SHAPS Digest (May 2022)

Leila Alhagh, Sophie Lewincamp and Sadra Zekrgoo (Grimwade Centre) were interviewed by SBS Persian (in Persian) on the DIDAR Exhibition, currently on display in the Arts West building.



Julie Fedor commented for the ABC on Russian state media framing of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Louise Hitchcock (Classics & Archaeology) reviewed the Melbourne Museum’s exhibition, Open Horizons: Ancient Greek Journeys and Connections, for Neos Kosmos.

Andy May (History) spoke on the history of the public toilets of Melbourne and their cultural heritage significance on Channel 31’s Sacred Spaces program.

Dang Nguyen (recent PhD in HPS, now Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society at RMIT University) (@digitaldang) published an article in VN Express on the dangers and harms of data collection.

Sean Scalmer (History) was interviewed on the history of the political campaign speech, for Seriously Social podcast.

Sean Scalmer (History) reviewed Class in Australia (Steven Threadgold and Jessica Gerrard [MGSE], eds.) for Australian Book Review (behind paywall).

Chips Sowerwine (Professor Emeritus, History) commented for the Age on plans to demolish the former Great Western Hotel (1864) on Melbourne’s King Street.

Sarah Walsh (Hansen Lecturer in World History) was interviewed for New Books Network about her book The Religion of Life: Eugenics, Race, and Catholicism in Chile (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022).

Tony Ward published an article in the Conversation about corruption and the Russian military.

Academic Publications

Rustam Alexander (PhD in History, 2018), ‘The Queer Life of Lieutenant Petrenko: The KGB and Male Homosexuality in the Ukrainian SSR of the 1960s’, Europe-Asia Studies.

This article draws on the six-volume criminal case of Khrushchev-era KGB lieutenant Aleksei Petrenko who was tried for several crimes, including sodomy, in 1963. This article also seeks to make an initial contribution to our scant knowledge on how the KGB dealt with the issue of male homosexuality under Khrushchev. It reveals that, although the crime of sodomy came generally within the purview of the civilian police, the KGB could investigate such crimes if they were committed by its employees. The file in question also reveals that male homosexual activity was surprisingly widespread in small- and medium-sized cities of the Ukrainian SSR in the 1960s.

Georgina Arnott (History), Zoë Laidlaw (History) and Jane Lydon (UWA) edited Writing Slavery into Biography: Australian Legacies of British Slavery, a special issue of Australian Journal of Biography and History.

This special issue uses biographical approaches to explore how British slavery shaped the Australian colonies. It is the first standalone journal issue to feature an emerging body of historical work tracing the movement of people, investment and ideas from the from the Caribbean to Australia. Seven refereed articles and a roundtable discussion show how investment, imperial aspiration and migration turned towards Britain’s ‘Second Empire’ in the aftermath of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

A substantive introduction reviews this emerging field of research and outlines preliminary findings. In her article, Georgina Arnott investigates Western Australia’s first governor James Stirling’s biographical links to American and Caribbean slavery in light of ideas about race and labour that he promoted in Western Australia. And, together, Zoë Laidlaw and Georgina Arnott show how dictionaries of biography can be used alongside the Legacies of British Slavery database (hosted by University College London) to identify Australasian settlers with connections to slavery. They note the ways in which collective approaches to biography can reveal otherwise invisible patterns in global transfers of wealth, people and ideas.

The feature section of the issue concludes with a roundtable discussion between Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland, Zoë Laidlaw, Jeremy Martens and Georgina Arnott on the topic of linking the legacies of British slave ownership to Australian colonisation. Here, Hall observes that biography, when used in combination with prosopography, reveals how the lives and family trajectories of slave owners were distinguished amongst imperial capitalists at large. This issue builds understanding of the precise ways that slavery shaped the Australian colonies.

Julia Bowes (Hansen Lecturer in US History), ‘Family’, in Bonnie G. Smith and Nova Robinson (eds.), The Routledge Global History of Feminism.

This essay surveys the contributions of feminist scholars to the history of the family. In particular, it examines how and why the fields of family history and women and gender history have often sat in tension with one another. The essay argues that the most significant feminist interventions into the history of the family resulted from the globalisation of the field in the 1990s as post-colonial and feminist scholars challenged the universality of the Euro-American family model. Feminist scholarship has revealed the historical diversity of family forms and critically interrogated the power of normative family ideologies to shape history, using the history of the family to recast a wide range of other historical master narratives about slavery, imperialism, race, class, and state formation. The persistence of anti-feminist myths about the timelessness of the patriarchal family, especially in popular discourse, presents both a challenge and an opportunity for feminist scholarship.

Martin Bush (HPS), ‘Mary Proctor and the Cawthron Observatory Project: A Lost History of the Mount Stromlo Observatory’, Historical Records of Australian Science.

Between 1912 and 1914, the Anglo-American populariser of astronomy, Mary Proctor, undertook a tour of Australia and New Zealand in order to promote a solar observatory project that would ultimately be realised as the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia. Proctor came at the request of Walter Geoffrey Duffield, who would go on to be the first Director of the Mt Stromlo Observatory and who saw the need to raise funds and public support for the project. Proctor’s tour was high-profile and nearly saw the realisation of a solar observatory as part of the Cawthron Institute at Nelson, New Zealand. Despite this, Proctor’s tour is absent from histories of Mount Stromlo and, until recently, had also been overlooked in New Zealand. I argue that this historical lacuna speaks to a number of historiographical biases: for success over failure; against the role of public activities in scientific work; and downplaying the contribution of women. Mary Proctor was a significant transitional figure in the history of early twentieth-century science-communication who should be more widely recognised.

Georgia Comte (Hansen PhD scholar in History), ‘Gender Variance in the Ancient World: Near Eastern Influences on the Aegean Prehistoric Past’, Ancient Near Eastern Studies.

This paper seeks to explore the relationship between the Near East and the Aegean, particularly the dynamic exchange of ritual tradition that can be traced from Mesopotamia to Minoan and then Mycenaean Crete. Through an analysis of Mesopotamian art and poetry, the contested presence of castrated attendants and the tradition of castration itself is established. The tenuous relationship between castration and homosexuality is challenged to underscore a fluidity in Mesopotamian conceptions of gender. The evident fluidity exhibited by both Mesopotamian and Aegean artworks points to a broader understanding of the function of gender and gender transformation in both cultures. This paper offers a reanalysis of the singers apparent on the obverse of the Harvester Vase as well as the phorminx bard depicted on the Hagia Triada sarcophagus. These Aegean examples form the primary basis of analysis, demonstrating that the Aegean artists may have borrowed Mesopotamian conventions surrounding the depiction of castrated individuals, suggesting continuity with Mesopotamian ritual-musical castration practices.

Anya Daly (Fellow, Philosophy), ‘Sentience and the Primordial “We”: Contributions to Animal Ethics from Phenomenology and Buddhist Philosophy’, Environmental Values.

We are too frightened of shadows. We cannot abide our vulnerability, our utter dependence upon a world that can eat us. Vast in its analytic and inventive power, modern humanity is crippled by a fear of its own animality, and of the animate earth that sustains us.

― David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, Vintage Books, 2010

This paper explores the ontological bases for ethical behaviour between human animals and non-human animals drawing on phenomenology and Buddhist philosophy. Alongside Singer and utilitarianism, I argue that ethical behaviour regarding animals is most effectively justified and motivated by considerations of sentience. Nonetheless, utilitarianism misses crucial aspects of sentience. Buddhist ethics is from the beginning focused on all sentient beings, not solely humans. This inclusivity, and refined interrogations of suffering, means it can furnish more nuanced understandings of sentience. For phenomenology, sentience includes the capacities for self-awareness and, I will argue, a plural self-awareness; the ‘I’ belongs to a ‘we’, and the ‘we’ is constitutive of the ‘I’. This ‘primordial we’ provides the basis for rethinking the moral relations between human animals and non-human animals. I contend finally we thus have an ontological basis in ‘interanimality’ to explain why we most often do and should care about all sentient beings.

Anya Daly (Fellow, Philosophy), ‘Ontology and Politics: Interdependence and Radical Contingency in Merleau-Ponty’s Political Interworld’, Human Studies

This paper takes as its point of departure Merleau-Ponty’s assertion not long before his untimely death in 1961 that “everything will have to begin again, in politics as well as in philosophy” (Merleau-Ponty in Person). It is well known that in pursuing his later work Merleau-Ponty signalled the need for a reconfiguration of his philosophical vision so that it was no longer caught in Cartesianism and the philosophy of consciousness. This required a turn towards ontology through which he consolidated two key ideas that were already implicit in the earlier work: firstly, a thoroughgoing interdependence articulated in his reversibility thesis and the ontology of ‘flesh’; and secondly, a radical contingency at the heart of existence. And it is important to recognise that these ideas are delineating the same world; they are offering interdependent lenses through which to understand this world.

This paper seeks to interrogate the implications for these ideas in the domain of politics in general and specifically with regard to the notions of humanism and human progress. Relatedly, I seek to address the question – how might a recognition of ontological interdependence and radical contingency support the viability of a flourishing democracy? Merleau-Ponty’s early political work was concerned with the political issues of his day, notably, Nazism, Marxism and the status of humanism, and did not engage extensively with these emerging onto-political concerns. Nonetheless, there are indicative reflections in the writings and interviews; the political implications of his ontological interrogations become more thematic in the later works. There is thus no rupture as such between the earlier works and the later ones with regard to the direction of his philosophical vision, although he did later distance himself from Marxism with the revelations of the gulags under Stalin and the Korean War.

The overarching claim of this paper is that we need to rethink politics from the ground up beginning with the acknowledgement that ontology is political and that the political is intrinsically ontologically informed; and furthermore, that getting the ontology ‘right’ is a matter of discovery, and not theory choice as some claim. Perhaps through these interrogations the very notion of ‘human progress’ might be salvaged despite recent events, despite the erosion of trust due to the escalation of violence, the destruction of the biosphere, widespread poverty, the corruption of leaders, institutions and media, and despite the challenges faced by democracy, arguably the most evolved of political systems.

June Factor (Senior Fellow, History), Soldiers and Aliens: Men in the Australian Army’s Employment Companies during World War II (Melbourne University Press)

Four thousand Australian soldiers in World War II who signed up for service were never to fire a weapon. Their work was essential for the war effort, but they were ‘aliens’ – non-British subjects – many born in other countries. Scholars and peasants, musicians and factory workers, communists and royalists, Jews and Catholics, animists and atheists, they all laboured under standard strict Army regulations, living in tents and huts, loading and unloading trains, working the wharves, cutting timber and transporting goods. They raised money for good causes, gave public concerts and staged theatre performances. And every day they feared for loved ones caught up in the horror of occupied Europe and Asia. They were a multicultural force in the Army long before the term ‘multicultural’ was coined. Largely forgotten, their contribution to Australia during World War II makes for an engrossing story and provides new insights into a critical period of Australian history.

Louise Hitchcock (Classics & Archaeology), ‘Sea People‘, Oxford Classical Dictionary. 

The term ‘Sea People’ is a modern designation for some nine tribes known from Egyptian, Hittite, Ugaritic, and biblical texts. Their origins are uncertain, but they are associated with maritime activity that contributed to the destruction of many city-states in the Mediterranean during the era known as the Late Bronze–Iron Age transition. An outcome of this activity was the collapse or destruction of many Bronze Age sites and an emergence of new cultures.

Holly Lawford-Smith (Philosophy), ‘Was Lockdown Life Worth Living?‘, Monash Bioethics Review.

Lockdowns in Australia have been strict and lengthy. Policymakers appear to have given the preservation of quantity of lives strong priority over the preservation of quality of lives. But thought-experiments in population ethics suggest that this is not always the right priority. In this paper, I’ll discuss both negative impacts on quantity of lives caused by the lockdowns themselves, including an increase in domestic violence, and negative impacts on quality of lives caused by lockdowns, in order to raise the question of whether we each had reason to choose quantity over quality in our own lives in a way that would justify the lockdowns we had.

Jessie Matheson (PhD in History, 2021), ‘The Fourth Service: Duty and Recognition in the Australian Women’s Land Army’, History Australia.

Throughout the duration of World War Two, members of the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) were repeatedly assured that they were of equal status to the women’s auxiliary services. While they shared some conditions with the women of these services during the war, the explicit assurance that they would be officially rendered a fourth auxiliary service, and therefore eligible for all post-war privileges, rights and protections, never came to fruition. This article explores the ways in which members of the AWLA were led to believe that they should expect this legal recognition during the war, and traces the dissolution of these assurances as the war drew to a close. It also examines how this ambivalent legal status informed their wartime experience, and how members of the AWLA have been commemorated. It seeks to critically explore the rhetoric of obedience and control that informed the culture of the AWLA and the extent to which AWLA members were deliberately misled by their organisation’s ambiguous status to encourage wartime loyalty to service.

Morgan Weaving (PhD student in HPS, SHAPS/Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences) (@WeavingMorgan), Cordelia Fine (HPS) and Nick Haslam (Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences), ‘Motivated Inquiry: Ideology Shapes Responses to the Christian Porter Rape Allegation’, Australian Journal of Psychology.

After learning of the rape allegation against Christian Porter, Australians were divided in their support for an inquiry. We examined whether ideological preferences were associated with motivated reasoning on this issue. Our results show that participants believed an article arguing for an inquiry was stronger than an article arguing against an inquiry. However, this effect was weaker among politically conservative participants and those high on SDO. These findings suggest that ideological preferences are associated with motivated reasoning when evaluating partisan allegations of sexual misconduct. Evaluations of such allegations appear to vary according to people’s political attitudes and preferences for social hierarchy.

The latest issue of Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions features special sections on Religion and Languages and on Luce Irigaray and Politics. Sophia is edited by Purushottama Bilimoria (Principal Fellow, Philosophy).

Awards & Scholarships

Janet McCalman was awarded the 2022 Ernest Scott Prize for her work Vandemonians: The Repressed History of Colonial Victorians (Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2021). The prize was jointly awarded to Lucy Mackintosh (Curator of History at Tāmaki Paenga Hira/Auckland War Memorial Museum) for her book Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2021).

The Ernest Scott Prize for History is awarded annually to the book based on original research judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation. The 2022 prize was adjudicated by Emeritus Professor Tom Griffiths, Australian National University, and Professor Angela Wanhalla, University of Otago.

Vandemonians: The Repressed History of Colonial Victorians is a profoundly original and compassionate work of history that showcases new methods of collective biography to deliver fresh insights on every page about Australia’s colonial foundations.

Janet McCalman said she was honoured and delighted to have been chosen as the 2022 joint winner and expressed her gratitude to the judges for her selection.

Prasakti Ramadhana Fahadi (Dana) has been awarded the 2022 University of Melbourne’s Human Rights Scholarship. Dana is a first-year PhD student in the cross-faculty Gender Studies program, based in SHAPS. Her doctoral research is centred on the history of digital media and communication for activism and gender-based violence in Indonesia. Her supervisors are Kate McGregor (History), and Ana Dragojlovic and Anissa Betta (School of Culture and Communications).

As part of the global South, knowledge about feminist activism in Indonesia is frequently overlooked. To challenge the West’s concept of ‘Fourth-wave Feminism’, this research will look at the process and practise of incorporating digital and cyber technology in communication for activism against gender-based violence over the last 25 years, with the goal of developing its own definition of the feminist movement in the global South.

Dana has worked as a junior lecturer at Universitas Gadjah Mada’s (UGM) Department of Communication Science and as a research assistant at the UGM Youth Studies Centre in Indonesia. She is currently in the advisory board for Indonesia-based feminist organisations: Feminis Yogyakarta and Institut Ungu. Dana holds a master’s degree in communications and media studies from Monash University. She has also been a fellow at the World’s Center for Women’s Studies. Her research interests include social media studies, gender studies, digital youth culture, digital activism and audience studies.

Dana told us a little about what the scholarship means to her:

I’ve always considered my (still very limited) voluntary activism to be a form of service and a method to give back by devoting my work to the improvement of the lives of people who are oppressed. However, it is gratifying to get such recognition for my commitment to fighting for equal rights. Being picked as the recipient of this award is a tremendous honour, and I am extremely grateful.


Gretel Evans (PhD in History, 2020), has taken up a role as Research Fellow (Community Capability Development) with the Fire to Flourish Program in the Sustainable Development Institute at Monash University, “a five-year transdisciplinary program … working at the intersection of disaster resilience and community development”. With her thesis being on migrants’ memories of bushfire and floods in Australia and a significant component comprising oral history interviews, Gretel will make an important contribution to the program, which is “working in partnership with four communities across New South Wales and Victoria affected by the 2019/20 Australian bushfire season”.

Research Higher Degree Completions

Stephanie Zindilis (MA in Classics and Archaeology), ‘Distaff Displacement: Narratives of Female Exile in Ovidian Poetry’

Displacement is a torment experienced by numerous women in Ovid’s Heroides and Fasti. Reading these episodes from a gendered perspective reveals nuances in the female vs. male experience of exile, broadening understanding of how exile is experienced by women and its impact on their psychology, agency, and identity. These episodes explore the myriad of factors that can influence a woman’s success or failure in finding refuge, and how gender and exile intersect to create an oppressive cycle of dual-marginalisation. The increased vulnerability of exiled women provides a powerful model for Ovid to voice his own experience of displacement in the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto. Thematic and linguistic echoes link his pre- and post-exilic work, bridging poetic fact and fiction to identify the poet with his characters through the shared experience of social exclusion and persecution by a more dominant, masculine force.

Supervisors: Associate Professor James Chong-Gossard and Professor Tim Parkin

Research Higher Degree Milestones

Andrew Bushnell (PhD candidate in Philosophy) presented his PhD completion seminar, on the topic: ‘Order and the Reason to be Conservative’

This thesis offers a new defence of the reasonableness of conservatism. Whereas the recent political philosophical literature on conservatism has focused on potential justifications for status quo bias, I argue that conservatism is better understood as a commitment to realising a distinctively conservative value: order. I claim that order functions to capture and conserve the historical experience of society, and order is a basic good because access to this information is valuable for beings like us. Identifying this substantive commitment clarifies our understanding of conservatism and brings to the surface a value claim that is often overlooked in political philosophy.

Matthew Holmes (PhD candidate in History) delivered his PhD completion seminar, on the topic: ‘Growing Songs: Australian Sound Media for Children from Parlour Music to Podcasts’

This thesis provides the first cultural history of sound media produced for Australian children, with a concentration on the rising consumption of transnational entertainment that accelerated post-World War II as Australian children’s music evolved into a distinctive genre. Through case studies of key artists, Peter Combe, Don Spencer, Justine Clarke, Coco’s Lunch, The Wiggles, it shows Australian musicians to have significantly contributed with ingenuity within a transnational genre of music that has become commercially successful on the global entertainment stage.

Katherine Molyneux (PhD Candidate, History) Getihu: Peddlers, Cadres, Housewives, and Everyday Exchange in the Chinese City of Nanjing, 1945–85′ PhD completion seminar

Following the death of founding Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976, a series of market-based reforms were gradually introduced in the People’s Republic of China. These reforms disrupted the previous planned economy, and ultimately changed both China and the world. In the early 1980s, the first sign of this new era was the appearance of a growing number of peddlers and petty merchants on the streets of Chinese cities. These merchants became known as the ‘getihu’, and were variously embraced, derided, and intensively studied as harbingers of a new China. But the ‘getihu’ – even their name – were as much a product of the Mao-era Chinese Communist Party as they were of the era of reform. Focusing on the city of Nanjing, this thesis explores the ‘getihu’ and their Maoist-era forebears. I argue that understanding the continuities between the two eras is essential to an understanding of the distribution of social and economic power under the Chinese Communist Party today.


Jonathan Peter (PhD candidate, History), Bronwyn Beech Jones (Hansen PhD scholar in History) and Annisa Sabrina Hartoto (SSPS) are co-convenors of a new Indonesia Postgraduate Network.

The Indonesia Postgraduate Network (IPN) aims to support mutual understanding and cultivate support networks between postgraduate students in Australia in Indonesia, bringing together and encouraging collaboration between postgraduate students from the University of Melbourne, Universitas Indonesia and Universitas Gadjah Mada. We plan to have our first series of Peer Support Group discussions within the next couple of months. These discussions will be safe spaces where postgraduates can share their experiences in dealing with issues like imposter syndrome and ways to work independently while maintaining meaningful connections. If you are interested in joining the IPN and receiving news about future events, please feel free to contact Jonathan via email.


Feature image: Indonesia Postgraduate Network (IPN) Start-of-Year Welcome Picnic, 2022. Photograph courtesy IPN