Public Humanities Initiative

The Humanities have always been fundamental to understanding and addressing societal problems. The Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative (MPHI) has been established to ensure that the Humanities are available to all, using specialist knowledge to serve the public through formal and informal educational opportunities.

The Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative will bring people together to spark imagination and debate about ethics, empathy, trust, meaning and value in our society.  It will create opportunities for thought, conversation and training with the aim of transforming communities, organisations, business and government, providing inventive and applicable solutions for navigating our complex world.

A new public square

Military conflict, climate change, and political unrest have inflamed hatred, destroyed culture and driven many from their homes. Economic instability and COVID-19 have widened the gap between rich and poor. Social media and rapid news cycles continue to fan the flames of discontent, reducing civic debate to personal disputes and soundbites.

Solutions for these crises need to be informed by understanding of what it means to be human and humane. We need to work together to promote conversation across differences, cultural diversity and our common humanity in an increasingly divided world. We need to build bridges to futures that are less conflictual. The Humanities offer a place for these endeavours.

The Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative will be a new place for applying specialist knowledge and approaches to a world tackling this crisis of humanity.

Training in transferable interpersonal and leadership skills, critical and communicative capacity and lateral and ethical thinking are recognised as keys to success across many sectors including Commerce, Design, Law and Medicine. The MPHI will be a place where these skills are fostered and disseminated. It will ensure Humanities approaches and skills are applied practically to address real-world problems with direct benefit to government and industry.

Humanities at large in the world

The Melbourne Public Humanities Institute will create an open and intellectually rigorous space for thinking, dialogue and training that matter to all sectors of society. Programs of engagement and advocacy will:

Thousands of people covered in colours at Holi

Make meaning in the public square

We will work in partnership with external organisations to create programs that promote discovery and conversation as they respond to inquiring minds.

Inspire business, professions and government

We will address questions of trust, ethics, value and meaning in the workplace, building capability through transferable interpersonal and leadership skills and critical, creative and ethical thinking.

Prepare students for public good

We will equip students with the communication skills, curiosity, career-readiness and support they need to effect positive change in society.

Foster creative and responsive research

We will focus on projects that create impact and public value, positioning the University, public and partners as co-investigators of social problems.

Preparing for public launch in 2024

The search for the inaugural Creative Director of the Melbourne Public Humanities Institute is underway. The Creative Director will work with academics, professionals, partners and philanthropists to promote public interest in the Humanities and innovative platforms and programs for the communities we serve.

Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative will leverage the resources and reputation of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, with the support of the wider University community. Dean of the Faculty of Arts Professor Russell Goulbourne is thrilled that the University is taking steps to make the Humanities better understood and ensure they make a difference in the world.

"Humanities disciplines and knowledges have always been crucial to helping us navigate complex problems and situations. I am thrilled that the Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative will enable us to ensure these specialist knowledges inspire transformative conversations in the broadest range of communities and bring about lasting, practical changes in society." Dean of the Faculty of Arts Professor Russell Goulbourne

Public partnership, purpose and understanding

Partnership will be crucial to the Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative and will involve major public institutions, community and professional organisations, businesses, NGOs, government and creatives.  These groups will come together with scholars, students, thinkers, artists and writers to make sense and meaning out of the challenges we face and inspire hope and action towards a better world.

A Chair in Public Understanding of Humanities will also be an important appointment to MPHI. To that end, the Faculty of Arts welcomed Professor Sarah Churchwell, Chair in the Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London, to Melbourne in May 2023. Churchwell appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A on May 1 2023, at a Dean’s Forum in the Faculty of Arts and at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

A passionate advocate for Public Humanities, Prof Churchwell is also the founder of Being Human, the UK’s major festival of the Humanities, with which the Faculty of Arts has collaborated since 2018. Churchwell looks forward to collaborating with the Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative.

The humanities are where we locate our own lives, our own meanings; they embrace thinking, curiosity, creation, psychology, emotion. The humanities teach us not only what art is for, but what life might be for, what this strange existence might mean. What kind of humans would think that the humanities don't matter?

— Professor Sarah Churchwell


The Faculty of Arts works with some of Melbourne’s key public institutions and community organisations. These include:

logo: Guardian Australia
logo: Melbourne International Film Festival
logo; National Gallery of Victoria
logo: Scope
logo: Brotherhood of St Laurence
logo: State Library Victoria
logo: Melbourne Writers Festival
Schwarz Media

Melbourne Writers Festival, State Library Victoria, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Scope Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne International Film Festival, Schwarz Media, Guardian Australia

Cross-disciplinary and cross-University expertise

The Faculty of Arts also draws on cross-disciplinary and cross-University expertise from:

Centre for Advancing Journalism, Contemplative Studies Centre, Melbourne Social Equity Institute, Initiative for Peacebuilding, Enlightenment Romanticism Contemporary Culture Unit, Australian Centre, Grimwade Centre

Our public programs

The Faculty of Arts has a proud history of public programming. Visit Community Education to explore what we already do, what’s coming up and to sign up to our mailing lists.

Investing in a humane future 

The Melbourne Public Humanities Initiative was generously launched with the support of donations from Jeanne Pratt AC and Peter Jopling AM KC. The Melbourne Humanities Foundation is also backing the Initiative and seeks further donations that match its commitment to student support and development, public value and partnership, the creation of broad learning platforms and investment in research and training.

For more information about the role philanthropy plans in public humanities

Find out more about scholarships and prizes that keep the humanities accessible

Learn more about scholarships and prizes