Historian will co-chair Australian Studies at Harvard

11 March 2015

Professor Penny Russell from the Department of History has been jointly appointed to the prestigious Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University for the 2016-2017 academic year.

"We are delighted to see such strong appointments to the Chair," said Professor Stuart Macintyre, Chair of the Australian Nominating Committee. "That Harvard has made it possible to invite two scholars for the 2016-2017 academic year testifies to their outstanding quality."

As co-chair with Professor John Gascoigne from the University of New South Wales, Professor Russell will commence in September 2016 and will join the ranks of esteemed Australians who have previously held the chair since its inception in 1978. They include former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, historians Charles Manning Clark and Geoffrey Blainey, scientist Tim Flannery, and Indigenous Australian barrister Mick Dodson.

"It's a great privilege to be invited to spend a year in the History Department at Harvard," said Penny Russell, Bicentennial Professor of Australian History at the University of Sydney, "and to pursue my research on honour in colonial societies in the company of historians who have been an inspiration to my own work."

"I can think of no better way to understand Australian history and Australian habits than to view them from the outside for a while, and I look forward to teaching and learning in such a stimulating environment."

Professor Russell's work has illuminated the patterns of sociability that shaped colonial society, and opened new ways of understanding the manners and customs used to negotiate class, gender and racial relations in nineteenth-century Australia. Her year at Harvard will assist her to pursue research in the codes of honour that operated in different colonial settings.

She will work alongside fellow Chair, Professor John Gascoigne, who is a Scientia Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales. Through his studies of Joseph Banks, Pacific exploration and the Enlightenment in colonial Australia, he has provided new perspectives on the mentality of those involved in establishing European Australia. At Harvard he will continue his work on culture contact in the Pacific with particular emphasis on the interaction between early American whalers and the peoples of the Pacific.

"Being based in the History of Science Department at Harvard will provide a very appropriate academic environment in which to pursue further my interests in the links between science and exploration and science and the state," Professor Gascoigne said.

Professor Gascoigne's most recent works are Captain Cook: Voyager Between Worlds (2007), winner of the Frank Broeze prize for maritime history, and Encountering the Pacific in the Age of the Enlightenment (2014), winner of the NSW Premier's general history prize.

Professor Russell is currently chair of the History Department at the University of Sydney, and also a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Her most recent book, Savage or Civilised? (2011) was recognised by the New South Wales Premier's Award for Australian History. She was co-editor of History Australia between 2008 and 2012, and is renowned for teaching and supervision of research.

The Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies was made possible by a gift from the Australian Government in 1978 and Professor Russell and Professor Gascoigne will be required to present a report for the Prime Minister at the end of their Harvard tenure.

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