Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Histories of Higher Education: Institutional Histories


Despite that overall expression of decline, individual histories of Australian universities tend to be cautiously triumphant. It is primarily through these instituational histories that the chronology of Australian higher education has been expressed, for broad histories have been sparse. Most of those that have been attempted are now hopelessly outdated: J.J. Auchmuty’s article "The Idea of the University in Its Australian Setting" was much-relied upon, but was written in 1953.[1] That date meant it failed to even reach the key turning point for Australian universities, the 1957 Murray review. This, at least was covered in Peter Tannock’s PhD thesis and his subsequent articles, written between 1969 and 1975.[2] While immensely useful despite their age, Tannock’s accounts are not all-inclusive either, focusing on the role of government in education. Stuart Macintyre’s recent book The Poor Relation, gives a more comprehensive overview of higher education, though through the lens of the social sciences, in the period since the Second World War. That study includes details of policy changes that have been only broadly outlined by Simon Marginson’s 1993 book Education and Public Policy in Australia.[3] Nevertheless, the angle of these works require that, to look beyond government policy to the disciplines and decisions of academics and their university leaders, the institutional histories are indispensable.
Histories of the oldest two Australian universities, the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, established in the 1850s, offer the most comprehensive accounts.[4] Institutional histories are also available for the University of Adelaide, inaugurated in 1876, and Tasmania, established in 1890, and the Universities of Queensland and Western Australia that both opened in 1911.[5]

Histories of the technological colleges that, at the time of the Second World War were not yet, but would one day become universities, are often available.[6] Patrick O’Farrell’s history of the first of these institutions to be created, the New South Wales University of Technology, established in 1949, is important, as it Foster and Verghese’s history of the Australian National University, which began in Canberra in 1946.[7]

The newer universities, established in the 1960s and 1970s, or converted from Colleges of Advanced Education in 1988, are rarely represented in this literature, though a new history of Monash by Graeme Davison is anticipated.[8] Narrower studies of institutions (such as residential Colleges of the older universities, the Sydney Association of University Staff and the Sydney History Department) are complemented by studies of disciplines (such as James Franklin’s history of Philosophy in Australia) and events (like Gavan Butler’s, Evans Jones’ and Frank Stilwell’s account of the struggle to establish Political Economy), but all still tend towards the elite institutions.[9] The elite universities also feature in the very small number of histories that focus on accounts of daily life in the universities. Other than Alan Barcan’s book on the Old Left at Sydney University and Alison Mackinnon’s recent history of women in American and Australian universities in the 1950s and early 1960s, studies of student life in twentieth century universities tend to be concentrated on late 1960s and early 1970s student radicalism.[10] Except for the odd study of a field (such as Academic Development), oral histories tend back towards the great men, focusing on Vice-Chancellors, policy-makers and disciplinary leaders.[11]

The key difficulty with our reliance on institutional histories is that it tends to be mainly the older and wealthier universities who are able to commission them. Vice-Chancellors’ autobiographies do nothing to diminish the dominance of elite institutions in the historiography.[12] Nor do broader accounts of Australian intellectuals.[13] Institutional websites all offer some history. The University of Notre Dame in Australia’s, authored by Peter Tannock is more useful than most.[14] Despite their absence in written history, most Australian universities, at least since the 1970s, were not elite. To assure a more comprehensive understanding of the system, it is therefore necessary to look to the discipline of Education itself.


[1] J.J. Auchmuty, "The Idea of the University in Its Australian Setting," The Australian University (1953).
[2] P.D. Tannock, "A Study of the Role of the Government of Australia in Education since Federation 1901-1968" (John Hopkins University, 1969). P.D. Tannock and I.K. Birch, "Constitutional Responsibility for Education in Australia: The Federal Government's Latent Power," Australian Journal of Education 16, no. 2 (1972). ———, "Defining the Limites of Commonwealth Education Power: The Drummond Case, the Federal Governmnent and the Universities," Melbourne Studies in Education (1973). P.D. Tannock, The Government of Education in Australia: The Origins of Federal Policy (Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1975).
[3] Macintyre, The Poor Relation: A History of the Social Sciences in Australia. Simon Marginson, Education and Public Policy in Australia (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
[4] Both universities have long histories written in the 1990s in two volumes. At Melbourne, Richard Selleck’s The Shop covers the period up to the Second World War while John Poynter’s and Carolyn Rasmussen’s 1996 book A Place Apart begins with the war. Sydney’s too is aplit at the Second World War, though the two volumes are more self-consciously paired. R Selleck, The Shop (Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press, 2003). John Poynter and Carolyn Rasmussen, A Place Apart: The University of Melbourne: Decades of Challenge (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1996). C Turney, U Bygott, and P Chippendale, Australia's First: A History of the University of Sydney Volume 1 1850-1939, vol. 1 (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1991). WF Connell et al., Australia's First: A History of the University of Sydney Volume 2 1940-1990 (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1995). Both universities have also more recently prepared shorter histories, see Stuart Macintyre and R.J.W. Selleck, A Short History of the University of Melbourne (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2003). Julia Horne and Geoffrey Sherington, Sydney: The Making of a Public University (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2011).
[5] WGK Duncan and Roger Ashley Leonard, The University of Adelaide 1874-1974 (Adelaide: Rigby, 1973). Richard Davis, Open to Talent: The Centenary History of the University of Tasmania (Sandy Bay: University of Tasmania, 1990). Malcolm I Thomis, A Place of Light and Learning (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1985). Fred Alexander, Campus at Crawley: A Narrative and Critical Appreciation of the Frist Fifty Years of the University of Western Australia (Melbourne: FW Cheshire, 1963).
[6] Michael White, Wait to Curtin: A History of the Western Australian Institute of Technology (Bentley WA: Paradigm Books Curtin University, 1996). Noeline Kyle, Catherine Manathunga, and Joanne Scott, A Class of Its Own: A History of the Queensland University of Technology (Alexandria NSW: Hale & Iremonger, 1999). Stephen Murray-Smith and Anthony John Dare, The Tech: A Centenary History of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Melbourne: Hyland House, 1987).
[7] SG Foster and Margaret M Varghese, The Making of the Australian National University (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1996).
[8] An existing history of Monash by Simon Marginson only gives an account of the changes to the university under Mal Logan in the late 1980s. Simon Marginson, Monash: Remaking the University, Allen & Unwin (St Leonards NSW2000).
[9] James Franklin, Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia (Sydney: Macleay Press, 2003). Gavan Butler, Evan Jones, and Frank Stilwell., Political Economy Now! : The Struggle for Alternative Economics at the University of Sydney (Sydney: University of Sydney Press, 2009). Sybil M Jack, History of the Sydney Association of University Teachers 1943-1993 (Sydney: University of Sydney Printing Service, 1994). Barbara Caine, "The Department in the 1970s," in History at Sydney, 1891- 1991: Centenary Reflections, ed. Barbara Caine, et al. (Sydney: Sydney Studies in History, 1992).
[10] Alan Barcan, Radical Students: The Old Left at Sydney University (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002). Alison Mackinnon, Women, Love and Learning: The Double Bind (Bern: Peter Lang, 2010).
[11] For example, Julia Horne, Not an Ivory Tower: The Making of an Australian Vice-Chancellor. Based on Interviews with Michael and Kenny Birt (Sydney: University of New South Wales Archives, 1997). Alison Lee, Catherine Manathunga, and Peter Kandbinder, Making a Place: An Oral History of Academic Development in Australia (Milperra: HERDSA, 2008).
[12] See for example David Penington, Making Waves: Medicine, Public Health, Universities and Beyond (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2010). Bruce Williams, Making and Breaking Universities: Memoirs of Academic Life in Australia and Britain 1936-2004 (Sydney: Macleay Press, 2005).
[13] Geoffrey Serle, From Deserts the Prophets Come: The Creative Spirit in Australia 1788 - 1972 (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1973). Terry Irving, "Intellectuals and Class in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s: A Working Paper and Bibliography," in Seminar Papers Nationalism and Class in Australia, ed. University of Queensland Australian Studies Centre (Brisbane: Australian Studies Centre, University of Queensland, 1981). White, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1688-1980. Brian Head and James Walter, eds., Intellectual Movements and Australian Society (Melbourne: Oxford University Press,1988).
[14] Peter Tannock, "History of Notre Dame University Website,"  http://www.nd.edu.au/university/history.shtml. (Retrieved 24 June 2011)

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