Eliza O’Donnell

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)


Meet Dr Sarah Corrigan, Allan J Myers Lecturer in Classics

In 2023 we were thrilled to welcome Dr Sarah Corrigan as the newly appointed inaugural Allan J Myers Lecturer in Classics (Latin Language and Literature). Dr Corrigan received her PhD from the University of Galway in 2017 and has since held fellowships funded by the Irish Research Council, working on a variety of projects. Dr Corrigan works, among other things, on the transmission of texts through the times, spanning from the Ancient to the Early Medieval world, as well as the new frontiers of the field in digital humanities. Current PhD candidate Christian Hjorth Bagger sat down with Dr Corrigan to learn more about her research and teaching.

Welcome to Melbourne and the University! First of all, how have you and your family settled into Melbourne and how do you find life Down Under?

Thank you so much! We’ve been here for just over five months now and I have to say that we’re loving it. Melbourne has so much to offer in terms of food, culture and adventures, and I know we’ve barely even scratched the surface. I also love that despite living in a big city, the neighbourhood where we live feels like a community. It’s such a gift to have the best of both worlds in that way. Our first impressions were also helped along by the fact that the Melbourne winter we arrived into happened to be warmer and drier than the Irish summer we left behind!

Starting in this new position has also been such an exciting adventure. I was bowled over by the warm welcome I received from students and colleagues in Classics & Archaeology, and SHAPS in general. I feel like I’ve been supported every step of the way in making this huge move. There is also an amazing amount of interest in and support for Classics outside of the university here – it’s very encouraging.

You are the new Allan J Myers Lecturer in Classics (Latin Language and Literature); can you tell us what it is about the Latin language and texts that make them so interesting from a historical perspective?

This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, perhaps particularly in relation to the challenges of investigating the ancient world with students.

One of the goals of scholars of all levels is to find a connection with the very real people who inhabited the distant past. We strive to discern their voices and to identify the impressions they made on the environments in which they lived. For me, the most compelling way to do this has always been through the written word. Whether texts are personal, like private letters, or aimed at a wider audience, like epic poetry, they contain evidence of the people who composed, shared and consumed them, of their lives, their values, their struggles, their worldview.

The appeal of Latin to me has always been how eclectic the body of evidence in this language is. From its emergence in Italy, Latin was tied to the expansion of Rome and made its way throughout the Mediterranean region. In some areas, Latin persisted for two millennia or more – you can still find pockets of it today; in religious services, for example, but also in several Latin news shows, all entitled Nuntii Latini, one of which was, until recently, broadcast on Finnish public radio. As a result, the body of evidence offered by Latin language texts has a vast range, both geographically and temporally. Its function first as the language of an empire and then as the language of Christianity also means that it often interacts with regional languages in ways that reveal so much to us about those people who wielded more than one language and were working to synthesise different elements of the cultures in which they lived and wrote. This is very much the case in early medieval Ireland, on which some of my research focuses. Here, the Latin language was introduced to an Irish-speaking population predominantly through Christianity and its core texts. The result is that Irish language and culture had a pronounced impact on the Latin texts produced in Ireland, including astonishing innovations in lexicon and literary style. A fascinating instance of this is the new terminology the Irish introduced into Latin to facilitate a discussion of the substantial tidal movements they experienced, which of course were lacking in the Mediterranean world.

Many Latin texts are also among the body of ancient narratives that still enthral the modern reader. As well as that, the distant past, or a version of it, is also commonly used as a setting for modern storytelling, whether in books or films. This means that there is a thriving interest in the ancient world, and people have a strong relationship with these historical contexts and their narratives. This can lead to an overly mythologised view of them, particularly as some of the most popular and engaging stories feature the fantastical and the monstrous. More significantly, it gives people a vested interest in learning more, in delving beyond the narrative to discover the reality behind its composition.

Thinking about Latin, we often think of the Romans or the medieval Catholic Church. Two perhaps vastly different topics. Can you tell us a bit more about your research interests and how you reconcile the two?

That’s a great question!

The key concept in this case is the idea of continuity I think. When I studied English as an undergraduate, our curriculum spanned from Beowulf to Shakespeare to Modernist poetry and beyond, and it also ranged geographically across the English-speaking world. I don’t think anyone would think to question this diversity of period, location or, indeed, genre; the subject at that level is a survey, or a history, of a body of literature in a given language.

We can think of Latin literature in the same way if we choose to: it spans from ancient Rome, its empire and its influence, into the medieval Christian context and on into the modern Romance language literatures. The topics of ancient Rome and medieval Christianity may seem vastly different, and of course they are in many ways, but they are two points on a deeply compelling linguistic, geographic and cultural continuum. My goal in both teaching and research is to try to delve into the point on that continuum represented by each piece of textual evidence, and to parse out the elements of transition and continuity that it is witness to – that’s how we continue to resolve a clearer view of the past.

Which subjects will you be teaching here at the university and why should one take these subjects?

I’ll be working with the Honours Latin students in Semester 2 and I think I’ve probably done enough extolling of the value of Latin Language and Literature at this point! Latin reading groups like this are some of my favourite subjects to work on though, as people’s responses to literature vary wildly and ideally everyone, including me, comes away with new insights.

Attic Greek Red-figured pelike, excavated in Fikellura Cemetery (Kamiros), Rhodes. It shows Thetis and a Nereid bringing arms, made by Hephaistos, to Achilles who mourns Patroclus, c470 BCE. British Museum, 1864,1007.126

Another subject that I’ll be coordinating and lecturing on is an Ancient World Studies subject called Underworld and Afterlife (ANCW30011), which will be undergoing some significant changes for 2024. We’re reintroducing live lectures to the subject and redesigning the modules too.

It’s a subject that draws people in because some of the most enthralling ancient Mediterranean myths are about adventures and misadventures in underworlds, and encounters with the gods and monsters that inhabit them. The macabre can have an appeal of its own too. It’s also a subject that strives to get to grips with that core aspect of humanity that is our relationship with death. We explore how people interred, mourned, and commemorated the deceased, as well as the sometimes unsettling place that grief can occupy in a society.

The materials that we examine and discuss in the subject encompass all of these aspects and it makes for a fascinating range of topics for exploration: storytelling, mythmaking, religion, funeral practices, mortality, grief. Of course, wrangling these topics in a course that encompasses evidence from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, presents many challenges, but I think that’s part of the appeal too.

Latin literature may come off as a dry subject mostly suited for dusty scholars of a long-gone era – is Latin really only for scholars of the ancient and medieval world?

I think Latin will be solely for scholars of the ancient and medieval worlds when scholars are the only people with any interest in those worlds, and a quick survey of your local bookshop, cinema or streaming service will put that contention promptly to rest.

The value and importance of modern translations and adaptations of Latin texts cannot be overstated. They provide access and understanding (and pleasure!) to an audience exponentially larger than that of the Latin originals; however, they nonetheless remain a step removed from those originals. Aside from its inherent linguistic interest, knowledge of Latin narrows the divide between us and those Latin worlds that fascinate us so consistently.

You have also recently worked in Digital Humanities. How do you see the future of Classics, Latin Language and Texts, and History unfolding in the modern digital age?

I think in many ways, digital approaches to the arts and humanities are still in a very experimental phase. A key aspect of this is that we are recognising that Digital Humanities as a blanket term is about as informative as the phrase ‘Textual Humanities’: as the field develops, it has become clear that it can mean a vast array of different things.

Some elements of it, such as digital dissemination through databases, online resources and visualisations, are well established (though still not consistently well supported), but proportionally few projects have the ability and the resources to fully engage with the transformative nature of digital research practices. As with all research developments, I think that as we learn more clearly from those working on the cutting edge of what digital approaches can offer the humanities researcher, new methodologies will emerge and become more consistently integrated with the way that we work.

One area that I think will potentially become more prevalent will be the use of databases that use TEI XML encoding. Many scholars already use TEI XML to produce online resources, including digital editions, and XML databases bring that same dynamic flexibility to more complex sets of information. Using spreadsheets is already a commonplace in humanities research, and this is the next step in terms of data analysis, organisation and presentation (a great example is the de Heresi project by Dr Jean-Paul Rehr). Alongside digital visualisations, it is integral to the collaborative research project that I’m currently developing that seeks to synthesise and reveal the interactions between the numerous layers of evidence contained in early medieval compilatory manuscripts.

Christian Hjorth Bagger is a PhD candidate and commencing Graduate Research Teaching Fellow in Classics and Archaeology. His research focuses on the networks, power, and influence of elite senatorial women in the late Roman Republic (c133–27 BCE). In 2024 he will be a member of the teaching team for Ancient World Studies.


‘The Man’: Taylor’s Feminism Could Go So Much Further

In another Swiftposium-related SHAPS post, republished from Pursuit, Gender Studies PhD Candidate Dana Fahadi examines Taylor Swift's feminism, exploration of hegemonic masculinity, and how she can do more as a role model.

I’m going to say at the outset, I am a Taylor Swift fan. She is my Goddess and I am one of the millions of very excited Swifties going to her Eras Tour.

Taylor is known for her brilliant songwriting talent – something she’s been recognised for by becoming the first artist to win the Grammy for album of the year for the fourth time.

On top of her feel-good, self-loving and fun songs, she frequently incorporates social and political commentary into them.

https://youtu.be/AqAJLh9wuZ0?si=OvYQIoZWEqCppURY
WATCH: The Man by Taylor Swift, featuring Taylor as the ‘alpha male’ Tyler Swift, YouTube

You only need to think of You Need to Calm Down, Only the Young and The Man.

‘The Man’ came out in 2019, as a part of her seventh studio album, Lover. In this song, Taylor addresses gender bias, namely how it manifests in the workplace and its disproportionate impact on women.

The official music video for The Man features Tyler Swift – an ‘alpha’ male persona that Taylor adopts – who struts with hypermasculine traits like aggressiveness, entitlement complex, excess and promiscuity.

The message of the song and video is that while women like Taylor Swift face criticism and judgement for behaviour like this, men’s behaviour is normalised and even praised by society standards and values.

The Man reflects the idea that women need to ‘rise’ to a certain standard to be regarded as valuable as men. But this standard has always been determined by men.

And so we find ourselves walking right into the ‘hegemonic masculinity’ trap on our way to break the glass ceiling.

Hegemonic masculinity, a term coined and developed by Australian sociologist RW Connell, is a masculinity built on domination over women, as well as a sense of superiority over other men who do not have certain qualities of what we know better as the alpha male: think aggressive, powerful, physically strong, natural-born leaders, having no interests in their own or other people’s feelings, the breadwinner. You get the picture.

Other features of hegemonic masculinity include being part of the dominant social groups: heterosexual, cisgender, upper/middle-class, Caucasian, citizens of the Global North, and the list goes on.

The Man reflects the idea that women need to ‘rise’ to a certain standard to be regarded as valuable as men. Photograph: Screengrab from Youtube.

But what does Taylor have to say about this?

“I would be complex, I would be cool, they’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be okay for me to do, every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you

I’d be a fearless leader, I’d be an alpha type

When everyone believes ya, what’s that like?”

Taylor’s lyrics describe what is rewarded in the capitalist-liberalist society we live in. She sings about ruthlessness, the ‘fearless leader’, ‘conquests’ and ‘playing the field’.

Because men are encouraged to have these qualities, she says, women should be too – instead of being shamed for them.

“They’d say I hustle, put in the work, they wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve

What I was wearing, if I was rude, could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves

… If I was out flashin’ my dollar, I’d be a bitch not a baller …”

Her lyrics are consistent with the concept of neoliberal feminism, which is the main -ism of feminism promoted in mainstream media and popular culture. The influential 2019 book Feminism for the 99% argues that (neo)liberal feminism is based on the notion of “leaning in” and “cracking the glass ceiling”.

Neoliberal feminism supports the capitalism agenda by creating more opportunities, in areas like education and a career, for women who ultimately would still make the ‘one per cent’ the principal beneficiaries.

In a capitalist society, productive work is valued more than reproductive work.

A woman needs to be ruthless and aggressive in the workplace and play by the men’s rules to even be given a chance to advance.

My view is that neoliberal feminism has created an illusion of liberation, while really, it’s just another form of oppression.

In the eyes of the 99 per cent, instead of fighting to erase social hierarchy, (neo)liberal feminism simply diversifies the social hierarchy itself, ‘empowering’ socially advantageous women to rise to the top and leaving the ‘others’ stuck at the bottom.

‘Others’ here refer to working class, ethnic, racial and linguistic diverse women, as well those of other minority groups.

In other words, neoliberal feminism is just hegemonic masculinity in a cloak.

“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man

And I’m so sick of them coming at me again, ‘cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man"

For me, lyrics like this promote qualities that are destructive instead of nurturing, competitive instead of collaborative, fostering a ‘law of the jungle’ mentality.

It assumes that everybody starts from the same starting point, while in reality, some are given much more of a head start than others as part of a more privileged social group.

While it is important to address the issues faced by women like Swift – cisgender, straight, middle-class, able-bodied, neurotypical, ethnically and socially-privileged women – it is even more necessary to prioritise autonomy and social protection from an oppressive system to try and improve the quality of life of the 'other' women.

And Taylor could be leading the charge.

Swiftposium is an academic conference for scholars discussing the impact of Taylor Swift. It runs at the University of Melbourne from 11 to 13 February 2024 with public events on Sunday 11 February and recordings of the keynote presentations available online after the conference.

Feature image: Taylor Swift Eras Tour: Lover Set, 2023. Photographer: Paolo Villanueva via Flickr


‘The 1’: Something’s Been Forgotten in the Kanye-Taylor Feud

Ahead of Taylor Swift's Australian tour, in this article republished from Pursuit, SHAPS History Lecturer Dr Sarah Walsh talks about the drama with another celebrity, Kanye West, that occurred almost 15 years ago, and some of the nuance that has been lost in the discussion over time.

Before I weigh in on exactly what happened on the evening of 13 September 2009 between Taylor Swift and Kanye West (and Beyoncé, but I’ll get to that), I want to be honest with you.

Based on the numbers alone, I am a much bigger Kanye fan. I’m old enough to tell you that, when it came out in 2004, I bought College Dropout on CD and played the crap out of it in my extremely crappy 1989 Toyota Corolla on the way to my even crappier, first post-university job.

https://youtu.be/C41TEXVIaEg?si=vcewQr5NoKthcG4I
WATCH: ‘The 1’, Taylor Swift. Video: YouTube

When it comes to Taylor Swift, I’m always happy to hear her most popular songs when they end up on my playlist, but that’s about where my fandom ends.

This information seems important to share before diving into exactly what happened on MTV VMA night fifteen years ago.

This incident garnered an incredible amount of media coverage in the days following, but where did the media focus our attention at the time and who was perceived as the wronged party – Taylor or Kanye?

And actually, as time has passed, I think the real survivor of this incident is someone you might not expect. Pun intended.

Part of what makes answering this question in 2024 challenging is that it is very difficult to find footage of the entire 2009 broadcast. YouTube, newly minted in 2005, was not yet the home to all content.

But, after some internet perseverance, I found it.

The show kicks off with a heartfelt speech by Madonna about the sudden passing of Michael Jackson.

In it, she talks about the difficulties of being a child star; something that ended up as a contributing factor in how the interaction between 19-year-old Taylor and 32-year-old Kanye would be portrayed in the media: she as a child and he as a grown man.

The speech is followed by a long dance montage featuring mostly white performers doing Jackson’s iconic moves (poorly). This context will be important soon.

After the tribute and a truly terrible opening monologue by then relevant, now alleged sexual predator Russell Brand, the first award is for Best Female Video.

This is Taylor’s category and she shares a nomination with Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, and P!nk. Tough competition.

Taylor’s video You Belong with Me is competing against the likes of Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) [Beyoncé] and [Lady Gaga's] Poker Face. Yikes.

https://youtu.be/4m1EFMoRFvY?si=Wed2LVcld6rITxEy
WATCH: Single Ladies, Beyoncé. Video: YouTube

When Taylor wins, she’s genuinely shocked.

She stands holding her Moon Man and thanks the crowd for the recognition despite performing 'country music'. Kanye appears seemingly out of nowhere. Taylor hands him the mic confusedly, but without complaint.

He then goes on to say that Beyoncé had made, “one of the best videos of all time”, but doesn’t say that she should have won. As soon as he finishes, the crowd erupts into boos.

He hands the mic back and Taylor tries to say something, but MTV has cut her sound and she walks off stage. Cut away shots to Beyoncé during this debacle show her frozen, not knowing how to react.

And then comes the moment we’ve all forgotten.

Demonstrating that her work speaks for itself, Beyoncé wins the top award of the night, Video of the Year, to close the show. But, when she takes the stage for her acceptance speech, she gives up her time to Taylor.

The crowd goes crazy with applause. By way of explanation, Beyoncé says that she was 17 when she got her first Moon Man and it was an incredible moment for her. She wanted Taylor to have that same moment.

In the days immediately after the incident, Kanye shared a variety of reasons for his outburst and expressed genuine remorse for raining on Taylor’s parade. Among the various excuses West made, there was one genuinely fair point: racism.

Kanye said he had never heard of Taylor and was upset that she won for a run-of-the-mill 'country music' video, while the video Beyoncé made, which inspired an international dance sensation, went unrecognised.

Nonetheless, the media narrative was that a Mean Black Man had made a White Girl Child cry and there was plenty of outrage to go around about that (see: Dr Phil).

Whether out of a desire for damage control or sincerity, Kanye got in touch with Taylor to personally apologise a few days after the event. We know this because she talked about it publicly.

Taylor Swift, Sydney, 2012. Photographer: Eva Rinaldi, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

She also decided to perform Innocent at the 2010 VMAs, which many perceived as being about this incident. It was this decision that launched a feud with Kanye that would last for years. This feud would prove valuable to both performers, as it regularly kept them in the entertainment news cycle.

Clearly, Taylor needed the media to come to her rescue as much as Beyoncé needed Kanye in 2009.

So, what should we make of this in 2024? In the wake of #metoo, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Taylor’s 1989, and Kanye’s descent into madness, the real takeaway is that men should be aware that publicly airing their grievances comes at a cost.

And they really ought to avoid ‘defending’ women (see: the Chris Rock/Will Smith/Jada Pinkett Smith Oscar’s moment).

Women don’t need men to defend our honor or protect us from the harsh realities of life.

That said, the person who lost out biggest of all in this fiasco was Beyoncé.

Taylor did deserve her moment. But, it wasn’t Beyoncé’s problem to fix and the sacrifice of black women is so normalised that no one even remembers this part of the story.

Taylor Swift The Eras Tour: Fearless Set Era, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California, 9 August 2023 (detail). Photographer: Paolo Villaneuva, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 DEED

In a live broadcast, MTV showrunners could’ve kept Taylor’s mic on after Kanye stopped shouting. They could’ve adjusted their schedule and let her come out later in the show to speak if she wanted.

At the very least, Taylor could’ve thanked Beyoncé for doing this unsolicited good deed in her acceptance speech. She didn’t.

What did Taylor say when asked about Beyoncé’s decision? She was touched and repeatedly said how “classy” a move it was.

Sadly, in 2009, the notion that a black person could be classy or articulate still was newsworthy (see: Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign). However, the press was more interested in following the story of a poorly behaved black man and his white girl ‘victim’. Shocker.

In the end, there are two morals of this story.

One is that women do not need men to protect or defend them, but our voices are still not as respected as they should be. This is especially true of powerful, successful women in the public eye.

The equally important lesson is to remember that women of colour, especially black women, are not here to make the rest of us feel good. Taylor’s hurt feelings should not have been assuaged by the sacrifice of Beyoncé’s own voice and joy.

Fifteen years later, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in both respects.

Swiftposium is an academic conference for scholars discussing the impact of Taylor Swift. It runs at the University of Melbourne from 11–13 February 2024 with public events on Sunday 11 February and recordings of the keynote presentations available online after the conference.


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


Creative Solutions for Conservation Challenges in Thailand

The University of Melbourne has been collaborating with Silpakorn University, Thailand, since 1995. Most recently, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts and Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Science and Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts. In March 2023 the University of Melbourne hosted an Incoming Research and Training Visit for residents of Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Science. During the visit, Assistant Professor Sutinee Girdthep and Dr Nattawan Worawannotai presented their work on the conservation of Thai heritage. Recent Master of Cultural Materials Conservation graduate Gen Schiesser reflects on the presentations below.

Nature has a specific way of informing our practices. When it rains, we bring in the sheets. The weather forecast tells us how to dress and the climate determines what we can grow. We might eat more salads in the summer and cook more soup in the winter. We are constantly mitigating and navigating nature. We adapt because it is critical and vital and because we know that the variable forces of nature will outlast us if we do not.

Nature, in many such cases, is also the reason for our ingenuity. We make umbrellas to walk in the rain and air conditioners to keep us cool. At Silpakorn University, scholars are working to find ways to apply science to solve real-world problems, including those linked to the preservation of art and culture in different natural environments. Assistant Professor Sutinee Girdthep (Nan) and Dr Nattawan Worawannotai (Nat) are investigating ways to slow damage to Thailand’s most significant monuments and artworks, including the nineteenth-century Wiang Ta murals and the mosaics on the Phra Maha Dhatu stupas. Instead of seeking to control nature, Nan and Nat look to creative, less invasive solutions based on a deeper understanding of the materials, their origins and context, and their environment.

Conservation in Humid Climates

Thailand is a humid country, experiencing an average of 60 to 80 percent relative humidity yearly. This level of humidity can be problematic for cultural objects and artworks. The increased water content in the air can cause materials to swell, shrink, rust, and grow mould. The thermal properties in materials can also change, causing objects that are usually hard or ‘glassy’ in colder temperatures (e.g., wax and glues) to soft, rubbery, and viscous when warmed. Paraloid B72, for example, is an adhesive used commonly in the conservation of pottery sherds – but only if the temperature remains below forty degrees Celsius.

So much of modern conservation and museum practice tells us to keep our cultural heritage materials within certain relative humidity and temperature ranges. In addition, many conservation materials, such as Paraloid B72, are designed for cooler maintained temperatures. It is worth noting that a lot of conservation knowledge is coming from the larger conservation epicentres of England and Europe, where the climate is temperate and thus, in some respects, more manageable.

In humid and/or tropical climates, it is not always sustainable, affordable or feasible to power HVAC systems. When it comes to protecting cultural heritage, the impact of nature is a real and severe problem and, in places like Thailand, total control over the atmosphere is an impossible goal. Much like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill for eternity, in highly humid environments you may find yourself continuously cleaning mould off artworks only for it to reappear just weeks later.

This is where conservation gets interesting – when it addresses the threaded nature of science, art and the environment. Controlling the temperature and relative humidity of a space is not all we can do to protect our cultural heritage from the intensity of tropical climates. Research undertaken by Nan and Nat is meeting Thai humidity on its own terms.

Understand the Material, Understand How it Deteriorates: The Wiang Ta Murals

The Wiang Ta murals have seen a lot of different weather conditions. Made in Phrae, in northern Thailand, southwest of Chiang Mai, in the nineteenth century, the Wiang Ta murals originally adorned Wat Wiang Ta Mon monastery. In 1988, the murals were moved to Mae Fuh Luang Art and Culture Park in Chiang Rai. Some areas of the murals are missing colour and water damaged, having been exposed to rain at various points.

For Nat, the Wiang Ta murals were of special scientific and cultural significance, partly because they had not been restored before. As a result, they contain valuable information on the original Thai pigments used in the nineteenth century, pigments for which limited documentation and scientific studies currently exist.

The Wiang Ta Project brought together numerous professions, a testament to the highly collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of conservation. Traditional Thai artists were consulted for oral histories and insights into painting techniques. Structural architects, wood conservators, and art historians were also consulted over the course of the project.

The goals of the project were to understand the painting’s characteristics, history, condition, and degradation processes and to determine what pigments were used in the painting. Ultimately, the Wiang Ta Project wanted to show cultural materials as more than how they appear: they are a combination of local and imported materials, such as pigments. Technological analysis can tell us how different materials were used, what their social importance was, and how to preserve them for the future.

The mural itself consists of four wooden panels and represents the Lanna school of painting associated with northern Thailand. Each panel comprises three layers: the wood substrate, the ground layer, and the paint layer. Microsamples were taken from the paint layer and analysed under scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), a form of scientific examination that magnifies surfaces and detects chemical elemental presences. SEM-EDS is commonly used in the conservation research world for this purpose due to its unique ability to pinpoint and visualise the location of certain elements and their relationship to one another.

The analysis found that the pigments used in the construction of the mural included lead white, bone black, cinnabar, vermillion, synthetic emerald green, synthetic ultramarine and gold leaf. The ground layer was made from aluminium silicate clay.

The results indicated that a large number of the pigments were likely traded and imported from China, while others were locally sourced. In particular, the clay-based pigments and ground layer may reflect local material due to the high clay content found in Thai soil.

The most interesting findings, however, related to the green pigments vermillion and emerald green. These had suffered the most damage compared to the other pigments, possibly due to fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature across the year and the presence of water soluble binders.

Moisture be Gone: The Phra Maha Dhatu Stupas

The Phra Maha Dhatu stupas are complex built features. There are two stupas onsite: Phra Maha Dhatu Nabhamethanidol (the King stupa) and Phra Maha Dhatu Nabhapolbhumisiri (the Queen stupa). The King and Queen stupas were built in the Doi Inthanon National Park, southwest of Chiang Mai, in 1987 and 1992 respectively. At sixty metres high, they are under the care of the Thai Air Force. There are no conservation or cleaning problems associated with these stupas that are located on the highest land in Thailand, in conditions of high relative humidity, and whose exteriors feature intricate mosaics of varying material complexity.

Just kidding!

The price of this visually stunning, structurally brilliant built heritage is all else that follows: the high cost associated with maintaining it; the logistical issues that come with said maintenance; and the lack of preventative measures that might enable breaking the Sisyphus-and-the boulder circuit of continuous, rigorous, and exhaustive management and conservation for recurring issues. The hill never ends. The boulder never reaches the top. And you can’t landscape the hill away with a bulldozer.

The bulldozer might sound dramatic, but in a sense this is what conservators try to do when they manage objects that are housed inside buildings. The ‘hill’ that is conservation problems caused by the environment – pests, rust, mould, warping, fading – can be ‘bulldozed’ through the implementation of measures that control the environment – air conditioning, humidity control, ventilation, UV-sensitive glass. You still have to push the boulder by monitoring the condition of cultural objects often and ensuring that the preventive measures remain in place, but the path is easier because it is flat.

Measures of this kind are not an option, however, when it comes to objects that are exposed to the elements –  at least, this has been the usual thinking. But this is where Nan’s research comes into play. Nan’s work is aimed at mitigating the fungal and algae staining occurring on the stupa mosaics as well as the erosion of the mosaic fillers from rain that causes some of the mosaics to periodically come loose. Nan developed an innovative plan for addressing these issues: to formulate a hydrophobic surface spray for the mosaics, an idea which resulted in a unique collaboration with Silpakorn University and the Thai Air Force.

The hydrophobic surface spray was rigorously tested: it needed to dry clear so as to not detract from the mosaic feature; it needed to be acid, UV and water resistant; it needed to be temperature resilient; and it needed to prevent the growth of fungi and moss.

Nan found that the best hydrophobic coating was a polyurethane resin with silicon dioxide nanoparticles which fit all of the above criteria. Currently, a small area of each stupa is being used to test the coating. If successful, after a year the hydrophobic surface spray will be applied to the entire built surface.

Only the Beginning

The research undertaken by Nat and Nan represents two important stages in the conservation of cultural heritage. The first stage, demonstrated through Nat’s work on the Wiang Ta murals, shows how before any remediation work is used on an object or surface, the nature of the materials must first be understood in the context of where they are from. The second stage, demonstrated through Nan’s formulation of the hydrophobic surface coating, shows the creative process of planning conservation remediation that meets the environment the material exists in on its own terms.

We look forward to hearing about more materials studies and conservation treatments that occur in tropical environments from the wonderful academics at Silpakorn University.

Thank you to Assistant Professor Sutinee Girdthep (Nan) and Dr. Nattawan Worawannotai (Nat) for sharing with us their research and for their continued collaboration and commitment to conservation science. As part of each presentation, the following groups were acknowledged for their contributions to the projects:

    • Mae Fuh Luang Foundation
    • Faculty of Science, Silpakorn University
    • Teerpat Khanjao
    • Royal Thai Air Force
    • Royal Thai Air Force Academy

I would like to also acknowledge and thank Associate Professor Nicole Tse for hosting the presentations and for providing information on the history of the University of Melbourne’s relationship with Silpakorn University.

Following on from a visit in March 2023, Assistant Professor Dr Sutinee Girdthep and Titichaya Limpathompipop joined the Grimwade Centre to continue our research collaborationand enrol in select subjects in the Masters program. The visit is supported by a grant awarded to Silpakorn University, Science-based Conservation of Artworks (2022) and Science Learning Activities through Workshops on Art Conservation and Collection of Documentary Knowledge on Conservation of Thai Art to Promote the Creation of Science Courses for Conservation Work (2023), funded by the National Research Council of Thailand, Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, and an Memorandum of Understanding between the Faculty of Science, Silpakorn University, and Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne (2023–2028).

Together we have been investigating The Study of Characteristics and Polymer Properties of Materials used as Binders in Traditional Thai Painting with Tempera Technique by Scientific Process, with the sampling, ageing and PyGCMS analysis with Alex Duan, Traces in the School of Chemistry. Assistant Professor Dr Sutinee Girdthep and Titichaya Limpathompipop have also joined Nicole Tse in SHAPS to do some pXRF analysis of Traditional Chinese Medicines at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo as part of a current Masters student’s minor thesis project, Qiyin Zhuang, and also micro fading tests of paint samples aged in the Philippines and Australia.


Laura Jocic

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


Feminist Critiques of Sex Difference Research

Feminist critics of sex difference research are often accused of claiming there are no sex differences, or that sex hormones have no influence on human behaviour. In this episode of the HPS Podcast, Professor Cordelia Fine joins Samara Greenwood to talk us through why this is a false characterisation. Instead, feminist researchers are digging into the ways in which the developmental outcomes of genes and hormones on behaviour can vary radically depending on environmental conditions. 

Do feminist critics of sex difference research really claim there are no biological sex differences?

The short sweet answer is no. Instead, feminist researchers call on all scientists to take more seriously the question of how radically interactive biology and environment may be, especially when it comes to human behaviour. Today's guest on the HPS podcast is Professor Cordelia Fine, who will be talking about the concept of 'norms of reaction' in reference to sex differences in our brains and our behaviour.

Cordelia is professor of History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, and I first met Cordelia when I took her wonderful class, which at the time had the fantastic title Sex in Science. I love telling people how much I enjoyed sex in science. I'm very excited to have her as a special guest on our podcast today.

Hi Cordelia. Thanks for joining me today. It is a delight to have you on the podcast.

Oh, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Before we discuss the main topic, I wanted to ask you first how you came to be involved in history and philosophy of science, especially as I know yours was not a typical pathway.

No, it certainly wasn't a very direct route. So, I began my studies in experimental psychology. I took a brief detour into a Masters in criminology, and then I came back to psychology for my PhD. Then, after my PhD, I came to Australia and I was involved in a number of research projects with philosophers. Then I moved on to work on a project on Neuroethics. At that time, there was this rise in popularity of functional neuroimaging technologies and structural neuroimaging technologies and, of course, they've only gained in prevalence within neuroscience. And I was involved in a project on Neuroethics, which was looking at how are these new technologies changing our conception of ourselves. And at the time, my children were quite young – I had two preschoolers – so I was also reading a lot of parenting books. I noticed that a few of them were starting to draw on findings of sex differences in the brain, using these new technologies and saying – finally we can look into the men and women's brains, and boys' and girls' brains, and see the actual differences. And suddenly we can understand all the differences between us.

I was really interested in this, particularly when they started to mention parts of the brain that I'd studied quite intensely in my PhD. And I thought, no one was talking about sex differences then. That was a nice thing about working at a university. I could look up the research studies that were being cited as evidence and I began to be more and more shocked at the disconnection between what the popular books were writing and what was actually in the scientific literature.

That was the point at which I made the decision to write my second book Delusions of Gender. The intention of the book was to write about how the science was being misrepresented by the popularisers, but in the end it actually became a much more complex and controversial book in the sense that it was criticising the science itself.

And that's what brought me into the area of what we can call feminist critique of science. I actually – subsequently to writing Delusions of Gender – moved to the Melbourne Business School, as part of my strange career path. And there, suddenly I was surrounded by different kinds of people, quite different to philosophers in many ways. All wonderful people though, of course. And then I began to be more exposed to the ideas in economics, which was interested in risk taking and competition.

Those are very key concepts in economics. But the economists were becoming interested in testosterone and risk taking and competition and making claims about sex differences due to testosterone in those kinds of behaviours. At the same time, you're interacting a lot more with business communities and hearing some of the popular ideas about why don't women advance in their careers. Is it because they don't have the same drive to succeed or compete? So that was where I came to decide to write Testosterone Rex, which is looking at these arguments about evolution, testosterone, risk taking, competition, and so on. Now it was funny at the time because people would come to the printer and they'd pull out some article that'd just been published that was like, "the effects of castration on rats". And they'd be like, "I think this might be yours, Cordelia". So, when I moved to the History & Philosophy of Science Program in the Faculty of Arts here in 2017, it felt like, yes, this is a more natural home for me, though I really enjoyed my time at the business school. It was a really fantastic experience.

Oh, fabulous. And then what would you say are your key interest areas in science studies?

I'm interested in the science of sex differences, particularly in brain and behaviour.

I've always been especially interested in the kinds of characteristics and traits that are drawn on to explain why we have inequalities of power and status.

There's lots of really interesting work on sexuality, physical aggression, et cetera. But, in post-industrial societies, why do we still have so much in the way of inequality? Why do we still have so much segregation in the workplace? So that's often been my interest – interest in the effects of gendered assumptions and stereotypes on theories, methods, hypotheses, interpretations, conclusions, and so on.

I think when you work in this area, you kind of inevitably and quite quickly brush up against these debates about politicisation of science as well. People who do feminist critiques of science are often accused of blurring politics and science or politicising science. And, I think this is a really interesting and important topic. I think these accusations are often, completely misplaced and incorrect. But there is a serious issue here. In my research and in engagement and in teaching I've been thinking about how we can draw on conceptual tools from philosophy of science, thinking about appropriate and inappropriate roles for values in science, to think about where these boundaries are, when are our political values inappropriately intruding in science? I actually talk about that in the subject that you took, which is now called Sex and Gender in the Sciences [HPSC20023]. A bit less exciting title. One of the things that we do is we look at some controversial cases and we do it through the angle of articles that evoked controversy and there have been movements, either successful or otherwise, to have the articles corrected or retracted. And the students use what we've learned in the subject to think through and assess what they think the editor should have done, whether they made the right decision or should have done something else.

So, part of that is applying what can be quite abstract ideas from philosophy of science to the very real situation of having to make decisions as someone in a decision-making role in a scientific journal.

I often leave the last week of the subject clear because, so often, a case will come up during the course of the semester, and then we can analyse it almost in real time. How do they make sure that they're listening to other people's points of view, considering things from all sides, not being dogmatic and disagreeing well? Those are the sorts of sets of skills that I try and integrate into the teaching as well. We are always going to come across ideas that we disagree with, sometimes passionately. How do we deal with those disagreements in a constructive way and in a way that can lead to good decisions?

Yes, I certainly found that – having taken that class – that there's a real skill to it. That diverse thinking is absolutely essential.

Now to turn to the central question of today, which is: could you tell us about a concept in science studies that is perhaps not widely known, but you believe would be of interest to a broader audience?

So, the concept that I wanted to talk about I think is helpful for thinking through another accusation which is sometimes thrown at feminist critics, which is the idea that they're blank slaters. They just think that we all come into the world with empty heads and then we just have gender stereotypes poured into us by outside cultural forces.

Again, this is a false caricature, but I think part of the problem here is that there are more and less complicated and nuanced ways of thinking about the role of biology in brain and behaviour. I think the 'norm of reaction' when we apply it to thinking about gender or sex differences is quite a helpful concept.

So in a nutshell, the 'norm of reaction' is a very uncontroversial concept in biology, and it refers to the fact that organisms with the same genotype will develop different phenotypes – that is traits and attributes, whether it's height or cognition or number of feathers or whatever it might be. So it will develop these different phenotypes depending on the environment in which it develops. You can think of the 'norm of reaction' as kind of like a map that shows the relationship between the genotype and phenotype across different environments.

One helpful way of making it a bit more concrete is to use an example from the zoologist who actually coined the term – he was interested in water fleas. And he observed that they can develop this protective armour from predators, but they only develop that phenotype if they actually develop in an environment in which predators are present. It's gene-environment interaction, nature and nurture interact, right? So, whether you're talking about water fleas, rats, humans – it doesn't matter. No-one thinks that the organism's phenotype is completely determined by their genes. The concept of the norm of reaction and how these maps might look a bit different depending on what trait or environment you're talking about can open up some more nuanced ways of thinking about these gene-environment interactions.

Right. And then, so more specifically in relation to gender and sex differences, how would that work?

There's some nice terminology and work from the philosopher of biology, Gillian Barker, in a book called Beyond BioFatalism. She draws on this concept of the 'norm of reaction' to talk about three different kinds of genotype-environment interactions that can pull us away from this thinking that "it's just interaction, right?" Well, what kind of interaction?

She says there are three. One is what she calls 'conservative interaction'. Here they interact, but it is a way in which the internal causes tend to keep the phenotype very close to a specific developmental outcome, which is kind of evolutionary intended, if you want to think of it in that way. You need very strong or atypical external influences in order to modify that phenotype. Only at the extremes will you not get the phenotype that's intended. So, we might think about that from a sex differences point of view. This is captured in expressions like 'boys will be boys', you can try to make them more like girls, but their 'true natures' will kind of will out.

In fact, there's one researcher in the area who talked about sex differences in the brain as being a bit like being left-handed. You can kind of force somebody to use their right hand, but it's difficult for them, you know, you should just let them use their left hand.

Then the second type of interaction is probably more how we tend to think about behavioural characteristics in boys and girls and men and women. This is the idea of 'additive interaction'. Here you allow a bit more influence of environmental factors on how the phenotype develops, but they influence male genotypes and female genotypes to the same degree.

So, you say, how much nutrition there is in the environment? It's going to influence how tall boys and girls grow on average as a population, but the boys are always going to be taller than the girls and to the same degree. So you have these parallel lines between the male and female phenotypes. Often people are thinking in terms like that kind of additive interaction when they're thinking about sex differences.

But then Barker talks about something which she calls 'radical interaction', which is a nice name. This is where external environmental causes have radically different effects or effects of quite different magnitudes depending on the individual genotypes. So, that would mean that, depending on the environment, the size of the sex difference could be quite different or it might disappear or potentially it could even reverse.

One interesting example of this, which when I saw it I was actually quite surprised, was a cross-cultural survey drawing on lower-middle income countries looking at sex differences in adolescence of physical aggression. As you might expect, the overall frequency within these countries varied quite a lot. There are some countries where rates of physical aggression in this group are very high and other countries where it's much lower. But what was also interesting was that the size of the difference was not uniform. It varied from extremely large sex differences in physical aggression to being almost no sex difference at all. That's an interesting example of a kind of radical interaction at the behavioural level.

Another example – going a bit more fine grained – is the work of Daphna Joel, a neuroscientist who put forward this idea of 'gender mosaicism'. She was looking at the literature on genetic and hormonal influences on sex differences in the brain, and noting that the sex differences that you observe, and this is an animal research, can be different or opposite depending on the environmental conditions. She argues that because animals naturally live in all kinds of quite varied environments, the result of this is a mosaicism of more male typical, more female typical characteristics in the brain. This gives rise to what she calls these mosaic brains in a kind of multi-dimensional space that can't be reduced either to distinct male or female brains, which is what you'd expect from conservative interaction or a kind of male-female continuum, which is what you'd expect from additive interaction.

So, it really does support this idea of this radical interaction, the mosaic concept of brain development. Excellent.

I was interested in how this idea relates to that idea that supposedly differing levels of testosterone before you're born hard wire us into different ways of thinking.

Yeah, I think it certainly complicates it. So, traditional accounts of sex differences in the brain used the effects of hormones on the genitalia as a kind of model for thinking about sex differences in the brain. Now it has become sort of more complex and nuanced, and I don't think many researchers now would think it very useful to talk in terms of hardwiring. But there's still this kind of legacy of thinking about these effects of early testosterone on the brain.

As Rebecca Jordan-Young has pointed out. She did this incredible synthesis of this literature in her book Brain Storm.

Back in the '60s or '70s, there was already evidence that what were being thought of as permanent effects on the brain could actually be undone through quite simple experiences or manipulation. They weren't actually permanent at all.

But one thing she talks about is the scientific models moved onto a softer version, which she describes as a developmental cascade. So, this is the idea is that there's a kind of tilt in a particular direction drawing us to particular kinds of experiences. Nature recruiting nurture.

Certainly something like this could be going on. But Jordan-Young points out that sometimes that might actually be the developmental story, but the other side of it is that there might be an early push from hormones that's either enhanced or it's actually eliminated, and then development proceeds as if that early push had never actually happened. It's a bit more of an open-ended developmental pathway.

The title of Rebecca Jordan-Young's chapter I really enjoyed, in which she discusses this concept was called "Trading Essence for Potential." Could you tell us a little bit more about what she means by that?

She's challenging this standard story that I've described. Like, either these kinds of permanent effects or these developmental cascades, and pointing out that development is a lot more open-ended than this.

At each stage of development the organism, the individual, is at a particular state, then there's this interaction, and then on to the next state and so on. One way to think about it is to draw on the work of another neuroscientist who comes from a feminist perspective, Lise Eliot. She was talking about this in relation to physical aggression. So there are clear sex differences in physical aggression, and particularly at the most serious forms of physical aggression. Notwithstanding that I've mentioned that the size of that difference can be surprisingly variable.

And she talks about this idea that it does seem very plausible that there's some kind of early biological tilt, whether it's prenatal testosterone or something else, it's not completely clear, but let's say for the sake of argument it is prenatal testosterone. But, then, if you think about this in terms of this initial state it's clear that what you see is most children starting at a sort of relatively high rate of physical aggression when they're very young, then this reducing. Then there's a small number of boys and even smaller number of girls who kind of maintain those higher levels. You can think of that in terms of this early biological tilt that can make you more likely to develop along a particular kind of developmental trajectory, being someone who does not control impulses to behave in physically aggressive ways. But, for the majority, that's not happening. In that sense, most boys end up quote unquote "like girls" in being low in physical aggression. That would be an example of a different way of thinking about it.

So, rather than there's a kind of 'seed of physical aggression' in every man that has to be suppressed throughout their lifetimes, there are a few for whom that will be their developmental trajectory, but for others – there's not something that has to be continually suppressed by culture.

Yes. Why do you feel the concept of 'norms of reaction' is important more broadly?

It helps us get away from the idea that people who are criticising the standard or popular story are saying either that sex differences don't really exist, or that hormones don't really have an effect. Hopefully it's clear now that's not really what the story is.

Of course hormones are having an effect, but the question is, where does that effect fit into a whole developmental picture? And yes, sex differences exist, but what would they be in different circumstances with a different developmental history and in a different environment? Those are the different scientific questions that we can be asking.

What sends people on the kind of developmental journey towards traits that we actually want to encourage? And which ones send them on a journey towards traits we don't want to encourage? I think that's one reason why it's important.

And, it really opens our minds to thinking about what we see now, in our current particular context, is in a particular moment of time.

That's one of the points that Jordan-Young makes really nicely in her book. She goes from like the nitty gritty of rat sex right through to educational achievement in the US. We've seen reversals over the past, 40 or 50 years, where we used to have men getting the majority of degrees. And now in the US and Australia, we actually have women outnumbering men in the number of university or college degrees. The point being that, when you change the environment, you can see quite striking changes in patterns of behaviour and achievement.

And so to just be a little bit more open-minded in terms of what we might see in the future and what aspects of the environment make a difference and to be scientifically open-minded as well.

I think one thing that Jordan-Young says really nicely, is the way she describes the point of her book. It's not to answer questions, but to question answers. Which I think is a really nice way of putting it.

Yes, absolutely. So I would like to thank you, Cordelia, for joining us on our first season of the podcast. It has been fantastic to talk with you today.

Thanks for having me, and I look forward to hearing the other episodes.

Thanks.

Thank you for listening to the first season of the HPS podcast, where we discuss all things history, philosophy, and social studies of science. We want to thank the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne for their support. To learn more, check out our website. There you can also find links to our blog, X (Twitter), Facebook, and Insta, as well as show notes for today's episode. I'm Indigo Keel and my co-producer and guest is Samara Greenwood. We look forward to having you back again next time.

 


 

Feature image: Cordelia Fine

Rabati 2023: Report on Georgian-Australian Investigations in Archaeology

The Georgian-Australian Investigations in Archaeology (GAIA) project is a research collaboration between the Georgian National Museum and the University of Melbourne. GAIA was established by the late Emeritus Professor Antonio Sagona and Dr Claudia Sagona. SHAPS’s Andrew Jamieson reports here on the 2023 season of the GAIA dig at Rabati, with contributions from Brian Armstrong, Giorgi Bedianashvili, Catherine Longford, Abby Robinson, Claudia Sagona and Martin Tomko.

This year we arrived in Georgia on Thursday 15 June. The next day in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, we met with Professor Dr David Lordkipanidze, Director of the Georgian National Museum and colleagues from the museum’s Centre for Archaeology. The 2023 season was eight weeks in duration: six weeks of excavation (19 June to 30 July) and two weeks of post-excavation analysis and collections management (31 July to 12 August).

Ancient Rabati is located on the northern side of the modern village of Zveli, which is situated between the larger towns of Akhaltsikhe and Aspindza in southwest Georgia. The upper Kura (Mtkvari) River basin largely defines this area, flowing towards the northeast through the deep, narrow gorge between the Javakheti Plateau and the Erusheti volcanic mountains. Zveli sits on a flat highland plain at the edge of these mountains, at an altitude of approximately 1480 metres above sea level and bordered by forest that leads up to highland pastures. From the summit of the site there are uninterrupted views east and west along the valley.

Excavations

The archaeological excavations at Rabati settlement in 2023 brought to light several significant findings that contribute to our understanding of the Caucasus region and its adjacent areas.

The most remarkable of these is the massive stone structures, dating to the Early Bronze Age (c3000–2500 BCE) specifically attributed to the Kura-Araxes culture (c2500–2000 BCE), and featuring walls that extend over 20 metres in length. This finding suggests complex and advanced architectural development during that time.

The Kura-Araxes structures were subsequently superimposed by deposits from the Early Kurgan period. Rabati stands out as a one-off site where this period is represented by two distinct phases, clearly visible in the stratigraphy. This provides a unique opportunity to study the evolution of cultural practices and architectural techniques during this period.

Unlike other settlements in the South Caucasus, where the post-Early Kura-Araxes culture is mostly associated with barrows (burial mounds), Rabati has provided evidence of the Bedeni (c2500–2000 BCE) and later Trialeti (c2000–1600 BCE) cultures in a settlement context. This attests to the diverse ways in which these Early Kurgan cultures manifested across different types of sites.

The continuous occupation of Rabati settlement over millennia very well reflects the cultural dynamics and interactions during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages in the Caucasus region.

In addition to the findings from earlier periods, the archaeological excavations also uncovered structures from the medieval period; notably, one-metre-wide walls dating from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries CE, which are believed to be part of the fortification system of Rabati. This suggests the site’s strategic importance and its role in defence during this era.

Providing Students with Archaeological Training Opportunities

This season University of Melbourne undergraduates Edan MacCartney, Elizabeth Tetaz, Hannah Lewis, Mark Krezner, Miette Welsh, Nadino Kivarkis, Orla Christie, Peggy Lucas, Raff Netley, Sarah Johnston, Yilin Chen and Zeejay Tan participated in the fieldwork at Rabati.

Processing Finds at the Dig House

Thanks to the great efforts of team members who assisted with the processing of finds from Rabati, substantial progress was made on all fronts. Overall, 486 bags of pottery, including last year’s finds, were sorted into ware types, weighed and counted, and targeted loci recovered from the site this season. This greatly added to the tally which has been accumulating since work began at Rabati in 2016.

Every step along the way, from the careful excavation and the processing of finds in the workroom, including inking, drawing and photography of the diagnostic pottery and other artefacts, has contributed in a significant way to the overall success of the season and the value of these various aspects should not be underestimated.

It was a delight that so many helped with the illustration of objects: from the enigmatic pottery discs fashioned from pottery fragments to the quantities of bone and lithic tools to the numerous significant ceramic examples designated RSPF (Rabati Special Pottery Finds). Others managed the flow of finds including bone, obsidian, artefacts, grinding stones, 14C samples and so on, which accumulated at the end of every day. The steady cleaning, organisation and management of these finds are vital.

Most importantly, these efforts have helped in the process of building the narrative of how people lived in Rabati through many centuries of occupation. Not least of all, we now have significant data clarifying the nature of the long Bedeni cultural sequence in a settlement context, from its fledgling days to its final stages. Similarly, we have made some inroads into defining the Trialeti culture which followed at Rabati.

Selected Key Artefacts

During the 2023 season large quantities of artefacts were found, made from pottery, obsidian and bone. These included obsidian arrow heads, flint sickle blades, bone needles and points, and wooden combs and ceramic spindle whorls. Circular discs in different sizes made from modified pottery sherds appeared in large numbers. The frequency and regularity of these items suggest a special function – possibly they were used as weights or counters. Other finds included Ottoman ceramic pipe fragments and a fragment of zoomorphic vessel made of fine orange burnished ware.

Survey Team

The survey team, consisting of Brian Armstrong and Martin Tomko from the University of Melbourne’s Infrastructure Engineering department, had a busy season at Rabati! Initial works included the rectification of the archaeological site grid, quality control checks and the emplacement of permanent concrete surveying markers for accurate layouts for the coming seasons.

In addition, various surveys were conducted of the site and surrounding valley using a drone, with several different outputs produced, including 3D models and digital elevation models, highly useful for ongoing planning and archaeological landscape analysis. The drone was also used for video documentation of the site and its surrounds, as well as for producing educational and instructional content for students to train in the use of surveying total stations.

Survey works were also conducted at the new dig house, with internal and external spaces mapped for the project by architect Jana Tomko. Initial design plans for the house have been completed by Jana, with the broader team excited about the prospects for working and staying at Rabati well into the future! The survey team loved their time in Georgia and look forward to an ongoing partnership with the project. There are incredible prospects for future work, with plans being made for laser scanning of some subsurface tunnels and continued mapping of the wider landscape. Next season can’t come soon enough!

Archaeobotanical Analysis

Archaeobotany, the analysis of plant remains from archaeological sites, can provide insights into ancient diets, agriculture, fuel use, vegetation history and past climates. As part of the archaeological investigations at Rabati, we continued our archaeobotanical research. Soil samples were collected from all trenches and were processed by flotation at the dig house in Zveli. This year we processed over 40 samples, totalling close to 1,000 litres of soil. The charred plant remains will be studied by Dr Catherine Longford at the University of Sheffield, UK, whose grant from the British Institute at Ankara funded the archaeobotanical fieldwork.

While at Rabati, Catherine and palynologist Dr Inga Martkoplishvili, from the Georgian National Museum, visited the Elkana Seed Ark farm near Akhaltsikhe, where endemic Georgian crops are preserved and cultivated for reintroduction across the country. Elkana is a Georgian bioorganic farming collective, which aims to promote traditional Georgian crops, farming methods and agrotourism. Catherine and Inga were delighted to meet the consultants at Elkana, who showed them test fields of five endemic Georgian wheats and also gave them grain samples of the rare Georgian crops to help with their research. The visit was very stimulating and could potentially lead to fruitful collaborations with Elkana to both investigate ancient agriculture and promote sustainable farming in the Caucasus using our archaeological data from Rabati.

PhD Research

Cassandra Kiely, a SHAPS Classics and Archaeology PhD candidate, is investigating Rabati’s medieval remains (i.e., architecture, ceramics, etc.) and related comparative data from the Meskhet-Javakheti region of southwest Georgia for her doctorate. Cass is the 2023 Antonio Sagona Scholarship recipient; the grant supports costs associated with overseas travel for a graduate research student focusing on Near Eastern archaeology. Joining Cass this season at Rabati were daughter, Violet, and partner, Lee.

Backfill

At the end of every season, the site is protected from the elements during our absence. Tarpaulins and sugar bags filled with earth are used to cover and reinforce the trenches.

Artefact Repository

All the artefacts from Rabati are stored in a repository in Tbilisi. At the end of this season, we were able to organise and curate the material, improving access to the collection. Post extraction, the GAIA project recognises the importance of archaeological collections management practices.

Ambassadorial Visit and Support

During the 2023 season the new Georgian Ambassador to Australia, Beka Dvali, visited Rabati (12 July). It was a great opportunity to show him the excavations and some of the recent finds. Accompanying Beka was his wife, Nino Lezhava Dvali, Vakhtang Makaridze also from the Embassy, and Mikheil Makaridze local representative.

To further and foster the Georgian-Australian cooperation, discussions are underway about a possible exhibition in Australia that will feature aspects of Georgian history and culture, including the origins of winemaking in Georgia.

Other initiatives have also been proposed, involving support for Georgian students to undertake postgraduate research at the University of Melbourne.

The GAIA project is also pleased to report enthusiastic support from the Australian Ambassador to Georgia (based in Ankara), Miles Armitage. The DFAT web page for Georgia has been updated and now mentions the GAIA project:

One of the strongest cultural links is the Georgian-Australian Investigations in Archaeology project, a collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the Georgian National Museum, running since 2008.

Cameron House

The GAIA project was very fortunate to receive a major donation to secure a base for our operations at Rabati/Zveli. Significant progress was made on the new dig house, named Cameron House.

The old asbestos roof was replaced with a new galvanized tin roof. A large, paved terrace and stone wall were constructed using locally sourced basalt. Stairs were added to the front of the property. The basement was fitted with two steel doors. Windows were repaired. Electrical wiring was replaced. Water was connected to the property. A gate was installed at the perimeter and the local council graded the road, improving vehicular access.

Architect Jana Tomkova created a master plan to help guide the development of the new dig house. The plan includes a design for an extensive new dormitory to accommodate students and project members.

Rabati 2023 team members (listed alphabetically by participant surname)

Mohamed Alsamsam, cultural attaché

Dr Brian Armstrong, Infrastructure Engineering University of Melbourne

Dr Giorgi Bedianashvili, co-director, Georgian National Museum

Dan Bolitho, student, University of Melbourne

Yilin Chen, student, University of Melbourne

Orla Christie, student, University of Melbourne

Giorgi Gogoladze, archaeologist, trench supervisor

Anthony Gowans, archaeologist, trench supervisor

Kerri Grant, trench archaeologist, supervisor

Dr Heather Jackson, ceramicist, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Andrew Jamieson, co-director, University of Melbourne

Sarah Johnston, student, University of Melbourne

Cassandra Kiely, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne (+ daughter, Violet Parker, and partner, Lee Parker)

Nadino Kivarkis, student, University of Melbourne

Mark Krezner, student, University of Melbourne

Hannah Lewis, student, University of Melbourne

Peggy Lucas, student, University of Melbourne

Dr Catherine Longford, archaeobotanist, University of Sheffield

Edan MacCartney, student, University of Melbourne

Zurab Makharadze, trench supervisor, Head of the Centre of Archaeology Georgian National Museum

Salome Markozia, archaeologist, trench supervisor

Dr Inga Martkoplishvili, palynologist, Georgian National Museum

Raff Netley, student, University of Melbourne

Abby Robinson, co-director and PhD candidate, University of Melbourne

Tornike Rostiashvili, archaeologist, trench supervisor

Dr Claudia Sagona, co-director, University of Melbourne

Amy Sandkuhl, archaeologist, trench supervisor

Richard Serle, Pitt Bequest Officer, Baillieu Library University of Melbourne

Mirian Tabukashvili, photographer

Zeejay Tan, student, University of Melbourne

Elizabeth Tetaz, student, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Martin Tomko, Infrastructure Engineering, University of Melbourne (+ mother, Jana Tomkova, and son, Oliver Smith-Tomko)

Miette Welsh, student, University of Melbourne

Acknowledgements

GAIA would like to acknowledge with gratitude the following: Professor Dr David Lordkipanidze, Director of the Georgian National Museum, and Professor Margaret Cameron, Head of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at The University of Melbourne, for their encouragement and support of this collaborative project; we are very grateful for funding from the Shota Rustaveli National Scientific Foundation of Georgia, and the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA), as well as contributions from the Antonio Sagona research fund and from private sources in Melbourne.

The outstanding generosity of Wallace Cameron and Dr Kim Wright is also greatly appreciated.

As we enter the next exciting phases of the project at Rabati, we look forward to forging new creative and financial partnerships and to welcoming many new students, researchers and visitors, from Georgia, Australia and beyond, to the site.

For more: University of Melbourne students @Nadino.kv, and @Y.I.L.I.N.C showed us what a day looks like doing archaeological fieldwork at Rabati on Instagram.

 

 


 

Feature image: University of Melbourne students excavating at Rabati, 2023. Photographer: Andrew Jamieson

SHAPS Digest (December 2023)

Purushottama Bilomoria (Principal Fellow, Philosophy), along with David Woodruff (UC Irvine), wrote a piece in memorium of JN (Jitendra Nath) Mohanty (1928–2023) in the American Philosophical Association's online Memorial Minutes 2023. Mohanty had a strong connection with philosophers in SHAPS and he visited Melbourne for conferences several times. His work is also used in a number of SHAPS philosophy courses.

Mark Edele (Hansen Chair in History, and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Arts) discussed the latest developments in Ukraine on ABC RN's Saturday Extra.

Antonia Finnane (Professorial Fellow, History) discussed the upcoming Taiwan elections and their ramifications for the region, on the ANU's National Security Podcast.

Grimwade Conservation Services' partnership with Ballaarat Mechanics Institute (BMI) on the conservation of the BMI's collection of rare Australian plant specimens was featured on the University's research website. This work was funded by a Victorian Living Heritage Program grant and supported by student volunteers from the Master of Cultural Materials Conservation program.

Madaline Harris-Schober (PhD in Classics & Archaeology, 2023) was featured on the Faculty of Arts website. Madaline has been awarded the international Palestine Exploration Fund-Albright Institute Fellowship by the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (AIAR) Jerusalem.

Max Kaiser, Jewish Anti-Fascism and the False Promise of Settler Colonialism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), was reviewed in the journal Settler Colonial Studies. The reviewer found that the book offered a 'useful and innovative approach to the study of settler colonial societies ... by focusing on a non-founding migrant-settler group and how its identity is shaped by its status as a marginalised cultural minority in relation to the dominant settler colonists, and the Indigenous in Australian society'. Max Kaiser completed his PhD in History in 2019.

Iain McIntyre (PhD in History, 2018) discussed his new co-edited volume, Knocking the Top Off: A People's History of Alcohol in Australia, on 3RRR Breakfast and Junkyard 3PBS. The book is co-edited with Alex Ettling; contributors include Wendy Bacon, Maggie Brady, Rowan Cahill, Bruce Carter, Carol Corless, Daniel A. Elias, Alex Ettling, Gary Foley, Alison Holland, Terry Irving, Phoebe Kelloway, Diane Kirkby, Tanja Luckins, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, Chris McConville, Iain McIntyre, Lisa Milner, David Nichols, Michael Quinlan, Nick Southall, Jeff Sparrow, Janey Stone and Graham Willett.

Andonis Piperoglou (Hellenic Senior Lecturer in Global Diasporas, History) contributed to the writer's desk segment of the online magazine KalliopeX.

The third volume of Scroll, a journal by Student Conservators at Melbourne (SC@M) has now been published. It includes a foreword by Bella Lipson and Belle Williams (Co-Convenors, AICCM Emerging Conservators SIG), and features 13 informative and thought-provoking submissions:

  • Vicki Car, ‘Welcome to the Lucky Country: Navigating the Complex Cultural Histories of Immigrant, Diasporic, and Refugee Communities’.
  • Rachel Davis, ‘Single Objects, Many Stories: Sharing History as Conservation’.
  • Sejal Goel, ‘All that Glitters is a Nightmare: Conserving Pride at the Missouri History Museum’.
  • Emma Dacey, ‘Herbarium of Australian Flora: Cyanotypes Inspired by the History of Photographic and Botanic Science’.
  • Fergus Patterson, ‘Old Problems, New Solutions: Conservation in Rural Australia’.
  • Emma Ward, ‘Long Live the Dragons of Big Gold Mountain: Negotiating Reflexive Care of Chinese Living Heritage in Bendigo’
  • Madeline Davies, ‘80 People, 7 Sites, 3 Days: Reflecting on APTCCARN 6 with the Minds Behind the Ambitious Program’.
  • Isabella Wessel, ‘On Exhibitionary Silences: Museums and Conserving Sexual Heritage’.
  • Kirralee Robinson, ‘What Does an Ecofeminist Mount Look Like? Implications of Ecofeminism in Contemporary Collection Management’.
  • Melanie Melnychuk, ‘Golden Fields and Azure Skies: Dedications to a Faraway Homeland’.
  • Anthi Soulioti, ‘Treating Artworks by Living Artists: The Precariousness of Co-creating Legacies’.
  • Yuhong Zhang, ‘Five Methods for Matting Works on Paper: A Brief Introduction’.
  • Fen Reyes, ‘Secrets of the Mountains: Reflections on Family Heritage, Personal Identity, Project Management and Mummies’.

The editors of this volume were: Joshua Loke, Emily May, Jonathan van Toor, Lauren Wolfram, Misty Wade and Holly Brown.

Academic Publications

Purushottama Bilimoria, with Andrew Irvine, 'Postcolonialism and the Question of Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion', in Nathan R B Loewen and Agnieszka Rostalska (eds), Diversifying Philosophy of Religion: Critiques, Methods and Case Studies. Expanding Philosophy of Religion Series (Bloomsbury Academic, 2023)

Postcolonialism refuses any proposal for a full-fledged philosophy of religion becoming the basis of 'global' comprehension. Instead, it names efforts to open up philosophy and culture to criticism and, more importantly, to transformation through communication with previously reduced and excluded others. Postcolonial and decolonial thinkers are engaged in a vital philosophical experiment of 'epistemic disobedience' to the norms of modern philosophy of religion, attending to and being altered by the reality of other worlds – worlds overlooked in the past, that perhaps present themselves to be recognised here and now, or that lure us as apprehensions of a future that could be – for the sake of creating a 'pluriversal' community of life marked by dialogical inclusion and appreciation. That pluriversality would include in a serious way Indigenous philosophical and spiritual traditions as well.  Note that the ideal of pluriversality is not a rejection of universality as such, but a way of resituating it, away from a single, Eurocentric centre to an interrelated many.

For us (again, influenced by pragmatist thought), systematic theorising is fulfilled not in occupying a privileged and exclusive vantage-point from which to secure a vision of totality, but by repeated movement to think things through, from and with the insights of as many others as possible, because whatever – and whomever – has not been recognised by the community of inquirers before may hold possibilities for enlarging the community and enhancing its life. So, postcolonialism is not possessed by any compulsion to condemn outright the purported universality of ideals like liberty, equality, and fraternity. It commends them to be rethought and, most importantly, re-activated, to disrupt coloniality in a genuinely mutual pursuit of liberation, equity, and empathy for all. It is in this sense that postcolonialism is fundamentally philosophical, fundamentally, that is, a loving pursuit of wisdom.

Purushottama Bilimoria & Agnieszka Rostalska, 'Diversity in Philosophy', in Sarah Flavel and Chiara Robbiano (eds), Key Concepts in World Philosophies: A Toolkit for Philosophers (Bloomsbury Academic 2023)

There are three ways of looking at the strategy for “diversity” in philosophy in a higher institutional setting. The first one entails changing the colour and gender of the faculty by appointing scholars of colour and ethnically-divergent background, but – and here is the rub – expect, indeed demand, of them that they continue to be compliant with the status quo, and therefore in heavily analytic departments do just that and not stray outside of the Anglophone perimeters or be lured into divergencies..

The second approach takes as its objective to diversify in the curriculum content so that there is increasingly a recognition of the diversity of the contemporary world we live in, and this moves away from what in politics might be called 'partisan lines'. Here, the philosophical academy recognises that systems of thinking and reasoning, in short, philosophising, is not the one confined to the alleged roots of Greece and developed in Europe and the West.

The third, more critical, position diversifies in terms of both colour, ethnicity, gender as well as the subject matter (drawn from across several globally representative traditions). This is how the journal Sophia has diversified. And to consider as a possible response in the face of various threats from without that face the discipline of philosophy in these lean times in the academy when questions of application as well as well global relevance are asked for.

Nicole Davis (PhD in History, 2023/Forum), with Julie McLeod, Kevin Kevin Myers & Helen Proctor, 'Mapping connections across fields of knowledge and international networks in the history of education: Australasia, Northern Europe and the United Kingdom', in Andrés Payà Rico & José Luis Hernández Huerta (eds.), Conectando la historia de la educación Tendencias internacionales en la investigación y difusión del conocimiento (Octaedro, 2023) (Available open access)

This chapter takes up the invitation to map the development of the history of education as a disciplinary field, traced through the activities of discipline associations and journals in two contrasting regions, Australasia and Northern Europe.

Defining and putting parameters around these regions is of course a problematic endeavour, replete with longer geopolitical and imperial histories, including the positioning of some regions, such as Australasia, as somewhat peripheral or marginal to developments in northern metropolitan centres.

While a full consideration of these matters is beyond the scope of the chapter, we note them at the start in order to signal the larger contexts both framing and unsettling these mapping exercises. There is also considerable heterogeneity within these broadly defined regions.

Even so, looking at them side by side has revealed some common concerns and also some important differences in how the journals conceived of their mission in relation to issues of national histories and international outlooks.

Jonathan Kemp (Cultural Materials Conservation), 'Conservators, Creativity, and Control', Studies in Conservation (Available open access)

This article explores the role of conservators and focusses on their creative agency in the preservation of cultural heritage. It argues that conservators constitute a ‘recursive public’ who collectively make the field both highly collaborative and highly modifiable. The author then sets out how conservators engage in a form of ‘ontological constructivism’ where they use their creative agencies in adversarial, anexact, and generative processes and act as ‘art-developers’ to commit to the next version of a work.

Drawing parallels with software development, the author proposes that conservation should be seen as a form of version control that creates time-stamped ‘versions of record’ that persist until the next cycle of care. To emphasise the lack of finality in any artwork the author produces a series of ‘endgames’ to illustrate the ontologically open-ended nature of cultural heritage.

The article suggests that in exploring the distributed nature of creative agency through the lens of version control, conservation can provide greater understanding into the real conditions of art and cultural production and how they continue to evolve over time. This then helps disrupt conventional notions of authorship and allows conservation to contribute to a more inclusive understanding of art and culture in our institutions.

Gijs Tol (Classics & Archaeology) with Tymon de Haas, 'The Analytical Potential of Intensive Field Survey Data. Developments in the Collection, Analysis and Interpretation of Surface Ceramics within the Pontine Region Project', in Anna Meens et al.(eds), Fields, Sherds and Scholars: Recording and Interpreting Survey Ceramics (Sidestone Press, 2023) (Available open access)

Landscape archaeology has heavily relied on pedestrian survey as a field method for more than half a century. In most field projects, archaeological ceramics constitute the lion’s share among the finds and the amount of collected sherds is overwhelming.

Survey ceramics provide the basis for understanding human activity in a landscape, and sherds serve as convenient chronological markers for the archaeological sites discovered in field projects. However, how this pottery is collected and studied determines the possibilities for using the sherds as a source material. Not only the collection practices, but also the process and practicalities of ceramic analysis are rarely made explicit, even though the archaeological interpretations of human activity in the landscape strongly rely on it.

In this text, the authors highlight the evolution of survey and sampling strategies of the Pontine Region Project and reflect on the trade-off between analytical potential and research intensity.

The latest issue of the journal Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions is a special issue, 'Steps to a Global Thought: Thinking from Elsewhere'. It features a tribute to the late Patrick Hutchings (26 October 1929–1 September 2023) (Honorary Research Associate, Philosophy, and long-time Editor-in-Chief of Sophia) by Anna Hennessey, with input from Sophia's Editor-in-Chief, Purushottama Bilimoria (Professorial Fellow, Philosophy) (Available open access).

 

Awards & Appointments

The Faculty of Arts conferred three Honorary Doctorates within SHAPS. The awardees were: Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick, a distinguished Soviet Union historian of more than 50 years; Mr Djambawa Marawili, a highly respected Indigenous artist and community leader; and Professor Alexandra Walsham, a professor of religious and cultural history of early modern Britain.

Purushottama Bilimoria has been elected Fellow of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Kate McGregor (History) has been appointed Associate Dean (International) of the Faculty of Arts.

Molly Mckew (PhD in History, 2019) has been appointed Publicity Officer for the History Council of Victoria.

And, finally, warmest congratulations to all our students who graduated this December!

 

 

SHAPS staff, fellows, students, alumni: if you have news items for the monthly SHAPS digest, email us the details.

 


 

Feature image: The Venice Overseas Intensive has been inaugurated for the first time since COVID interruptions to student travel. Andrea Rizzi (SOLL) and Catherine Kovesi (SHAPS) are pictured here atop Saint Mark's Basilica with the 2023 cohort

Number of posts found: 621