SHAPS Digest (September 2021)

Martin Bush (History & Philosophy of Science) was interviewed for a University of Melbourne Pursuit article on ‘The Symbolism of Australia’s Southern Cross’.

Cat Gay (Hansen PhD Scholar in History) discussed nineteenth-century representations of Australian girlhood, for the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth.

Andy May (History) was interviewed for BBC Radio Wales’ All Things Considered, for a program on ‘9/11 and the Export of Western Values‘, exploring the histry of different projects aimed at exporting Western values, including through the missionary activities of colonial nations in the nineteenth century and earlier.


Peter McPhee (History) gave a presentation as part of the Faculty of Arts masterclass series in conjunction with the NGV exhibition French Impressionism from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The talk, ‘Let There Be Light: The Origins of French Impressionism’, offers a deep-dive into the social history of mid-nineteenth-century France and the context of the birth of the Impressionism movement. Where did Impressionism come from? And why was it considered so radical?

Latin Schools Night is an annual event run by the Classical Association of Victoria (of which Tim Parkin and Andrew Turner [Classics & Archaeology] are honorary president and journal editor respectively), in association with SHAPS. This event is normally run in August in the Kathleen Fitzpatrick lecture theatre with 200 to 250 VCE Latin students from around Victoria, along with their teachers. The evening starts with free pizza and cold drinks, followed by three talks on the set text for VCE Latin, which this year is Book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid. In 2020 and 2021 we were forced to resort to online delivery with prerecorded lectures – and no pizzas – but plenty of enthusiasm from all concerned.

A full set of videos from the evening are available via the Arts Faculty’s website.

Sue Silberberg (PhD in History, 2017) was interviewed about the history of Jewish convicts transported to Australia for Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München’s Jewish History Podcast.


Academic Publications

Janet McCalman (Professorial Fellow, History) published a new book, Vandemonians: The Repressed History of Colonial Victoria (Melbourne University Press).

It was meant to be ‘Victoria the Free’, uncontaminated by the Convict Stain. Yet they came in their tens of thousands as soon as they were cut free or able to bolt. More than half of all those transported to Van Diemen’s Land as convicts would one day settle or spend time in Victoria. There they were demonised as Vandemonians. Some could never go straight; a few were the luckiest of gold diggers; a handful founded families with distinguished descendants. Most slipped into obscurity. Burdened by their pasts and their shame, their lives as free men and women, even within their own families, were forever shrouded in secrets and lies. Only now are we discovering their stories and Victoria’s place in the nation’s convict history. As Janet McCalman examines this transported population of men, women and children from the cradle to the grave, we can see them not just as prisoners, but as children, young people, workers, mothers, fathers and colonists. From the author of Struggletown and Journeyings, this rich study of the lives of unwilling colonisers is an original and confronting new history of our convict past and the the repressed history of colonial Victoria.

Wayne Murdoch (PhD in History, 2015), in conversation with Christos Tsiolkas, launched his book, Mystery of the Handsome Man: The Double Life of John Lempriere Irvin.

Ranging from the convict settlement of Port Arthur, to the social heights of colonial Tasmanian Society, the goldrush towns of Ballarat and Bendigo, and the ballrooms of Marvellous Melbourne in the 1880s, this stranger-than-fiction book recounts the strange-but-true story of JL Irvine (1847–?). Banker, sporting champion, bon vivant, clubman, committee member, and friend to the colonial elites of Tasmania and Victoria, he was also a man with a secret; a secret that would occasionally lead him into the half-light of the Victorian underworld, and a secret that would ultimately lead to his downfall, disgrace, and disappearance.

Meticulously researched, written in a lively and engaging manner and lavishly illustrated, this is the story of colonial Australian society, both its glittering heights and its shadowy depths.

Martin Bush (HPS) published an article, ‘Mary Proctor: An Astronomical Popularizer in the Shadows‘, in Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. 

The popularizer of astronomy Mary Proctor was well known in her days but has been little remembered since. A prominent lecturer and author, Proctor was trained in the craft of science writing by her father, Richard Proctor. She ‘held the very first place in the profession as a woman’ and promoted the role of women in science throughout her career. Her life illuminates many themes. Mary Proctor spanned the period between entrepreneurial science popularizers and professional science communicators. I suggest that one of her most important legacies is as an early pioneer of the practices of science journalism in the early twentieth century when the relations between science and society were in flux. Yet her legacy has been largely overlooked. A study of Proctor’s life reveals multiple interests, diverse opportunities and the way that people are differently remembered.

Caroline Tully (Honorary, Classics & Archaeology) has a book chapter in a forthcoming edited volume: ‘Understanding the Language of Trees: Ecstatic Experience and Interspecies Communication in Late Bronze Age Crete’, in Diana L. Stein et al. (eds), Routledge Companion to Ecstatic Experience in the Ancient World (forthcoming November 2021).

Tree-pulling ritual is a sub-category of Minoan tree cult, an aspect of Late Bronze Age Cretan religion known primarily from glyptic iconography. It is proposed that the human figures in tree-pulling scenes may be prophets who physically interact with the trees in order to produce sound from the rustling of the leaves. It is further suggested that the similar posture of all the human figures in these scenes indicates an ecstatic state, and that being in this state would enable the human figures to understand and interpret the sounds of the trees as a type of language. Tree-pulling iconography is analysed in regard to animism, gender, dress, ethnographic analogy, and shamanism, particularly in regard to the shaman’s capacity as an interspecies communicator. The role of bodily postures in the facilitation of ecstatic experiences points to the importance of an analysis of the tree-pulling figures’ pose within the wider corpus of Minoan iconography. It is determined that the pose is agonistic which leads to the conclusion that the human figure is attempting to force the tree to participate in a communicative relationship.

Shan Windscript (PhD candidate, History) published an article, ‘How to Read a Mao-Era Diary‘, in PRC History Review.

This article examines the diary as a historical source and method for researching Maoist China. It surveys the changing and contested meanings of the everyday form, followed by a discussion on two useful interpretive approaches to Mao-era diaries, each of which is underpinned by distinct theoretical and historiographical orientations. It argues that the diary constitutes a complex but rewarding historical source, offering historians of modern China new possibilities and challenges, from the empirical quest for reconstructing social history “from below” to the discursive pursuit of theorizing revolutionary subject-formation in relation to shifting cultural politics of identification and everyday life.

Awards & Appointments

Nikki Henningham, Iain McIntyre and Graham Willett were among those from SHAPS shortlisted for the 2021 Victorian Community History Awards. Nominated projects with which SHAPS honoraries and graduates were involved were:

Kate Mannell (PhD, HPS & SCC, 2021) has taken on a new position as Research Fellow, based at Deakin University, with the Digital Child Project, the world’s first research centre dedicated to creating positive digital childhoods for Australian children.


Congratulations to James Bradley (HPS), who has been promoted to Senior Lecturer; and to Eden Smith (HPS) and Jonathan Kemp (CCMC), both promoted to Level B.

Research Higher Degree Completions

Antonia Smyth successfully passed examination for an MA in Philosophy, for her thesis entitled ‘Epistemic Injustice in Cases of Compulsory Psychiatric Treatment‘.

There is a growing body of philosophical research into epistemic injustice in the psychiatric context; this thesis examines the impact of this distinct form of injustice on people in compulsory psychiatric treatment specifically, that is, on people receiving treatment without their consent. Epistemic injustice poses an intrinsic harm to those who experience it, but it can result in secondary practical consequences. In the case of compulsory psychiatric treatment, these consequences can be severe, including the infringement of peoples’ rights to liberty and autonomy.

I begin with a focus on testimonial injustice, as described by Miranda Fricker. I show that compulsory treatment cases provide fertile ground for this form of injustice, and explore the idea that testimonial injustice functions at an institutional level in this context. To demonstrate this I use a case study, the Victorian Mental Health Act 2014, focusing particularly on the role of capacity assessments, which I argue constitute a formal credibility judgment. Fricker’s proposed remedy for testimonial injustice is the cultivation of the virtue of testimonial justice, however, I argue that on its own, this will not be sufficient for combatting institutional testimonial injustice. Examining solutions to this problem, I argue for structural solutions in the form of proposals for legislative and policy changes.

This will require the incorporation of epistemic resources that challenge the dominant clinical perspective, which I hold can and have been developed and disseminated through liberation movements. To that end, I examine the history of Mad Pride and some of the barriers and objections to its aims. Mad activism promotes the view that experiences commonly taken to be illness or disorder under the socially dominant set of epistemic resources are, in fact, grounds for culture and identity, and ought not to be pathologised. I seek to demonstrate not only that the alternative epistemic resources presented by Mad positive activists are valid, but that while it fails to take seriously alternative epistemic resources developed by consumers, survivors, and ex-patients, psychiatry as a discipline cannot properly engage in the democratic discussion required for objective inquiry. I ultimately contend that this will not be possible while compulsory treatment remains a reality, providing an epistemic argument for its elimination.

You can find Antonia on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Research Higher Degree Milestones

Robin Cooper (MA Candidate, Classics & Archaeology) presented her MA confirmation seminar on the topic: ‘Sacred Spaces in the Roman Home: Investigating the Impact of the House on the Expression of Domestic Religious Beliefs’.

The research of Roman household shrines and other domestic cult spaces can provide interesting and intimate insights into the lives and beliefs of everyday Romans. Using domestic cult spaces as a source material, this project seeks to explore the ways in which the nature of space impacted on the physical expression of a household’s religious beliefs. The Roman house was a socially constructed entity, with the nature of space in the home dictated by the location, function, and users of the room. Several methods including space syntax will be utilised in order to assess cult spaces within the home, focusing on location, accessibility, decoration, and material culture of not only the cult space but also the room in which it is found. While previous studies of Roman domestic religion have centred largely on Pompeii and the Vesuvian area, this project seeks to expand beyond the temporal and geographical prominence of this area by also investigating domestic cult spaces found throughout the Roman world from the second century BCE to the fourth century CE. It is aimed that this project will increase the understanding of not only religious beliefs but also of societal expectations and personal agency for domestic religious practice in ancient Rome.

Nathan Gardner (Hansen PhD candidate in History) delivered his PhD completion seminar: ‘I Am, You Are, We Are? Community Organisations and Imaginings of a “Chinese Australian Community”, 1970–2020’.

This study examines the concept of a unitary ‘Chinese Australian community’ through a comparative analysis of Chinese Australian community organisations and their responses to six major events in recent history (1970–2020), with a focus on their assertions of belonging, (trans)national identity, and multicultural ideals. Drawing on the materials created by these organisations and interviews with past and present community leaders, this thesis suggests that a unitary, unified, or united Chinese Australian community is a recurring chimera in the sociocultural space shared by Chinese Australians. Instead, community organisations adopted different positions on a spectrum of possible relationships to both their Australian and ancestral homes and political developments in either or both could compel unity or division among them. The intended result is a history that shows Chinese Australian community organisations practising a highly participatory style of multiculturalism over the decades, albeit with alterations to fit the ever dynamic and manifold imaginings of what constituted a ‘Chinese Australian community’.

Samara Greenwood (PhD candidate, HPS) delivered her PhD confirmation seminar: ‘How Social Context shapes the Practices and Products of Science: An Integrated Study’.

In 2008, Peter Galison famously outlined ten key problems for history and philosophy of science. First was the problem of context, “that elusive explanatory structure always invoked, never explained.” Naomi Oreskes calls this the Miasma Problem. While it is easy to describe the contexts surrounding a given science, it is much harder to explain how that ‘miasma’ translates to changes in science. While several historians have advocated a dual role for context, summarised as ‘resources and constraints’, my research has identified at least two further dimensions. In this presentation, I show how broad historical scholarship points the way toward a richer, more multidimensional understanding of context.

Yowhans Kidane (MA candidate, History), delivered his MA confirmation seminar: ‘The Demise of the Eritrean Liberation Front’.

This thesis investigates the Eritrean Liberation Front’s (ELF) replacement by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) as the dominant force in Eritrea’s struggle for independence. It asks how and why this happened. This study diverges from prevailing pro-EPLF accounts of this juncture, which stress the aberrant politics of the ELF, by situating the latter’s demise within Eritrea’s broader historical trajectory. It argues that the ELF’s demise cannot be viewed apart from its internal contradictions, which were engendered by Eritrea’s fractured communal landscape and the legacy of Italian colonialism.

Tonia Sellers (MA candidate, History) delivered her MA confirmation seminar: ‘Histories of Emotion and the Communist Party of Australia, 1919–45’.

This research aims to explore how members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) felt about, and responded to their movement, from 1919 to 1945. Key questions I seek to answer include: what was the role of emotion in a movement that was highly structured at both a domestic, and international level? What emotional standards did communist authorities prescribe, and how did Australian communists respond? Were they able to make space for their feelings? I anticipate that I will find overarching themes and similar emotional experiences, with particular patterns shared by social and cultural groups within the CPA.


Melanie Brand (PhD candidate, History) (@melaniebrand68), is a founding Board Member and currently serves as Administrator for the Women’s Intelligence Network (WIN). WIN was formed in June of 2020 and aims to support, promote and encourage women working on and in intelligence. They currently have over 200 members worldwide and has the institutional backing of King’s Intelligence and Security Group, King’s College, London.

Feature image: Antonia Smyth pictured during a European research trip, marvelling at the wallpaper in a Vienna Coffee House which bears a remarkable resemblance to the wallpaper in the Arts West Research Lounge, one of the venues on the University’s Parkville campus that we are all missing these days.