A History of the University of Melbourne’s History program
The study of history has been part of the curriculum of this University since it began teaching in 1854. Under Sir Ernest Scott, Professor of History from 1913 to 1936, the History Department pioneered teaching and research in Australian history. His successor, Professor Max Crawford, made this the most influential department of History in the country, and former staff members such as Manning Clark, Hugh Stretton, Geoffrey Blainey, Margaret Kiddle, Lloyd Robson, Geoffrey Serle and others have left a lasting impact on our understanding of the Australian past. Since 1960 the History program has expanded its expertise in European, Asian, Middle Eastern and American history and in new approaches to the past, such as feminist history.
In 1940 the History Department launched the journal Historical Studies: fifty years later it remains the leading historical journal in Australia under the title Australian Historical Studies. Undergraduate and graduate students began the Melbourne Historical Journal and still sustain it. The History program also publishes several successful series of historical publications (for more information please see the Academic journals web page).
In January 2007, the Department of History joined Classics and Archaeology, the Australian Centre, The Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and The Program in Jewish Culture and Society to form the School of Historical Studies, bringing with it increased opportunity for cross-disciplinary engagement. It has the largest honours school (usually with about 70 enrolments) and graduate school in Australia (there are around 160 candidates doing Masters and PhDs), helping us to sustain a lively research activity in a wide variety of fields.
In 2011 the programs of Philosophy and History and Philosophy of Science joined the existing programs of Classics and Archaeology, Conservation, History and Jewish Studies and Hebrew to form The School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. The Australian Centre moved to the School of Culture and Communication in the new organisational structure.
Notable Historians of the University of Melbourne
William Edward Hearn (1826-1888)
After a brilliant degree from Trinity College, Dublin, W.E. Hearn was appointed as one of the original four professors at the University of Melbourne in 1854. The breadth of his scholarship is indicated by his chair initially encompassing history, literature, political economy and logic. His duties were subsequently concentrated in history and political economy, but he also taught classics and in 1873 he became foundation Dean of Law. Hearn was an entertaining and inspiring lecturer; politically he was a conservative free trader. This combination left many of his students torn between his powers of persuasion and their inclination towards protection and the more radical politics which were the spirit of the time. In 1878 he was elected to the legislative Council and resigned from the university.
John Simeon Elkington (1841-1922)
John Simeon Elkington was appointed to the Chair of History and Political Economy in 1879. He was a graduate of this University, and the first Australian to hold a university chair in any discipline. Geoffrey Blainey has described him as ‘genial, an acute examiner and an excellent judge of character’ but not an active scholar. He resigned in 1913 after a long series of conflicts with University authorities.
Ernest Scott (1867-1939)
Ernest Scott was professor of History at the University of Melbourne from 1913 to 1936. Born outside wedlock, raised by his grandparents and enjoying no higher education, he worked as a journalist for twenty years. As a young Fabian and Theosophist, he married the daughter of Annie Besant and migrated to Melbourne in 1892. His books on Australian exploration history made Scott into a professional among amateurs and antiquarians. He inspired his students to do archival research and to ask critical questions of popular historical mythologies. A generation of young Australians learned about the country’s past from his notable Short History of Australia (1916).
Jessie Webb (1880-1944)
Jessie Webb graduated from this University BA (1902) and MA (1904). She joined the History Department staff in 1908 and was promoted to the position of senior lecturer in 1923, which was as far as women academics were able to progress at that time. However, she was acting professor on three occasions in the absence of the professor. She developed a renowned reputation for her teaching, which was mainly in the area of ancient (especially Greek) history. She died while acting Professor in 1944. The History Department library is named in her honour; between the windows is the ‘Dancing Girl’ bought by subscription after her death.
Kathleen Elizabeth Fitzpatrick (1905-1990)
Kathleen Fitzpatrick née Pitt: elegant, reserved, formidably intelligent, addicted to Henry James. Kathleen Pitt was educated at Presentation Convent and Lauriston Girls School, then the University of Melbourne and Oxford University. At the University of Melbourne 1937-1963, she was sequentially Tutor in English, Senior Lecturer in History 1942, then Associate professor from 1948. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws 1983. Her calm exterior protected a passionate scholar and Labor supporter with a gift for friendship. Her publications included Sir John Franklin in Tasmania, 1837-1843; Martin Boyd; P.L.C. Melbourne: the first century, 1875-1975; and Solid Bluestone Foundations: memories of an Australian girlhood. A graduate room is named in her honour.
R.M. (Max) Crawford (1906-1991)
R.M. (Max) Crawford was born in Grenfell, New South Wales, the son of a stationmaster. From 1937 to 1971 he was professor of History and shaped the much vaunted ‘Melbourne School’, which produced successive generations of our most prominent historians. Crawford was also an Oxford scholar, schoolteacher, prominent intellectual, struggling writer, creator of the first historical journal in Australia, a diplomatic aide in Russia during World War II and a public liberal. His publications included The Study of History; A Synoptic View (1939), Ourselves and the Pacific (1941), The Renaissance and Other Essays (1945), Australia (1952), An Australian Perspective (1960) and A Bit of a Rebel (1971).
Norman Denholm Harper (1906-1986)
Norman Denholm Harper was a graduate of the University of Melbourne and subsequently taught at Melbourne High School before joining the History Department, at first part-time but from 1939 full-time. His teaching ranged over many areas, but his European imperial history courses were famous, and his pioneering of American history brought a personal Chair in that field in 1966. A voracious reader with a fly-paper memory, he was also a marvellously reliable colleague. His wide-ranging interests and committee work included baseball, international affairs, radio Australia, and organising lectures for country Year 12 history students. Norman had innumerable contacts and was unfailingly generous - but he insisted on getting his books back. He retired in 1972.
John Andrew La Nauze (1911-1990)
John Andrew La Nauze was born in Western Australia and completed degrees in Arts at the University of Western Australia and (as WA Rhodes Scholar for 1931) at Oxford before joining the Economics Departments at Adelaide (from 1935) and Sydney (1940-49). In 1950 he became Foundation Professor of Economic History in the University of Melbourne, moving to the newly created Ernest Scott Chair on the Department of History in 1956. In 1966 he succeeded Sir Keith Hancock as professor of History in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. On his retirement in 1977 he became the first Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard in 1978. His publications included Alfred Deakin: A Biography (which won him a D.Litt and the Ernest Scott Prize for 1966) and The Making of the Australian Constitution (1972). In the Melbourne History Department he introduced courses in Later British History - which he believed essential to an understanding of Australian History - and fostered research in both fields.
Margaret Loch Kiddle (1914-1958)
Margaret Loch Kiddle was employed as a tutor and subsequently senior tutor in the History Department from 1946 until her death at the age of 44 years. The daughter of a solicitor and educated at Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, she studied history in the 1930s under Ernest Scott and Jessie Webb, and completed a Master of Arts in 1947. Margaret Kiddle is notable for the two books she wrote which have become classics in Australian history: Caroline Chisholm (1950) and the posthumously published Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria (1961). Both have been republished several times and continue to be widely read. The staff room in the History program bears Margaret Kiddle’s name.
Alison Patrick (1921-2009)
Alison Patrick was appointed to a Lectureship in 1963 after many years of part-time appointments. Her PhD thesis became The Men of the First French Republic (1972), and has since been regarded as the standard examination of political alignments at the height of the French Revolution in 1792-93. She was Head of Department in 1977-80, and promoted to Reader in 1981. She introduced the first-year subject ‘The Age of Revolutions’ in 1970 and taught it until her retirement in 1986.
John Riddoch Poynter (born 1929)
John Riddoch Poynter graduated from the History Department and pursued further studies at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951-53. After returning to Melbourne he taught at Trinity College and in the Social Studies Department, rejoining the History Department in 1963. In 1966 he was appointed to the Ernest Scott chair which he occupied until becoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 1975. John Poynter returned from the university at the end of 1994. His writing spans modern British and Australian History and included Doubts and certainties: A life of Alexander Leeper (1997) and, with Carolyn Rasmussen, A Place Apart: The University of Melbourne: Decades of challenge (1996).
Geoffrey Blainey (born 1930)
Geoffrey Blainey studied at the University of Melbourne, where he was editor of Farrago in 1950. He taught in the department of Economic History before being appointed to the Ernest Scott Chair of History in 1977. He was a stimulating and engaging lecturer. He was twice Dean of the Faculty of Arts in the 1980s when involved in protracted public controversy. He retired in 1988, and became Chancellor of the University of Ballarat. Geoffrey Blainey has been one of Australia’s finest and most prolific historians. His major works include The Peaks of Lyell (1955), A Centenary History of The University of Melbourne (1957), The Rush That Never Ended (1963), The Tyranny of Distance (1966), Triumph of the Nomads (1975), and A Land Half Won (1980).
Greg Dening (1931-2008)
Greg Dening taught history at Melbourne for twenty years by asking his students first to describe their present so that they could better hear the silences of the past. He believed that history was not something we learned, but something that we performed. He hoped his students would some day play it, dance it, film it, as well as write it. Appointed professor of History in 1970, he was subsequently the first occupant of the newly-named Max Crawford Chair of History, from 1974-1990. His major publications include Islands and Beaches; Discourses on a Silent Land: Marquesas, 1774-1880 (1981), Mr Bligh’s Bad Language (1992) and Performances (1996).