Wednesday, 16 December 2009

University of Adelaide: Study, Research and a fabulous library

Last week I visited the University of Adelaide archives, while I was in the area at the recent the ANZHES conference.

Adelaide wins the competition so far for the university that does not appear to be run by its marketing department. This was actually the only overt advertisement I saw. You can kind of see it through the greenery. It says something about excellent education, and it is also nice to see that they remember what the university is for.

I also liked that the library clearly remembered what it was for (note that I am not a photographer):

I liked that this library is supporting plain old study and research, nothing fancy about information services and knowledge management and client liaison. Study. Research. It is solid.

Actually, altogether the Barr Smith library is stunning. The old reading room is a monument to philanthropy - and academia:

The entrance and borrowing areas were spacious, reference librarians visible and plentiful, computers abound and, most remarkable of all, an area in the library to eat:

and lie around reading in beanbags:

I like cloisters. And there were cloisters at Adelaide too...

...only these ones belonged to the students...

...though it seems they need a sign to know what they are:

Monday, 14 December 2009

Technology and the university: two British scientists in Australia

When botanist Eric Ashby arrived in Australia in 1939, his ideas about higher education were already compelling. Ashby’s subsequent experiences in science policy during the Second World War then combined with ideas formed by scholarly networks in the pre-war Empire. These led him to consider how technology, needed for national development after the war, could be integrated into academic traditions.

The war changed everything for the universities. Old networks of scholars were complicated by new relationships with the state and industry and new public concerns. This paper discusses the contrasting networks that influenced the ideas of two British academic leaders after the Second World War. Eric Ashby, influential in higher education throughout the Commonwealth, held ideas informed by a pre-war scholarly environment. Another British scientist who travelled to Australia, John Philip Baxter, though only one year younger than Ashby, was influenced by an altogether different network.

Baxter had spent significant time in nuclear facilities in the United States and contributed to the construction of British nuclear weapons during the war. When the war was over, he was disappointed that public sentiment led his employer, Imperial Chemical Industries, to shut down its work in atomic power. Feeling that he might have more influence in Australia, in 1949 Baxter accepted an academic post in Sydney.  By 1952 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales.  Baxter’s goal, like Ashby’s, was the promotion of technology in the university system. However, his notion of scholarship and his ideas about the university were very different. Where Ashby promoted technology while preserving scholarly values, Baxter sought to transform scholarship to align to the values of industry.

Comparing networks of pre-war Empire with post-Empire Australia, this paper examines the emergence of a longstanding uncertainty about the focus of higher education: specific professional competencies or unique, creative intellectualism.

This is the abstract that I submitted to Scholarly Networks in the British Empire for July 2010.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009