Pioneer, Innovator, Mentor: Reflections on Pat Grimshaw’s Influence and Legacy
In December 2019, Professor Emeritus Patricia Grimshaw was awarded the University of Melbourne’s T.G. Tucker Medal. Named after the first Dean of Arts at the University, Thomas George Tucker, the Medal is awarded for outstanding academic achievement and contributions to the Faculty of Arts in the areas of teaching and learning, research, engagement and leadership. The Dean of the Faculty of Arts Professor Russell Goulbourne presented the medal in a ceremony in the Arts West Atrium during the Faculty’s end-of-year celebration.
Pat Grimshaw has had a long and distinguished career. This medal is the latest in a series of honours recognising her scholarship and service, including admission to the Order of Australia (2017) and the Victorian Honour Roll of Women (2008). Her achievements are too many to list here. Instead, we decided to mark this occasion by inviting some of Pat’s former students and colleagues to share their reflections on Pat’s ongoing influence and significance.
These tributes highlight Pat’s importance as a pathbreaker in the fields of women’s history and Indigenous history in Australia. Pat took up her post as Lecturer at the University of Melbourne in 1977 and, not long after, established one of the first university subjects in Australia on women’s history, ‘Changing Concepts of Women’s Place’, launched in 1979. She went on to play a major role in establishing Women’s Studies (later Gender Studies) at the University. Below, Pat’s former students and colleagues reminisce on this and later periods in Pat’s career, when she served (among other roles) as Max Crawford Chair of History (from 1993), Head of the Department of History, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and co-founder of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History. These testimonials reflect Pat’s generosity, and the powerful and inspiring example that she has set as a thinker, a teacher, a colleague, and a mentor.
Tributes by Former Students and Colleagues
I recently uncovered a letter I had sent my parents in the late 1980s. It was very early in the university term and I was describing my new lecturers including Pat Grimshaw: I painted a picture of a small woman in a tweed skirt with an intense gaze who ‘asks us questions – that aren’t rhetorical! We are actually expected to answer her!’ I laughed when I found this letter because, some 30 years later, it is exactly what my students say about me – that I ask questions and expect answers. I clearly have absorbed some of Pat’s insistence that students should be engaged and challenged, and her implicit correlation that students have something to say to which I should be listening.
Pat’s challenge to me to answer her questions sustained me for several years as her student. She held her supervision meetings often in groups so we could hear the ways our peers shaped their questions and research; we were welcomed to seminars and encouraged to conference sessions. She questioned us through the maze of writers’ block (and researchers’ block), and reflected our answers back to us in ways that expanded our understanding. I always felt that she took pleasure in watching us grow intellectually, and seeing our friendships build. What a gift to have given us all, and I am so pleased that her influence continues, through me and other academics whom she taught, supervised and mentored, to expand young people’s lives.
— Associate Professor Kate Hunter (Victoria University of Wellington)
All of Pat’s colleagues will celebrate this recognition of her remarkable contribution to the Faculty of Arts. On arrival at the History Department she worked as a research assistant and junior lecturer for a number of years, teaching across a number of fields, pioneering women’s studies, and conducting her own research into Australian history, cultural contact in the Pacific and so much else. Her appointment to the Max Crawford Chair was widely acclaimed and she filled it with distinction.
Pat’s energy and enthusiasm were accompanied by a singular generosity. She gave practical assistance to those in need, pioneered the practice of publishing with her postgrads, filled the breach in any emergency. She was and is a woman of strong principle, difficult to resist when in full flight but remarkably free of rancour, modest to a fault. I’m only one of a multitude who owe her much.
—Professor Emeritus Stuart Macintyre (University of Melbourne)
There’s no doubt that without Pat’s encouragement, mentoring and inspirational teaching I would not have become an historian. I still remember being inspired by Pat about the political possibilities of history in a lecture she gave in a second year women’s history course and later in an honours class in which we were encouraged to explore what happened when we placed the lenses of ‘race’ and ‘gender’ on the events of the past. It was with her encouragement that I applied to do a PhD and I was extremely lucky to have her as a supervisor and to benefit from her mentorship, advice and example. I have always been inspired by Pat’s writings and profound contribution to Australian history, her early adoption of comparative and transnational approaches, and her scholarly leadership in the methodology of Indigenous history. Perhaps even more so, I have tried to emulate her approach to the world of academia, her practical and un-egotistical approach to administration and leadership and her generosity and emphasis on mentoring students, postgraduates and junior academics.
—Associate Professor Katherine Ellinghaus (La Trobe University)
In her advancement of the twin projects of women’s history and women’s studies, Pat Grimshaw’s research, teaching and mentoring displayed conviction, passion, courage and a notable spirit of inclusiveness. Since the 1970s, she has been relentless in her service to the University of Melbourne at many levels.
I taught with Pat in the mid-1980s and worked on common research projects, including that which became the path-breaking and oft-reprinted feminist history of Australia – co-authored with Ann McGrath and Marian Quartly – that we called Creating a Nation (Penguin, 1994). After I left for La Trobe University in 1988, Pat joined a number of us across the city to establish the inter-university Melbourne Feminist History Group that has convened seminars in feminist history to the present day.
Pat is and was a collegiate scholar, who enthused those around her and encouraged students to pursue women’s history at the postgraduate level. Many of her students have gone on to forge academic and related careers of their own. One of her great successes was the international conference on women’s human rights at the University of Melbourne, which brought hundreds of scholars from around the world to join in discussions (and singing) and became the basis of the book Women’s Rights and Human Rights: International Historical Perspectives (Palgrave, 2001). Of particular note in Pat’s own work was her passionate interest in and support of Aboriginal history. Her publications in this area extended historical knowledge, especially about Aboriginal women’s experience in significant and long-lasting ways.
Pat has also been a good friend and travelling companion. We went to a number of international conferences together, often spending days in planes and trains to arrive at our far-flung destinations. I’ll always remember her generosity, sense of humour and piquant observations about those around us and her promise, as we listened to Woody Allen play the clarinet in a New York jazz club, to write short stories in later life in which she would share the insights she had gained about human behaviour with a larger readership. I look forward to their publication!
— Professor Marilyn Lake (University of Melbourne)
Pat is an exemplary mentor, who through her encouragement and generosity of spirit has fostered so many academic careers. As my PhD supervisor she offered practical, intellectual and thoughtful advice just when it was needed. But she also provided the vocational opportunities and guidance necessary to develop an academic career. Pat instilled confidence in her students through her friendly and collegial manner. By treating her students as equals, she inspired them to become scholars in their own right. I am privileged to have been guided by her through the first stage of my career.
— Dr Samuel Furphy (ANU)
A great scholar, a wonderful colleague and a magnificent champion for the history department.
—Professor Stephen Wheatcroft (University of Melbourne)
Patricia Grimshaw has been a wonderful mentor and a great friend to me. Pat’s intellectual leadership in feminist and social historical and postcolonial approaches continues to inspire. She has been a generous, unflagging mentor to so many women and men, and has always made a range of national and international academic opportunities and networks available to students and early career researchers. I’ve always admired Pat for her irreverent humour and her genuine support for ‘first in family’ students. Pat is a shining example of all that is the very best in academia.
—Professor Penny Edmonds (Flinders University)
Patricia Grimshaw is a historian of exceptional courage. In the 1980s onwards, she spoke out, and spoke loudly, insisting to be heard. She did this in often hostile public forums. She pointed out how women were excluded from history, including the women historians, and she became aware of the particular exclusion of Aboriginal women from national narratives. Her interjections were passionate and memorable; she spoke with a fury that demanded to be heard. The masculinist narrative that was viewed as normal in the 1980s was her enemy. In our discipline, both history itself, and its nation-bound narratives were categories made by and for men. Pat spoke up for women. When she caught flack herself, she wore it, she discussed it, she wanted to listen and learn.
Pat has long been a pioneer and an innovator; her imagination and her humility have benefited so many scholars. She has long been very hard working, always willing to supervise, to examine theses and basically to take on a huge workload – even when she had retired and was no longer receiving wages. This is because she is so committed to mentoring and supporting young scholars, their scholarly efforts and their breakthroughs.
Pat was incredibly encouraging of me personally. She was always a wonderful mentor, so forthright and so generous. When I think back to when I wrote my first draft chapter for our Creating a Nation (collaboratively written with Marilyn Lake and Marian Quartly) her praise still makes me shudder with heartfelt appreciation.
What is more, Pat paved the way for Australian feminist history and historians to be part of the wider world. Her work with the International Federation for Women’s History – bringing their conference to the southern hemisphere for the first time – and the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians enabled us to network with brilliant feminist historians from far and wide. She jump-started us on transnational journeys and took us off to Hawaii as well as North America. This enabled Australian historians to become exposed to international networks, to become known and recognised and to meet wonderful historians from around the world.
Pat has helped us all come a long way, baby.
From a field in which it was hard to spot a female lecturer let alone a Professor, I note that the field of history in Australia now has quite a number of female Professors – something that stands out as an anomaly compared with most other humanities and social science disciplines. Would this be the case without Pat? I do wonder.
—Professor Ann McGrath (ANU)
We would be delighted to hear from alumni who would like to share their memories of studying under Professor Grimshaw. To pass on your thoughts please contact Julie Fedor via email.
All images from the ceremony marking Pat’s award, 2019, by Nayree Mardirian