Hansen Trust PhD Scholarship in History

From 2015, the extraordinary Hansen Gift — the largest ever made to a History program in Australia — has transformed the teaching of History at the University of Melbourne. One strand of the initiatives funded by the Gift is an annual Hansen Trust PhD Scholarship in History.

Applications for next year’s round are currently open, and we take this opportunity to check in with the three inaugural Hansen Trust PhD Scholars, Nathan Gardner (commenced 2016), Max Denton (2017), and Bronwyn Anne Beech Jones (2018) – three gifted young historians working on a diverse range of topics, and who share a commitment to furthering the public good through engaged and responsible historical research and teaching. All three have also been closely involved in teaching into the new undergraduate History curriculum enabled by the Hansen Gift. Their fellow History PhD student Jonathan Peter invited them to share their experiences of the scholarship and their research aims and findings so far.

Nathan Gardner: The History of Chinese Australian Community Organisations

What is your PhD research project?

I research the formation of Chinese Australian Community Organisations and their responses to critical issues and events in Australia’s recent history. The scope includes an investigation of Australia’s turn to multiculturalism in the 1970s, the settlement of Chinese students in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, the emergence of Pauline Hanson and One Nation in the 2000s, and Australia’s present anxieties about China’s influence in its national affairs.

How did you arrive at this topic?

After a year of intensive language study at Nanjing University, I returned to Melbourne and began voluntary work at the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria. As I became more involved in this organisation, I became more interested in the multicultural qualities that make Australian society and history unique. My pursuit to understand the parameters and problems of this history brought me to PhD study.

Why is this a project worth doing?

Many of the organisations I research are inspired examples of care for community and belief in Australia’s multicultural society. But investigation of this history also reveals the fragility of Australia’s multiculturalism and the problems that still prevail. My topic reminds me that one cannot be a spectator in society; that multiculturalism is a process that can only be ensured and improved by recognising individual responsibilities and pursuing collective efforts.

How has the Hansen Trust PhD Scholarship helped your work and development as a historian?

The Scholarship has provided invaluable opportunities for research but also for teaching. It is this combination that makes the scholarship so appealing — it encourages you to gain expertise and then to share it.

Max Denton: The History of Same-Sex Marriage

What is your PhD research project?

My thesis explores the history of same-sex marriage in twentieth century Australia, Britain and America. It examines the topic prior to the current movement and debate, tracing the performance of, and advocacy for, same-sex marriage in the 1960s through to the 1990s. This includes the complicated history of private ceremonies, clergy who secretly married same-sex couples, and early marriage activism at the margins of the public lesbian and gay movements.

How did you arrive at this topic?

I developed this topic through my honours work here at Melbourne and my Masters work in the UK, during which I interviewed priests who had quietly officiated weddings in Anglican Churches in the 1970s. It emerged out of my interest in LGBT history and connecting contemporary public policy with the past.

What are you aiming to achieve through your research?

I was fascinated by the topic as it complicates a lot of our assumptions about how our contemporary policies and politics of sexuality emerged, and has the potential to tell us a lot about how marriage and the family more generally evolved over the last century. I hope my research will speak to our contemporary politics, helping us understand why something like same-sex marriage emerged, seemingly so suddenly, as such a divisive issue.

How has the Hansen Trust PhD scholarship helped your work and development as a historian?

The Hansen Trust PhD scholarship has offered me a tremendous opportunity to pursue this research here at Melbourne, and connect with valuable mentors. Its focus on teaching and public engagement is unique, and reflects the real value that history can bring to the community beyond the academy.

Bronwyn Anne Beech Jones: Life Stories of Sumatran Women and Girls

What is your PhD research project?

My research focuses on the life stories of Sumatran women and girls and how understandings of learning, morality, and collective identities were formed in women’s newspapers and enacted through community-run craft schools between 1908 and 1928 in the Netherlands East Indies.

How did you arrive at this topic?

I first encountered the newspaper Soenting Melajoe in a footnote before beginning Honours, which took me to a basement library and then to the highlands of West Sumatra. My current focus on individual experiences and collective identities grew out of reading one writer in this newspaper: Amna Karim, from Bengkulu. She wrotes these letters from 1912 to 1921. Throughout her tragically short life, Amna campaigned for education and women’s rights, including against domestic violence. As I continued to return to reread her letters long after graduating, I began to consider how to listen across difference and the importance of tracing histories of local initiatives.

What are you aiming to achieve through your research?

My research aims to develop a different way of reading and writing colonial-era Indonesian women’s history which acknowledges lived diversity, complexity and ambiguity, rather than falling back on simple or static understandings of cultures, ethnicities or genders.

How has the Hansen Trust PhD scholarship helped your work and development as a historian?

I feel immensely privileged to be a recipient of the Hansen Trust PhD scholarship. In my first year, the mentoring program has helped me to plan an exhibition on Australian-Indonesian community associations and activism in post-war Melbourne. I have also had the opportunity to assist with planning and organising a community engagement event, ‘Teaching History in the 21st Century’, which will be held at the university on 23 October 2019, bringing together secondary and tertiary educators and learners.

The Hansen Trust has been established to support innovation and excellence in History at Melbourne and to provide students with an outstanding education: to open pathways into great careers and graduate opportunities; to underline the continuing relevance and importance of history; and to nurture and engage community passion for this important field of study.

The Hansen Trust PhD Scholarship in History provides scholars with $35,000 per year throughout their PhD candidature.

A key feature of the scholarship is a mentoring program that provides valuable experience in tertiary teaching and the promotion of History to the community.

Applications for the next round of scholarships are open to both domestic and international students, until 31 October 2019. Further information can be found on the Scholarships Office website.

Feature image: Hansen PhD Scholars, Nathan Gardner, Max Denton, Bronwyn Anne Beech Jones, 2019. Photograph: Nicole Davis