15 October 2007

Four leading cultural historians have been appointed at UQ’s Faculty of Arts signalling a major refocusing of its research efforts.

The appointments are testament to the University’s already extensive researching and teaching in cultural history as well as its future directions in the field.

The recent appointments will also have positive spin-offs for students in terms of teaching and learning, according to Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Richard Fotheringham.

“We took advice, particularly from Professor Graeme Turner, the President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Director of UQ’s Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, about where the humanities were headed,” Professor Fotheringham said.

“When we looked at what some of our best researchers were doing anyway, it was cultural history. So we approached the Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Hay, who agreed to provide start-up strategic funding to make this a major focus for research across the faculty – everyone from literary scholars to musicologists.”

Associate Professor Chris Dixon will come from Newcastle to UQ to lead the cultural history project.

“His own work is an exact example of what we believe cultural history can offer,” Professor Fotheringham said.

“In studying the history of America in the Pacific during World War II, Chris realised that you couldn’t ignore the way in which soldiers saw an unfamiliar world through eyes conditioned by watching Dorothy Lamour movies.

“That experience affected everything from their attitudes and behaviour to the people they did meet to the subsequent reputation of the US in the region and American foreign policy from then to now.”

Three of the four appointees’ work focuses on popular media in recent history.

Associate Professor Jason Jacobs, formerly at Griffith University, has an international reputation for his work on the history of television, while Dr Prue Ahrens, an art historian, has curated two exhibitions of photographs by American service personnel.

The first, “Tour of Paradise”, has been exhibited everywhere from Tjibaou and Honolulu to the Presidio Trust Officers Club in San Francisco and the Australian Embassy in Washington.

The fourth member of the start-up group is Dr David Pritchard, from the Classics Department at Sydney University.

“David impressed us enormously with his ability to relate ideas about war and democracy in classical times to the assumptions people still make about democracies being essentially peace-loving and progressive,” Professor Fotheringham said.

“It emphasises that we are not just studying recent events but ideas that resonate across time.”

The project will start with a colloquium in December to which all UQ Arts staff will be invited, with major cross-school research projects, seminars and at least two major international conferences to follow.

Media inquiries: Shirley Glaister (telephone 07 3365 1931).