SHAPS Digest (January 2024)

Liam Byrne (Honorary, History) made a video for Unions Australia on the 40th Anniversary of Medicare.

Oleg Beyda (Hansen Lecturer in History) featured on the podcast Game of Life with Dave and Harman, exploring the meaning and purpose of doing History today.

An article by Cat Gay (Hansen PhD Scholar in History), “‘All the Perils of the Ocean”: Girls’ Emotions on Voyages to Australia, 1851–1884,’ received the second-highest number of views online in Australian Historical Studies for 2023. The article is currently available Open Access on the Taylor & Francis website.

Tamara Lewit (Fellow, Classics & Archaeology) was interviewed about four millennia of changing traditions of New Years’ resolutions for ABC Rural and ABC Victorian Country Hour

Grimwade Masters students Fen Reyes, Camille Calanno and Sarah Soltis, wrote about their research and conservation project on the Philippines’ Kabayan Fire Mummies in Pursuit.

History staff and post-graduate researchers Oleg Beyda, Mark Edele, Julie Fedor, George Fforde, Aleksandra Riabichenko and Joshua Strong visited the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center at Hokkaido University to take part in a Hokkaido-Melbourne University Joint Seminar on ‘Eurasian Migration: Past, Present and Future’. The visit was hosted by Professor Akihiro Iwashita and co-organised by the East Eurasian Studies Project, National Institute for the Humanities; the Eurasia Unit for Border Research at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University; the Research Initiative on Post-Soviet Space (RIPSS), Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne; and the Research Unit for Ukraine and Neighbouring Areas at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University.

Presenters from both institutions shared their work on a range of topics related to border crossings in Eurasia, including the history of Russian migration to and from the Far East (Oleg Beyda and David Wolff); the re-mapping of national identities and narratives of imperial history in contemporary Russia and Ukraine (Yoko Aoshima and Julie Fedor); the plight of Ukrainian evacuees in Japan (Naomi Chi); oral history as a source on the experiences of Russian displaced persons of Kalmyk descent (Takehiko Inoue); migrant landscapes in marketplaces in Russia (Norio Horie); illegal border crossings in the Soviet period (Mark Edele and George Fforde); the post-war fates of Soviet Nazi collaborators in Australia (Aleksandra Riabichenko), and the migration of Stalinist Socialist Realist architectural language from the USSR to East and South-Asia (Joshua Strong). Mark Edele, Julie Fedor, Akihiro Iwashita and Mie Nakachi acted as commentators on the presentations and led a lively and productive discussion which we hope will lead to ongoing collaboration. We thank our Japanese hosts for their warm welcome and generous hospitality!

Academic Publications

Purushottama Bilimoria (Principal Fellow, Philosophy), ‘Testimony, Authorless Text, and Tradition: Toward Hermeneutic Pluralism’, in Andrea Vestrucci (ed.), Beyond Babel: Religion and Linguistic Pluralism, Sophia Studies in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series, volume 43 (Springer, 2023)

Ever since some traditional protagonists made the intriguing claim that the Vedas (canonical Brahmāṇical texts) are an inviolable resource of authority on significant matters, extensive debate has raged in Indian thought as to whether word can rightfully be accepted as pramāṇa or autonomous mode of knowing; in western epistemological terms, as testimony? At the mundane level the doctrine underscores the capacity of language, i.e., words and sentences (sabda), to disseminate knowledge from speaker/author to hearer/audience; at a transcendental level it adverts to wisdom-texts delivering knowledge about supramundane matters.

Unlike the former, the words of the latter may be literally authorless: truth is begot from what the sages of yore simply ‘heard’, somehow, and came to know. But J N Mohanty has rejected this doctrine, arguing that sentences can certainly generate linguistic meaning or intentionality – understanding that p. But since this does not come stamped with evidential warrant (‘fact’), it may not amount to knowledge that p; at best it may generate belief about injunctions and imperatives (‘ought’ but not indicatively ‘is’, nor objective moral knowledge). The chapter is a response to what I call the Mohanty-Gettier Paradox, and a case is argued for the viability of śabda-based testimony, drawing on phenomenology of language and hermeneutics.

Andrew Inkpin (Philosophy), ‘Merleau-Ponty, Taylor, and the Expressiveness of Language‘, Southern Journal of Philosophy

This article explores how the thought that language is expressive, in the sense of bearing emotional or affective meaning, can be made sense of, with particular attention to two authors for whom this thought plays an important role. It begins by introducing the idea of language being “expressive” and using Charles Taylor’s work to consider its potential interest, before showing how the expressiveness of language might be accounted for by a position that seems particularly suited to this task, namely Merleau‐Ponty’s view of embodied expression in Phenomenology of Perception. I then set out a significant challenge to that position based on Wittgenstein’s “private language argument”, which implies there is no necessary connection between language use and a subject’s internal (affective) states, thus contesting Merleau‐Ponty’s explanatory emphasis on the body. I therefore propose a revised “complex” view of language’s expressiveness that meets this Wittgensteinian challenge by reconceiving the body’s role. Finally, I draw out some implications of this revised view, arguing that while language itself cannot be considered expressive, it remains significant that we can experience language as expressive. I also suggest that, although apparently threatened, Taylor’s position can not only accommodate, but be better understood with, this revised view.

Ravando (PhD in History, 2023), Karsa dan Karya Demi Kemanusiaan: Yayasan Kesehatan Telogorejo untuk Indonesia (Penerbit Buku Kompas, 2023).

On 29 November 2025, Rumah Sakit Telogorejo (Telogorejo Hospital) will celebrate its centennial milestone. Over the course of a century, the hospital has made significant contributions to the improvement of the healthcare sector, particularly for the residents of Semarang (Central Java) and its surrounding areas. Originating from a humble rented building located in a small Chinatown called Gang Gambiran, the initial founders of the hospital embarked on their grand vision to enhance the quality of life for the less privileged, as they often found themselves to be the most vulnerable in the highly discriminatory colonial healthcare system. This book demonstrates how, through this institution, the ethnic Chinese community helped to protect and help those in need. In this book I examine the history of the Telogorejo Hospital from its founding in 1925 up until 2023. Through archival and newspaper research, I unearth how the doctors and nurses working for this hospital not only served the community but also engaged in health activism to prevent disease and increase hygiene amongst the broader public.


Tony Ward (Fellow, History), ‘Ritalin, Animal Spirits and the Productivity Puzzle‘, Australian Economic Review

This article argues the importance of animal spirits throughout the economy in improving productivity performance. It overviews the idea of animal spirits and people’s level of confidence in undertaking economic activity. It then notes a gap, a missing residual, in economists’ efforts to understand productivity growth. Two well-documented measures indicating animal spirits are the level of social trust and of corruption. Surveying the literature, the article shows both of these correlate with economic performance, and demonstrates they are correlated with each other. A case study of the impact of changes in corruption levels shows animal spirits can have significant effects.

Awards & Appointments

Nat Cutter (History) was one of a team (with Rachel Fensham and Tyne Sumner) who received the 2023 Research Infrastructure Excellence Award for Excellence in Innovation and Contribution to Research for their work on the Australian Cultural Data Engine (ACD-Engine). 

Brent Davis (Classics & Archaeology) was awarded funding for a collaboration with Melbourne Data Analytics Platform (MDAP) to support his project, Using Deep Neural Network Models to Aid in the Decipherment of Linear A.

Linear A is a script that was used on Crete and its surrounding islands by the Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age (ca. 1800–1450 BCE). It was first discovered in 1900 at the site of Knossos, alongside another related, but slightly later script called Linear B, which was associated with Mycenaean Greek culture (ca. 1400–1200 BCE). Linear B was shown to represent an early form of ancient Greek in 1952, but Linear A remains undeciphered and appears to encode an unrelated language.

Attempts at decipherment using conventional, manual methods have proven unsuccessful to date, owing in no small part to the restricted size of the current corpus of texts. However, in recent years, deep learning techniques have shown great success as a tool in deciphering other ancient scripts. By combining expertise in Aegean scripts from the University of Melbourne’s Classics and Archaeology department with the technical capabilities of the MDAP team, we are hoping to investigate the nature of Linear A through language models trained via deep learning, working towards an effort at machine decipherment.

The primary aims of this project are to gain further insights into the nature of the language that the Linear A script encodes, and to contribute to the efforts at decipherment through potentially identifying and/or eliminating candidate cognate languages. The identification of a potential cognate language for Linear A as a part of this project would be a fundamental step towards machine decipherment of the language. Conversely, the inability to identify any cognates would be equally informative, strengthening the case for Linear A as a language isolate, and indicating that alternative approaches need to be sought for its decipherment that do not rely on the knowledge of related languages.

Julie Fedor (History) has been appointed to the board of the History Council of Victoria.

C&A PhD student Abby Robinson was awarded the 2023 Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria (AASV) Alpha Prize for best student presentation. Each year the AASV welcomes students from Monash, La Trobe and University of Melbourne annually to present their work to the society, which gives a prize for the best talk for the year at the AGM.

In 2023 University of Melbourne was represented by Cassandra Kiely (Borderline Life in the Mediaeval Mountains of Southwest Georgia) and Abby Robinson (A Darker Version of Home: Surviving the Turbulent Middle Ages in the Highlands of Southwestern Georgia).

Abby talked to Forum and told us a little about the project for which she won the award:

My talk was based on data from an extensive archaeological field survey that I worked on with my Georgian colleague, Giorgi Khaburzania. The project comes under the auspices of the long and successful collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the Georgian National Museum, which also encompasses Andrew Jamieson and Claudia Sagona’s excavations at Rabati. Over a period of five years or so, Giorgi and I covered around 1,300 km2 of the southwest Georgian borderlands, on foot and by car, collecting material for my PhD thesis and other projects.

Exploring the mountainous northwestern edge of the survey area, 2017. Photographer: Giorgi Khaburzania

From the outset, we were struck by how common it was to encounter stone-built and rock-cut shelters and defences of various kinds: fortress complexes made of local stone occupied and monitored the narrow river valleys; human-made and remodelled caves were cut into the rocky walls of the gorges; and underground shelters called darnebi were hidden away beneath settlements on the highland plateaus. This defensive landscape reflects the turbulent Middle Ages in this region. The eighth to eleventh centuries CE were a time of continual struggles for power and territory, involving forces from both inside and beyond its borders, and culminating in a devastating invasion by the Seljuk Turks in c1065.

Survey on the Niala Plateau, site of many darnebi‘, 2013. Photographer: Giorgi Khaburzania

My talk focused on the darnebi, which are common in this part of Georgia but very rarely seen elsewhere. Concealed beneath the remains of many (perhaps most?) medieval villages, they had benches, alcoves – even the means to prepare food during prolonged confinements. In sum, they were a dark and dismal version of home – but they also represented salvation. Hidden away and safeguarded by narrow entranceways and effectively impassable stone doors, the villagers who worked in the fields, cared for the animals and built the defences could be kept safe from attacks there. Whatever damage was done above ground, in time they could emerge and rebuild. What we see here and throughout the survey area is tangible evidence of how the combination of builders and landscapes, culture and nature, resulted in a barrier against all comers that ultimately stood the test of time.

Andrew Turner (Classics & Archaeology) was awarded funding for a collaboration with Melbourne Data Analytics Platform (MDAP) to support his project, Determining the Sources for Nicholas Trevet’s Commentary on Livy.

Livyʼs Roman History is a seminal historical work from the ancient world, and its text has been studied intensively, but the English mediaeval scholar Nicholas Trevet wrote a Latin commentary on Livy which may have been highly influential in its day, but which has never been published. There are fundamental scholarly questions about Trevetʼs sources and the subsequent influence of this text which have been impossible to address because of the absence of a modern critical edition of this work.

This project aims to understand better the manuscript sources used by Nicholas Trevet to establish his commentary on Livy. Due to severe losses of relevant material, it is extremely unlikely that any one manuscript could ever be identified as Trevetʼs source, but knowing what general family of manuscript he used can give us more precise information on where he wrote his own commentary and when. The amount of material needed to study the Livian manuscript tradition properly is vast, and to analyse it in a tradition manner for this project would require not only enormous man-power resources but also expense, since many manuscripts are not freely available online but images must be purchased. But select manuscript readings, which have already been compiled in some modern editions, in some ways behave like biological data, in that common characteristics can show lineage and affiliation. Our aim therefore is to use techniques developed to treat comparable biological problems in conjunction with MDAP to speed up the processes of identification of Trevetʼs likely source.

PhD Completions

Laura Jocic (PhD in History, 2024) ‘Dress in Australia: The Materiality of a Colonial Society in the Making’

The study of surviving items of dress offers a vital material source for historians that is commonly ignored. Dress sits at the intersections between necessity and self-representation, the assertion of social standing and cultural, economic and technological aspects of society. Yet writings on dress in the Australian colonial context have largely overlooked the extant items, focusing instead on images and text. ‘Dress in Australia: The Materiality of a Colonial Society in the Making’ takes a material culture approach to the history of colonial era dress from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 to the late-nineteenth century. It pays particular attention to the early years of colonisation and development of colonial society in the years up to the early 1870s.

The research methodology, which uses the study of a selection of garments in public and private collections, which are known to have been either made or worn in Australia, places surviving items of dress and their materiality to the fore in discussions of European colonisation and Australian settler culture. The close examination of surviving items of dress, coupled with contextual interpretation of objects based on archival research using letters, journals and correspondence, as well as visual material, demonstrates how such an approach enables historical interpretations that would not have been possible from a narrower methodological base. Through the detailed analysis and contextual interpretation of objects, this thesis shows how their materiality prompts new directions and expanded ways of thinking about the significance of dress within a rapidly changing settler society

Supervisors: Professor Antonia Finnane, Dr Carolyn Rasmussen, Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy

Elizabeth (Beth) Muldoon (PhD in History, 2024) ‘Learning History with the Founding Foremothers of the Redfern Black Movement

This thesis offers a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the Redfern Black Movement from 1968 to 1973. Recognising the central place of women within the Movement, it crafts a platform for their voices to be properly heard within historical scholarship for the first time. The PhD candidate, Elizabeth (Beth) Muldoon worked with eight founding foremothers of the Movement as co-researchers to develop a historical analysis of its origins, philosophy and praxis based on their oral histories. The anti-colonial methodology of the collective research underpinning this thesis enabled joint control of every component, from its guiding questions to its budget. This methodology responds to the longstanding demand of Aboriginal activists and scholars, including Black Movement activists in the 1970s, for Aboriginal communities to be in control of research about them.

The historical analysis of this thesis is informed by the theorisation of Aboriginal sovereignty as lived, embodied and inalienable by Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Crystal McKinnon and other Aboriginal scholars who articulate an Aboriginal ontology that co-researchers share. When viewed through this theoretical lens, the Redfern Black Movement can be understood as an assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty that displayed significant continuities with prior assertions. The oral histories of co-researchers reveal that such assertions did not only take the form of organised and spontaneous confrontations with colonial power, but also the daily acts of care, protection, education and cultivation of kinship that have always sustained Aboriginal communities. Attentive to the diverse ways through which Aboriginal sovereignty is asserted, this thesis traces the origins of the Movement through co-researchers’ personal and community histories in rural New South Wales, Townsville, Cairns and Darwin. It then demonstrates that their connection to a long legacy of Aboriginal community defence and nurturing on Gadigal Country (where Redfern is located) was vital to the emergence of the Movement.

Additionally, this thesis maps the philosophy and praxis of the Movement, showing how four key strategies – ‘direct action’, ‘sharing and caring’, ‘unity’, and ‘solidarity’ – grew from the ancestral knowledge of co-researchers and other the Movement activists in response to new circumstances, relationships and ideas. The oral histories of co-researchers reveal that each of these strategies contributed to the strength of the Movement yet carried significant challenges, which opponents of the Movement have, over the past fifty years, exploited to undermine the Movement’s pursuit of ‘self-determination’, understood by co-researchers as entailing ‘land rights’ and ‘community control’. The political objectives of Movement women and the strategies that they developed to attain them were grounded in their theorisation of their unique position of subjugation within settler-colonial society as Black women, yet the indivisibility of their struggle for liberation with that of Black men. By contextualising women’s participation in the Movement within a long tradition of Aboriginal women’s political leadership and Women’s Business in south-eastern Australia, this thesis demonstrates that we cannot understand the Movement without grasping the perspectives of Movement women.

Supervisors: Professor Gary Foley, Professor Sara Wills, Professor Barry Judd

Eliza O’Donnell (PhD in Cultural Materials Conservation, 2024), ‘The Painting is Broken: Understanding Issues of Authenticity and Art Attribution in Contemporary Indonesia’

The circulation of counterfeit paintings in the Indonesian art centres is a sensitive issue that threatens the cultural record and intellectual property of artists and their legacy. Since the beginning of Indonesia’s first art market boom in the late 1980s, paintings falsely attributed to prominent modern and contemporary Indonesian artists have slid into the secondary art market, changing hands through auction houses, galleries, art dealers and private transactions. While the unauthorised use of intellectual property that infringes on the copyright of the artist is a pervasive and longstanding issue in Indonesia, as it is globally, the study of painting attribution from a conservation perspective is limited.

This thesis employs an interdisciplinary methodology grounded in cross-cultural engagement, technical art history, archival research, and interviews with art world practitioners, to investigate the relationship between the booming art market and the circulation of counterfeit paintings falsely attributed to Indonesian artists. Reviewing current approaches for art attribution in Indonesia, this thesis asks, how is painting authenticity understood in the Indonesian context? This question is examined across six themed chapters focusing on: 1) terminology, 2) the Indonesian copyright framework, 3) the art market, 4) art market processes, 5) art archives and 6) technical art history. An interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to this study enabled a nuanced exploration of knowledge representation, verification, and the societal implications of painting forgery in the Javanese arts communities of Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Bandung where this research is located.

Key findings drawn from artist interviews, archival sources and technical art history highlight the extent to which contemporary living artists, in addition to the twentieth-century modern masters, have been victims of art fraud, from the early 1990s until today. These findings demonstrate the tangible impact of forgery on the individuals who are affected when counterfeit works are produced and traded. This study seeks to elucidate the strategies that contemporary Indonesian artists have adopted to protect themselves from intellectual property theft in the absence of a robust copyright framework, and examines integrated approaches to building secure artist records and archives for future studies of attribution.

Overall, this thesis underscores the pressing need for interdisciplinary collaboration and ongoing discourse to address the particular challenges posed by painting forgery in the Indonesian art market. Inauthentic cultural material is harmful to Indonesian artists, communities, and the cultural record, and finding effective and empowering ways to manage this issue is of great interest to artists, curators, art historians, conservators and others. Painting forgery in Indonesia, and in the global art world, is an active and ongoing issue, and current understanding is continually evolving as new evidence is brought to light. This thesis is a scholarly contribution to advancing existing knowledge on art attribution and authenticity in Indonesia, deepening collective knowledge of the complexities inherent in the Indonesian art world and its broader implications for the global art community.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Nicole Tse and Professor Robyn Sloggett (Grimwade), Associate Professor Edwin Jurriëns (Asia Institute)

Feature image: L to R. Norio Horie, Naomi Chi, George Fforde, Julie Fedor, Josh Strong, Oleg Beyda, Mark Edele, Aleksandra Riabichenko, Takehiko Inoue, Akihiro Iwashita, David Wolff, Mie Nakachi, at the Hokkaido-Melbourne University Joint Seminar, ‘Eurasian Migration. Past, Present and Future’, Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University, 12 January 2024