Global sensibilities group


The global sensibilities group brings together an interdisciplinary team to develop a 'new' history of ideas. This approach replaces the emphasis upon texts as a source of ideas, insisting on the importance of the social, cultural, visual, economic and political contexts in which ideas develop, on who is speaking, when and where.

Funded by a Faculty Collaborative Research Grant for 2013-2014, our interests are in themes that raise new questions about the history of ideas in respect of the boundaries between thought and feeling, and the universality or cultural specificity of particular beliefs and ideas.

For more information of the Global Sensibilities Group, contact

Themes and Lead Researchers

2013 – Biography and autobiography

Biography is the genre through which the history of ideas is made most inclusive. New approaches to biography have provided ways to demonstrate the contributions of women to a range of intellectual, scientific, artistic and political developments, but also to stress the importance of community and context in the development of key scientific, economic and political ideas and theories; to demonstrate the complexity of concepts of race and gender and the capacities of individuals to cross them.

Through this research theme, the group will explore the growing importance of biography and the new insights it can bring to intellectual, scientific, economic, imperial and art history, to the history of religion, and to histories of race and of gender.

  • Professor Barbara Caine (History)
  • Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer (Sociology & Social Policy)
  • Associate Professor Andrew Fitzmaurice (History)
  • Professor Shane White (History)

2014 – Literature, art and politics

The group's collaboration around this research theme will explore the changing meanings of sensibility in relation to literature, art, economics and philosophy from the 18th century onwards and its association with acute perception and sensitivity towards something, especially the feelings of others and will move on to explore the globalisation of the concept in terms of the ways that ideas and literary and artistic forms forged in one place and time are taken up in another.

  • Professor Jennifer Milam (Art History)
  • Dr Alastair Blanschard (Classics and Ancient History)
  • Dr Jennifer Ferng (Architecture)
  • Dr Miranda Johnson (History)
  • Professor Glenda Sluga (History)

Past Events

History and the Individual Life: a Symposium

Joan of Arc

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, French, 1854. Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, Oil on canvas, 94 x 70 in. MI667

Monday 3 November 2014

CCANESA Boardroom
Level 4, Madsen Building
Unversity of Sydney

This symposium will move beyond current debates about the place of biography in history by exploring the different ways in which historians are currently using individual lives to explore and analyse particular questions in a range of different fields. The symposium will begin with a general discussion of this approach and then focus particularly on the use of individual lives in imperial and international history and in the history of animal human interaction.

Barbara Caine (University of Sydney), 'History and the Individual Life'

Glenda Sluga (University of Sydney), 'Can Women be Individuals? Writing women into the history of international politics'

Bill Schwarz (Queen Mary University of London), 'Coming Home to History. The Lives of Enoch Powell'

Andrew Fitzmaurice (University of Sydney), 'King Leopold's Ghostwriter?'

Iain McCalman (University of Sydney), 'JT jnr: the individual life story of an African vervet monkey'

Enlightenment Cosmopolitanisms and Sensibilities & Cosmopolitan Moments: Instances of Exchange in the Long Eighteenth Century: Emerging Scholar Workshop

Wednesday 11-Thursday 12 June 2014
Lower Common Room
Sancta Sophia College

8 Missenden Road
Camperdown NSW 2050

The character of practiced cosmopolitanism during the Enlightenment often appears to amount to little more than an extension of early modern courtly internationalism infused with a new language of ideas. Further investigation reveals the desire on the part of Enlightenment cosmopolites to open borders in the name of economic, political, intellectual and artistic progress. This workshop explores cosmopolitanism in practice during the long eighteenth century in Europe and, through circulation, beyond its borders. It seeks out lived experiences of cosmopolitanism in the evidence of visual, social and textual expressions, and then asks how to interrogate this evidence. What were the opportunities through which border crossings became fixed in the minds of participants and observers? How was Enlightenment cosmopolitanism in practice inflected with different forms of sensibility?

Emerging scholars explore discrete instances of cultural interaction in the long eighteenth century (visual, textual, political, philosophical, social). How do we define the nature of the exchange? Is it cosmopolitan? Areas of analysis include roles of actors and agents, bi-lateral or unilateral action, acceptance, rejection and the medium of transmission.

Program (PDF)

Poster (PDF)

Participants include:

Finding form for historical lives: a workshop with Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

Thursday 27 March 2014

How do we find a form for representing historical lives, especially those lives that have left only traces in the archive? Or does the form find us? In this workshop, novelist, poet and academic Tony Birch (The University of Melbourne) and author, film-maker and academic Ross Gibson (The University of Sydney) talk about how they have found form for historical lives forgotten and remembered in writing projects, collaborative image-based works, and interactive installation pieces. Tony and Ross will address in particular how to use different media to translate our ideas for public audiences beyond academia.

The workshop is aimed mainly at postgraduate students interested in thinking experimentally about the archives you are working with (broadly conceived) and the imaginative experiences that encountering your archive has inspired. What will you do next with what you have discovered? And how will you go about it?

CLOSED to new applications. Please contact Miranda Johnson for further information.

This workshop is generously supported by Global Sensibilities Group, a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Collaborative Research Group; and Race and Ethnicity in the Global South, a project supported by an ARC Laureate Fellowship at The University of Sydney.

Visual Manipulation and Auto/Biography


Click to download (PDF, 58KB)

Tuesday 25 February 2014
3-5 pm

Kevin Lee Room
Level 6, Lobby H
Quadrangle Building
the University of Sydney

This seminar will combine the work of two art historians researching the visual self-representation of royal woman at the French court during the seventeenth century.

Dr Gaehtgens (an independent scholar based at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles) explores how Anne of Austria used multiplied images as visual propaganda to change her image from a widowed queen to a self-assured regent. In turn, Dr De Vitis (National Art School) considers the theatrical performances of Elizabeth Charlotte as substantive acts of socio-political critique, calculated and incisive.

Discussion will focus on how the visual - in prints and performance - can be conceived as a form of writing biography.

Revolutionary Ideas


Click to download (PDF, 113KB)

16 November 2013

Public Symposium, co-sponsored by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in conjunction with the exhibition America. Painting a Nation

Click here to further details

Hero and Villain: Lafayette's Legacies


Click to download (PDF, 284KB)

12 November 2013

Public lecture presented by Professor Laura Auricchio on the subject of her forthcoming book, The Marquis, a visually informed biography. Co-presented with Sydney Ideas.

Genealogies of Internationalism


Click to download (PDF, 68KB)

19 August 2013

A salon discussion by Professor David Armitage (Harvard University) and Professor Glenda Sluga (University of Sydney) about the ideas behind their new books: