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2021 Director’s Report

I ended my report last year by suggesting there could not possibly be a worse year for the Consortium and the academy more generally than the year of bushfires and COVID-19, and hoping that subsequent events would not make a liar out of me. They did and they didn’t, as it turns out. The pandemic has dragged on for another year and we are now talking about its accommodation rather than its end. No travel has been possible and many of the dire economic consequences of the pandemic have been felt in this last year, not least constraints upon the resources that many of our members are dependent on and the decimation of academic staff. But we have made the adjustments we needed to make, and while in 2020 we were desperately calling things off and changing face-to-face events to online events at the last minute, this year we learned from experience only to program our events online. Though still in what feels like a holding pattern, we have remained active and been able to introduce some new initiatives that I trust will strengthen and expand the ACHRC in future years.

Name/Constitution Change

In the first three of its eight regular meetings in 2021, the Advisory Board discussed possible changes to the ACHRC constitution, in both senses of the word – changes to its make up and membership and changes to its formal constitution. This, in turn, has necessitated a change of name to better reflect the new membership: we now offer individual membership along with collective or centre membership and the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres has become the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Researchers and Centres. (The Board was unanimous that, having built a reputation and a ‘brand’ as a tertiary peak body, the Consortium should remain the ACHRC.) The Advisory Board sees these changes as a way of attracting new and different types of membership; we are now seeking to recruit more widely across the humanities, creative arts, and GLAM sectors – not just amongst university research centres and institutes, that is, but also amongst disciplinary societies, associations, networks, cultural institutions, and other relevant bodies. Our offering individual membership is a response, in large part, to the precariousness and ephemerality of research centres in today’s university, with many of our members having been obliged to fold during COVID. But it is also designed to attract members from areas underrepresented in the Consortium’s current membership, like ECRs, to whom the ACHRC offers opportunities for network building and research development, and for working with the GLAM sector. 

The creation of a two-tiered membership – collective membership is $300 pa, individual membership $50 pa – has prompted discussion of a further tiering of Consortium membership to accommodate smaller and/or less well funded collectives. This is under consideration by the Advisory Board and we would welcome your input.

Personnel

Simon Burrows (WSU) and Grayson Cooke (SCU) joined us on the Advisory Board at the beginning of 2021, and have already made great contributions to our discussions and events, and only recently we welcomed Ros Smith, Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at ANU. We look forward to imposing on her mercilessly for at least three years. Thomas Nulley-Valdés started as the new Research Manager of the ACHRC at the beginning of this year, taking over from Katie Cox, who held the position in 2019 and 2020 before she took a job with the Australian Research Council. As this is also my last year as director, let me take this opportunity to thank all of the Advisory Board for their commitment and enthusiasm, and especially to thank Katie and Thomas for their tireless and inventive contribution to the Consortium and its activities. Every member of the Advisory Board who has got to know Thomas over the last year will attest to his energy, skill, and organisation in the job, as well as to his unfailing courtesy, and I know we all wish him the very best. Thomas, too, has recently accepted a position with the ARC and will wind up after generously taking two days off to help us out with the Annual Conference and AGM. (I’ll leave you to draw your own inferences from our having lost two excellent managers and early career scholars to the ARC.)

Recruitment

A recruitment drive that Thomas and I carried out in the middle of the year, in which we wrote to well over 50 research centres, has brought us half a dozen new centres – including the Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS) at ANU, Creativity Research, Engaging the Arts and Transforming Education (CREATE) at the University of Sydney, the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research (CCCR) at University of Canberra, the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin, and the Assemblage Centre for Creative Arts at Flinders – as well as half a dozen new individual members. Welcome everyone. I hope by now I don’t have to remind you to let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Expanding the ACHRC: GLAM and Creative Arts

The second phase of recruitment, targeting bodies in the GLAM sector, has yet to commence, but Thomas has compiled a list of potential members and contacts across Australia and New Zealand. Related to this, the board discussed the need to communicate the value of ACHRC membership to creative arts scholars and centres (which would also be of benefit to the Consortium’s recruitment in GLAM). An Advisory Board working group to discuss how the ACHRC might extend or adjust its activities to better accommodate the creative arts and to consider the next phase of our recruitment process has been established, with input from ACHRC member, Jen Webb (University of Canberra). So far it has been agreed, in the first instance, that a special panel be convened at the Annual Conference on the ‘Humanities, Creative Arts, and the GLAM sectors’ and that the ACHRC needs to engage in conversations with a number of peak bodies in both the creative arts and GLAM sectors about what ethical engagement and collaboration between these and the ACHRC might look like. This should also, in turn, set the agenda and priorities for a more informed and targeted recruitment strategy.

Subscriptions and Financial Situation

You will recall that in 2020 it was decided not to ask for subscriptions because many of our member centres and institutes were inhibited in their activities and threatened with a severe loss of income because of the pandemic. Most universities lost so much in fees by remaining inaccessible to international students that for some years now they are likely to run a substantial deficit. It was for this reason, as well as the fact that online meetings and events could be carried on at minimal cost, that the ACHRC Advisory Board decided to have an effective moratorium on subscriptions until 1 July 2021. This year we are again seeking subscriptions, however, to cover the (reduced) cost of maintaining the Consortium and to try and build up equity ahead of future activities, at the same time issuing a mission statement about our activities and the importance of the ACHRC as a peak body. 

The main expenditure for the ACHRC is the fractional salary (0.2 FTE) of a Research Manager to look after administration and the organisation of events, but this has been covered for the last three years by the College of Arts and Social Sciences at ANU, for which I would again like to express my gratitude to the Dean, Prof. Rae Frances.  

Humanities in the Regions 2021

The ACHRC organises two regular events every year. The first is a colloquium we call Humanities in the Regions, because we are keen to support regional universities where the humanities are under threat. Like last year, faced again with the uncertainties of COVID, the Board agreed to go ahead with the event in a modified format. Again it was online and again Victoria Kuttainen stepped up to do the lion’s share of the organisation – especially the choice of, and correspondence with, speakers. For those members who were unable to join us, the theme of the event this year was (wait for it) ‘Humanities from the Regions’, in which we made the concept or category itself our title and exploratory object, inviting speakers to consider humanities in the regions either in themselves or in light of one or more ‘posts’: post-Mabo, post fee-restructuring and Jobs Ready Graduate Funding, post-pandemic, post-whatever they chose. Though less ambitious than the virtual conference Victoria had brilliantly organised and staged at and around James Cook University in 2020, with its variety of synchronous and asynchronous offerings, the compact virtual forum nevertheless proved highly successful. 

The whole event was inspired by Henry Reynolds’s Roderick Memorial Lecture “Seeing History from the North Down”, delivered at JCU in 2019, a lecture which addressed the unique and valuable perspectives that being a regional academic or doing humanities research and teaching in regional Australia brings to the humanities.Robert Clarke from UTAS delivered the first keynote as a scholar working in Tasmania and directing the (now defunct) Centre for Colonialism and its Aftermath. In the lecture he considered what he saw as some of the challenges for humanities research post-pandemic and in the wake of the culture of industrial restructuring which has dominated the sector. With a focus on doing literary research, Robert reflected on the value of location in shaping one’s career. Our other keynote, Jennifer Deger from the Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, reflected on an on-going experiment in giving form to new kinds of collective thinking in the context of co-creative research in Arnhem Land, drawing on materials produced by Miyarrka Media, an arts collective that Jennifer co-founded with Paul Gurrmuruwuy more than a decade ago. 

The forum also included a mixed panel of senior researchers, early career researchers, HDR and undergraduate students discussing the current challenges involved in researching and teaching the Humanities in a regional university. 

The names of all the participants and videos of the keynotes are available on the ACHRC website: http://www.achrc.net/2021-humanities-in-the-regions/

Annual Conference and AGM 2021

The other regular event is our Annual Meeting, a conference-style program with presentations alternating with panels on specific challenges facing both institutions and individuals in the humanities and creative arts. This year it is being ‘hosted’ as a virtual conference by the ANU on 15 and 16 November and the theme and title is ‘Communicating Truth and Beauty: A Dialogue with the Sciences’, featuring keynotes from Ian Gibbins, neuroscientist and (retired) Professor of Anatomy at Flinders and now a widely published and exhibited poet, video artist, and electronic musician, and Susannah Elliott, CEO of the Australian Science Media Centre. The conference has been organised by the ACHRC to reflect on the ‘gulf of mutual misunderstanding’ between the humanities and the sciences that C. P. Snow talks about in his (in)famous Two Cultures lecture, bringing together a selection of scientists, humanists, and creative artists to tell us how the different disciplines can, in fact – and indeed often do – relate better to each other than is generally allowed, and, when it comes to communicating with the public at large, to tell us what we can learn from each other. There will be panels on interdisciplinary initiatives, on ‘What the Humanities and Creatives Arts Can Learn from Science Communication’, and on ‘Creative Arts Engagements with Science and Science Infrastructure’.

And it is also our opportunity to hear again from the Academy of Humanities, the Royal Society of NZ, the Council of Humanities and the Social Sciences, and Australian Research Council about recent trends and initiatives in the humanities and funding opportunities. 

I am particularly indebted to Robert Phiddian and Grayson Cooke, as well as to Thomas, for their input and activity on the working party for this year’s conference.

Everything you always wanted to know about Digital Humanities, but were too afraid to ask 

Simon Burrows and Tully Barnett organised and chaired a 4-week introductory seminar series on Digital Humanities across four consecutive Fridays in September, each of which involved an informal intervention on a different aspect of DH studies by one or more speakers with a discussion afterwards: ‘DH Now (a state of the art)’, with Simon Burrows and Tully Barnett; ‘DH Pedagogy’, with Katrina Grant and Erin McCarthy; ‘DH and the Researcher’, with Rachel Hendery and Tim Sherratt; ‘DH and Research Design’, with Kath Bode, Terhi Nurrmikko-Fuller, and Ray Siemens. Originally planned to take 45 minutes – the emphasis was on brevity and accessibility – it soon became very clear that the audience was keen and had lots of questions and comments, so sessions were quickly extended to an hour. Simon and Tully are to be congratulated on the success of the seminars, with around 40-50 attendees in each session and around 1,000 visits to the Eventbrite page for each event. Audience participation was also very good, and generated greater visibility on social media, particularly Twitter. 

The Weekly Seminar Series 

So successful, indeed, were the DH seminars that the Advisory Board is currently discussing how the series title “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About . . .” could serve as a template for future ACHRC series that could bring together leading scholars from a particular field related to the ACHRC’s mission for informal discussion. 

It was agreed that the discussion format is very attractive, making it more accessible than a traditional half-day workshop or conference format. The shorter format helps with Zoom fatigue, yet also addressing the need to connect. It was felt that events such as this can be seen and promoted as professional development opportunities (we could even include a session on how to successfully run a research collective) and could be valuable for regional academics for whom networking with other academics is quite challenging. Series such as these also offer a manageable labour model for ACHRC board members, and we might ask two members to coordinate a seminar series once every two years. Holding sets of weekly seminars at different times throughout the year is also an excellent way for the ACHRC to remain visible to its members and to the public. 

Some suggested sessions for 2022 were:
– ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Creative Arts Research
– ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Indigenous Research
– ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Public Humanities
– ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Private Sources of Funding’

The coronavirus has offered us the opportunity to meet in a way that money, time, and distance have inhibited or prevented us from doing in the past, so I welcome suggestions from all members for virtual symposia which cost only the time and energy we are willing and able to invest.

The Impact of the Jobs Ready Graduate Legislation

Advisory Board member Victoria Kuttainen has been gathering data examining the impact of the Jobs Ready Graduate legislation on trends in enrolment into Bachelor of Arts, humanities, and creative arts disciplines. Victoria got in contact with researchers Professor Sarah O’Shea and Paul Koshy from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, at Curtin University, which has also been looking into these enrolment trends, and we are currently putting together a working party that might connect with CHASS and the Academy of the Humanities.

ACHRC website

Thomas has been busy refreshing and rephrasing material on the ACHRC’s website, which has undergone a progressive rebranding of logos and content, with the posting of information about our events in 2021. The Member Directory has also been updated, though the details of some centres we have not heard back from have yet to be corrected or removed, as we are unsure of their status or their capacity to pay their membership this financial year. I would urge all members to go to the website page and check on their details and let us know of any corrections or exclusions that are necessary. Bookmark the link, because now that we have a more functional website we plan to use it more effectively to display upcoming events and to develop new resources, as well as to publicise the achievements ACHRC members.

Portfolios 

The ACHRC is interested in all practical and theoretical aspects of humanities and creative arts research in today’s research environment, but members of the Advisory Board have volunteered to attend to specific areas of interest that we consider priorities: Humanities in the Regions; Humanities in Cultural Institutions; Early Career Researchers and Postdoctoral Fellows; Research Policy and National Response; Public Humanities. The Advisory Board will be revisiting these portfolios in an upcoming strategy meeting and I would ask every member, firstly, to consider whether the current portfolios are representative of what the ACHRC seeks to do, and, secondly, whether there are additional areas the ACHRC might seek to prioritise. 

Strategic Planning Meeting

As I suggested in the previous section, the Board has agreed on the need for an out-of-session strategic planning day/workshop to be held in early to mid-December to consider the Consortium’s activities and advocacy in 2022 and beyond. A number of agenda items have been proposed – external grants, recruitment strategy, international activities (relations with Asian centres), portfolios, expending ACHRC funds, working with DASSH, HASS Congress 2022 – but I invite all members to propose items and to let me know if they would like to join us for some or all of the workshop.

The Future of the ACHRC

This is the last year of my directorship and 2021 the last year the ANU will be hosting the ACHRC, and a new host institution (with funding for a position of Consortium manager) will need to volunteer to take over at beginning of 2022. Succession in hosting the ACHRC is paramount and I have asked Advisory Board members to consider who might be interested in taking over for the three-year term from 2022 to 2024. I invite anybody who has questions to contact me. As I have noted, the most substantial funding the ACHRC needs is a 0.2 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) position to assist with the management of the Consortium and I am more than happy to take questions and offer any advice. 

Which makes this the last time I will be writing the annual report on ACHRC activities. My sincere thanks, again, to all the Advisory Board and to Thomas Nulley-Valdés, with all of whom it has been a pleasure to work over the last four years.

Will Christie
ACHRC Director

14 November 2021

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2021 Annual Conference Announced

The Australasian Consortium of Humanities Researchers & Centres is pleased to present its 2021 Annual Conference: ‘Communicating Truth and Beauty: A Dialogue with the Sciences’. 

The conference will explore disciplinary and institutional relationships both inside and outside the academy, and will feature a number of distinguished scholars from the humanities, creative arts, and sciences on panels and as keynote speakers. The questions our panellists and speakers will be considering include:

-Has the COVID pandemic given us any insight into how the humanities and creative arts might better collaborate with the sciences? 

-What can humanists and creatives learn from scientists about communicating their ideas and value to the public at large? 

-What is the role of cultural institutions in public culture, and how can the humanities and creative arts contribute to that mission?

For more information, registration and full conference programme, click here: http://www.achrc.net/annual-conference-2021/

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New Member: Centre for Creative and Cultural Research

We are proud to announce that the ACHRC has been joined by a new member, the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research (CCCR) at the University of Canberra.

The CCCR is a multidisciplinary research hub interested in applied research into creative practice and culture. Launched in 2013, it brings together scholars of literature, heritage and cultural studies, film, digital media, architecture, anthropology, creative writing, and design. Their major research themes include Arts and Health, Future Heritage, International Poetry Studies, and Story, People, Place.

The CCCR has also partnered with a variety of government and community groups, including to develop a new coat of arms for The Australian Capital Territory. Professor Ireland, the centre’s director, is also the recipient of a 2021 ARC Linkage Grant for her project ‘Everyday heritage’, read more about it here: https://www.canberra.edu.au/about-uc/media/newsroom/2021/august/everyday-heritage-wins-arc-linkage-grant

For more information about the CCCR, please visit their website: https://www.canberra.edu.au/research/faculty-research-centres/cccr

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New Member: Centre for Human Rights Education

The ACHRC is proud to welcome another new member centre, The Centre for Human Rights Education (CHRE) at Curtin University.

The CHRE was founded in 2003 with an interest in all aspects of human rights education “including community education, raising awareness, promoting understanding and debate around human rights issues, and implementing human rights principles in a range of occupations, as well as education in formal settings of schools and universities.”

It is currently co-directed by Associate Professor Caroline Fleay and Dr. Lisa Hartley and with a diverse group of scholars from philosophy, sociology, political science, social work, law, international relations, psychology, anthropology, business, law, media and cultural studies.

The centre actively researches and advocates in the areas of refugee and asylum seeker rights, the rights of people with a disability, and gender and sexuality rights. It also offers a Graduate Certificate and a Masters of Human Rights.

For more information, visit their website: http://humanrights.curtin.edu.au

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New member: CREATE

The ACHRC is proud to welcome the Creativity Research, Engaging the Arts and Transforming Education (CREATE) Centre and its affiliated researchers at the University of Sydney to the consortium.

With scholars from a variety of fields including Education, Performance Studies, Health and Medicine, Literature, and Visual Arts, CREATE is committed to “exploring the relationship between learning, creativity and the transformative role of the arts in education, health and wellbeing.” It is co-directed by Professor Robyn Ewing and Professor Michael Anderson.

Their research themes include: (1) creativity research; (2) the role of the arts in creative education, health and wellbeing; and (3) how the arts transform all levels of education from early childhood through to higher education.

For more information or to get involved in CREATE’s various activities, visit: https://www.sydney.edu.au/arts/our-research/centres-institutes-and-groups/create-centre.html. To watch the presentations on their active YouTube channel, visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkrBWYmL3DArT3PMQTnqszg





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New member: Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS)

The ACHRC would like to welcome the recently established Centre for Early Modern Studies and its affiliated researchers to the consortium. Based at The Australian National University (ANU), the centre was founded in 2021 by Prof. Rosalind Smith and “brings together a vibrant multidisciplinary group of humanities scholars and graduate researchers who study the long early modern period (1450-1800).”

Under the research themes of ‘Gender’, ‘Material Cultures’, ‘Mobilities’, and ‘Digital Humanities’, the centre brings together scholars of history, art and design, literature, and bibliographic studies at the ANU. CEMS is currently running a seminar series with high profile international scholars in Early Modern Studies.

For more information about the centre visit: https://cems.anu.edu.au, or browse the list of affiliated researchers here: https://cems.anu.edu.au/staff/

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Humanities From the Regions: An ACHRC Forum

In his 2020 Colin Roderick Memorial Lecture at James Cook University, “Seeing Australian History From the North Down,” Henry Reynolds explained that his appointment as an historian at a university in the regional far north of Australia was a critical factor in the role he eventually played alongside Eddie Kokoi Mabo to contest the legal fiction of terra nullius. On Friday the 16th of July the ACHRC hosted a virtual forum to discuss the unique regional perspective on the Humanities and respond to Reynolds’ intervention.

It included keynote presentations by Professor Jennifer Deger from Charles Darwin University and Dr. Robert Clarke from University of Tasmania. It also included a panel of researchers, early career researchers, HDR and undergraduate students discussing the current challenges involved in researching and teaching the Humanities in a regional university. We were joined by Dr. Claire Brennan (Environmental Historian, JCU), A/Prof. Victoria Kuttainen (English and Creative Writing, JCU), Dr. Adelle Sefton-Rowston (Literary Studies, CDU), A/Prof. Adele Wessell (Discipline Chair, Humanities and Social Sciences, SCU) as well as discussants Dr. Claire Hansen, Danny England, and Jade Croft.

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University fee reforms “stifle diverse voices” when Australia needs them most

The Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres has today addressed a letter to Hon. Dan Tehan, the Australian Minister for Education, calling on the Minister to recognise that the Government’s proposed changes to university fee structures will stifle equitable access to higher education in Australia by pricing students out of the market, and consequently “impoverish humanities research”.

The letter reads:

The Hon. Mr Dan Tehan,
Federal Minister for Education,
Parliament House,
CANBERRA.

24 June 2020

Dear Mr Tehan,

I write on behalf of the Advisory Board of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres to protest against the Australian Government’s declaration of the irrelevance of the humanities by projecting prohibitive fee increases for humanities courses at the nation’s universities. Indeed, as Minister for Education, you are actually legislating to ensure their irrelevance, openly asking potential humanities students either to think again if they want a proper job, or (if they stubbornly persist) to shoulder the burden of the nation’s recovery from COVID-19. The government’s new university fee scheme may be designed to “incentivise students to make more job-relevant choices, that lead to more job-ready graduates, by reducing the student contribution in areas of expected employment growth and demand”. But it is also designed to disincentivise students from making what the government considers ‘job-irrelevant’ choices, by drastically increasing the student contribution in other areas, like the humanities, where the knowledge and skills acquired are assumed to be irrelevant to the new work force. “Universities must teach the skills needed to succeed in the jobs of the future”, you declare self-evidently, though how far the mission of the university should be limited to vocational training is a moot point. Even if it were the case, however, the humanities do teach the skills required to succeed in the jobs of the future and should not be used to cross-subsidise science, health, architecture, IT, and engineering.

More egregiously, the changes you have announced will disproportionately impact the under-privileged – working people, mature-age students, and people in minority groups, like Indigenous students and students from migrant backgrounds; first-in-family students – making the study of history, society, and culture an elitist pursuit, out of reach of all but the wealthy. It is unlikely that humanities subjects at the Group of Eight universities will experience a dramatic falling off in demand, but in other universities, especially in the regions, such a policy will no doubt radically reconfigure the choices available to potential students. It is not enough to suggest, as you do, that under the new regime “Students will have the freedom to choose what they want to study”, when you have priced what they want to study out of the market.

Clearly, recognising the importance of the humanities to all areas of society, including or especially to the corporate world, has never been more urgent. In making your decision, you invoke the authority of “key leaders from the [Education] sector and industry”. But this advice is directly contradicted by the findings of reports like the University of Oxford’s Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact (Kreager, 2013), the Australian Academy of the Humanity’s Mapping the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences in Australia (Turner and Brass, 2014), and Deloitte Access Economics’ The Value of the Humanities for Macquarie University (2017). Since these reports were published, the skills provided by the humanities and the social sciences have only become more important, and are likely to become increasingly so to a future economy and society in which many of the jobs projected in the Minister’s policy speech have been taken over by intelligent machines.

Studying the humanities equips students with valuable skills in advanced analysis and interpretation, creative problem solving, effective communication, and the ability to construct reasoned arguments and to question assumptions. The biggest challenges facing us today will only be solved by building trust, finding a shared language, navigating ambiguity, understanding how human ecosystems work, and creating compelling visions of the future. It is flexible and creative thinking around complex problems in a context of dialogue and collaborative investigation that best feeds enterprise and innovation. We need to understand this, and to conceive and structure our educational offerings accordingly, allowing a generous mixture of the humanities to give the STEM disciplines that you privilege (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) a much richer soil – socially, ethically, intellectually, imaginatively – in which to flourish. The most successful companies, even or especially the new tech companies, thrive by bringing together the humanities with science and technology.

The Board of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres calls on you as Minister for Education to provide equitable access to higher education for all people, regardless of what they choose to study, and opposes these fee increases on the grounds that they will impose a greater burden on aspiring humanities students of the next generation. Reducing the demand for humanities subjects will also threaten the livelihoods of early career humanities scholars who have already suffered most from the cutbacks forced on the universities by COVID-19 and the government’s unwillingness to offer emergency resources. This in turn will impoverish humanities research and the strength, innovation, and contribution to Australian society made by humanities researchers. By prohibiting access to the humanities, these initiatives are destined to lead to a significant dearth of knowledge and expertise and a stifling of diverse voices at a time in the near future when Australia is most in need of them.

Sincerely,

Professor Will Christie, BA (Syd), DPhil (Oxf), FAHA

Director, Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres (on behalf of the ACHRC Advisory Board)

Media Enquiries

Katie Cox, ACHRC Research Manager

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Director’s Report – 2019 CHCI Annual Meeting

chcilogo

The Annual Meeting of the international Consortium of Humanities Research Centers (CHCI) this year met in Dublin on 19-22 June to reflect on Cultural Interventions. Why does culture matter? What impact does it have and how has this changed over time and region? How have cultural interventions helped to make the world a place we want to live in? It also reflected on business-as-usual for research centres like ours, indeed the highlight for me was on the Wednesday before the main conference kicked off devoted exclusively to the CHCI network on Public Humanities. Over the course of the day we heard from numerous practitioners from all over the world making daily cultural interventions of their own in the interests of (usually) their local communities. The possibilities for Public Humanities programs in streets, prisons, galleries, and community halls turned out to be rich and strange – and endless. There was also an excellent panel on Advocacy for the Humanities during the conference proper, which looks different in the very different British, American, and Irish contexts, but there were enough common aspirations and anxieties to make the event engaging and instructive. 

The ‘themed’ panels on cultural interventions moved us in a variety of geographical and cultural directions. Post-colonialisation, nationalism, globalisation, terrorism, migration, refugees, poverty, and corruption – the meeting asked how the arts and humanities might contribute to society in times of trauma and repression. The main, Srinivas Aravamudan Memorial Lecture was a cancellation replaced by a panel including Homi Bhabar, James Chandler, Debjani GangulyPremesh Lalu, and Wang Hui, arguing the case for and against the Radical Middle. 

Not surprisingly, like a chameleon, the meeting eventually took on the colour of its environment and there were rich offerings around ‘The Troubles’ of Northern Ireland that culminated on the last day with an exploration of the Field Day Theatre Company, the cultural intervention staged by actor Stephen Rea and playwright Brian Friel which included Seamus Deane, Tom Paulin, Brian Hammond, and Seamus Heaney. A panel with Stephen Rea discussed the significance of Field Day and the actor was interviewed at length about the phenomenon by Clare Dwyer Hogg, before a screening of the documentary Brexit: a cry from the Irish border, written by Hogg and performed by Rea, who wound up proceedings by offering a brilliant reading of Seamus Heaney’s translation of the sixth book of Aeneid. 

William Christie
Director, Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres

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ACHRC Advisory Board statement on government interference in ARC funding

30 October 2018

The Advisory Board of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres (ACHRC) has today written to the Minister for Education to express its shock and disappointment over the culling by the then Minister for Education and Training, Mr Simon Birmingham, of eleven successful Australian Research Council (ARC) humanities grants in the award round of the last year. For a Minister who could claim no expertise in the relevant topics and disciplines to override a process of rigorous peer review and deny the opportunity to scholars whose projects had been deemed meritorious by their colleagues shows a lack of respect for due process and for the academic community at large. This is the exercise of arbitrary power and offensive to the principles of liberal democracy on which the parliamentary, as well as university, system is based. Besides occasioning pain and career retardation for the scholars whose work has been singled out, the Minister’s interference, as the President of the Academy of the Humanities writes, “damages Australia’s reputation on the world stage”. As an Australasian organisation, the ACHRC is already conscious of the negative impression the episode has left on Australia’s collaborators across the Tasman.

The research that has been conducted as a result of ARC funding by humanities scholars has made a vital contribution to the nation and beyond. Australian innovation and international competitiveness, however, depend upon transparent funding mechanisms that recognise and reward excellence in the work of all researchers, from early career to senior scholars. To meddle in this way risks more than just damaging our reputation, it risks downgrading and impoverishing the actual work we do.

We ask the Government, therefore, to reconsider the dangerous precedent this sets in respect of good governance and restore funding for those projects which the former Minister rejected.

 

— The Advisory Board of the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres