to say it will save the world!) no one really knows how to encourage it properly within organisations. My research makes some suggestions as to how we can do a bit better in this space.
3. What are you researching now or intending to do next?
I have just received my examiners’ reports back, so my first job is to complete a few revisions and think about a book proposal. I am also working on pilots for two new projects in economic history. The first examines the global wool trade. Some collaborators and I have compiled a great dataset that lists the firms engaged in the wool trade, the cities they operated in, and the functions in the supply chain they performed. We have these data for a series of snapshots throughout the twentieth century. From this, we can use geographic information systems (GIS) methods to show the movement of wool from growing, to processing, to consuming nations, based on the location of woolbroking firms. This highlights the complex and global nature of the wool trade, the long arm of colonialism, and the interdependence of the global economy over time.
The second project examines interlocking directorates in large Australian corporations over the twentieth century. Company directors of course exert considerable influence over the operation and strategy of firms. Though they are ostensibly a source of objective decision-making, the involvement of non-executive directors across different firms may be beneficial through knowledge sharing and the mitigation of risk, or detrimental through collusion and the concentration of capital with elites. The project uses SNA to look at connections between individuals based on whether they sat on the boards of the same companies, and between firms if they shared common board members. This will (hopefully) contribute to a greater understanding of how Australian business has operated over the long run, and the role of elites in Australian business and society.
4. What do you love about being an historian?
The first aspect I love is common to all forms of research: the process of discovery. By definition, what we do is find new stuff or interpret things in a new way. I think this is very exciting! When you find a new archive, new data, or a new application of a particular method, you are theoretically one of only a very small group who could contribute that piece of knowledge. Alongside this, I enjoy communicating the results of my research. Presentations, articles, blogs, teaching, and discussions (I am a riot at parties, as you can imagine), are all great ways of getting other people excited about the cool stuff I find.
As an economic historian, I also enjoy being interdisciplinary. I think combining ideas from different places is important for developing new knowledge, and it is also important to then communicate these ideas back to ‘parent’ disciplines. Sitting on the border of economics and history, I hope I can change them just a little by highlighting the value of other paradigms. For my economics students, for instance, I blow their minds by showing them how the 2008 Global Financial Crisis had pretty much the same patterns as financial crises over the last millennia. Fostering enthusiasm for contributions outside the disciplinary silo is something I am very passionate about.
5. What’s the one aspect you find most challenging about being an ECR?
I will echo my fellow ECR contributors and say that it is the uncertainty. Plenty of opportunities have come my way, but not knowing exactly what I will be doing, or where I will be, in the next month or 6 months is a difficult thing to get used to. Being an interdisciplinary scholar is also pretty risky – it remains to be seen whether this expands my opportunities, or means that I am un-appointable in both economics and history.
I am optimistic about my future as an academic, but I do have a small ball of anxiety that what I have achieved is not enough to ‘make it’ in the industry.
I am trying to make this uncertainty work for me. The freedom that comes from finishing a PhD means I can pursue a number of different things at once. I am attempting to be strategic, by taking opportunities that contribute to new skills or responsibilities, and that will ultimately make me a more competitive hire. But this privilege may not always be open to me, which is a worry.
6. What do you find most exciting about being an ECR?
The upside of uncertainty is that you are no longer bound by one project (freedom!). Beginning new projects, and pursuing different opportunities, has been exciting and has reinvigorated my mind.
7. If you could go back to any historical period, where would you go and why?
I think I would like to experience the Republic of Venice in the high middle ages. There was a ‘buzz’ in the air at this time – Venice’s prominence in trade contributed to a cosmopolitan community, an obscene amount of wealth, patronage for art and architecture, and unprecedented financial innovation. I would be very cool to go and hang out there and talk to people.
In this month’s How To Series, ABC’s Michael Cathcart shares the golden rules of giving an engaging radio interview. He takes us through the process of landing a radio slot to the ways historians can enthrall their audience by having a bold narrative, being enthusiastic and above all sharing a love of history!
To get us all ready for a week of thinking and breathing history at the Australian Historical Association Conference, we have a Q&A with Stuart Macintyre, Emeritus Laureate Professor of the University and Professorial Fellow of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. In this thought provoking piece, he talks about the changes that have occurred in academic history, reflects on the way historians’ choice of subjects are made both by interest and opportunity, and discusses the never ceasing thrill of opening an archive file at the beginning of a day of research. Stuart will be one of the panellists on our Early Career Researcher Round-table, ‘The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow: Writing a winning grant application’, so come along and hear more of his fantastic advice for ECRs – all welcome!
We’ve all experienced that lightning-bolt moment when we read something that inspires us to see the past in new ways, or propels us on a whole new intellectual trajectory. In our new series, The Book That Changed My Life, historians discuss a piece of writing, large or small, fiction or non-fiction, that has shaped the way they approach their craft. This month Zora Simic reflects on her love of history articles, and considers two in particular, that have changed the way she sees the world.
Phillipa McGuinness, Executive Publisher at NewSouth Publishing, kicks off our brand new How To Series with some fantastic tips on what and what not to do when writing a book proposal. Here she explains what will catch the eye of a publisher, reminds us to read widely (good writers are good readers!) and encourages historians to be imaginative and bold.
1. Describe your PhD research. Continue reading