Sydney Ideas Open

2010 PAST EVENTS

Sydney Ideas Open venue

Sydney Ideas Open is a program of short, evening talks and forums where the community can explore new research, new ideas and new thinking in an intimate and informal way.

The 2010 program has featured University of Sydney academics from a range of disciplines, as well as international and interstate visitors to the University. Follow the links below each entry to download audio podcasts or films.

25 February - Mark Danner

Mark Danner is one of the world’s most experienced war reporters, and has covered trouble spots such as El Salvador, Haiti, Bosnia and most recently Iraq. In his new book Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War, a collection of his writings, he develops a unique perspective on the use of violence in these conflicts and expands on Prussian Carl von Clautisz’ theory that ‘war is a continuation of politics by other means’. In his search to answer questions about the morality of the USA’s involvement in the current war in Afghanistan, he examines the US’s involvement in conflicts in Haiti, the Balkans, Latin America and the Middle East.

Mark Danner was in conversation with Professor Geoffrey Garret, CEO of the US Studies Centre.

Watch the film of the event

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 9 min, 32Mb MP3)

11 March - Meeting the China Challenge Forum

Meeting the China Challenge: Australia’s China Policy in a New Era.

This forum and open discussion with Australia’s leading China commentators was hosted by Dr James Reilly, Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Participants included:

*Professor Michael Wesley, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy
*Dr Richard Rigby, Executive Director of the ANU China Institute
*Dr John Garnaut, China correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Chaired by Professor David Goodman, Chinese Politics, University of Sydney.

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 30 min, 41Mb MP3)

8 April - Modernism or Realism? The question in China’s quest for modernity through art

Dr Yiyan Wang, Chair of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney

How to modernise art for a modern China? What ideas and practices should China adapt from the West? Such questions figured prominently in intellectual debate about modernisation at the start of the twentieth century. Within a few decades, art in China had undergone dramatic change, from conception through production to reception. This public lecture will look at Chinese art practice and art debate at the time with a focus on the first Chinese national art exhibition in Shanghai in 1929.

Yiyan Wang is the Chair of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. Her publications focus on modern Chinese literature and culture, and she is currently engaged in research on modern Chinese art history. She is the author of Narrating China: Jia Pingwa and His Fictional World (Routledge, 2006).

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 08 min, 32Mb MP3)

15 April - Rethinking Good Governance and Transparency: The China-Latin America-U.S. triangle

Dr Adrian Hearn, Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney

Consensual understandings of good governance and transparency are crucial to the international accommodation of China’s economic rise. This presentation examines how conceptions of these terms diverge, generate misunderstandings, and harbour potential for dialogue between key US, Latin American, and Chinese actors.

Adrian Hearn is an anthropologist whose research examines the political and cultural implications of China’s deepening engagement with Latin America. He is author of Cuba: Religion, Social Capital, and Development (Duke University Press, 2008), The Politics of Trust: China’s Engagement with Cuba and Mexico (Duke University Press, forthcoming), and editor of Culture, Tradition, and Community: Perspectives on Participation and Development.

Listen to the podcast (Running time 54 min, 25Mb MP3)

22 April - Darwin and Intelligent Design

Professor Elliott Sober, Professor of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Are evolutionary theory and belief in God necessarily in conflict? Visiting professor to the University of Sydney, Elliott Sober, addresses this question by considering what biologists mean by saying that mutations are "unguided". He will also discusses Darwin's views on God and Christianity.

Elliott Sober’s research is in the philosophy of science, especially in the philosophy of evolutionary biology. His book Did Darwin write the Origin Backwards? will be published in December 2010 by Prometheus Books. He won the Lakatos Prize in 1991 and the American Philosophical Association named him Prometheus Laureate for 2008. He has been president of the Philosophy of Science Association and the American Philosophical Association.

Elliott Sober was a Visiting Fellow of the University of Sydney's Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

Listen to the podcast

Watch a video of the lecture on ABC Big Ideas TV

29 April - Out of Iran

Professor Dan Potts, Director of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation, University of Sydney

Dan Potts is co-director of an ARC-funded excavation, called Tol-e Nurabad, which is located in the Mamasani district of the Fars province in Iran. Tol-e Nurabad was occupied from c. 6000 BC to the time of Christ, and Dan’s team are currently excavating in the earliest levels dating to the first Neolithic occupation at the site in c. 6000 BC. Dan will speak about what it's like being in Iran in the current political climate, what it's like to work there, and Iran's significance in the modern and ancient worlds.

Professor Daniel Potts' fieldwork has been mainly conducted in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the experience on working on multi-period sites has meant that his interests extend, chronologically, from the Neolithic to the Islamic conquest. He is interested in the evolution of technology (ceramic, metallurgical, agricultural), political systems, and economic organisation.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 4 min, 29.4Mb MP3)

13 May - A World Court of Human Rights: how would it work?

Professor Manfred Nowak, Professor of International Human Rights Protection at University of Vienna and UN Special Rapporteur on Torture since December 2004

The idea of a World Court of Human Rights is not entirely new. Already in 1947, the Australian Government argued for the establishment of an International Court of Human Rights. Due to the rising tensions of the Cold War, however, the proposal did not find consensus among States. Thus the World Court of Human Rights was never realised, nor were then other initiatives, such as an International Criminal Court or a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. But while these two ideas were set into practice after the end of the Cold War, the proposal of a World Court of Human Rights remained stigmatised as utopian.

Manfred Nowak is one of the most significant scholars and experts of the international Human Rights field. As a researcher and practitioner he has authored numerous books and articles. He has been awarded the UNESCO Prize for the Teaching of Human Rights and was head of the European Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA) in Venice from 2000 to 2007. He is Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.

Watch a video of the lecture

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 4 min, 29.4Mb MP3)

20 May - Human Costs of Carnage: Iraq Voices Unearthed

Dr Richard Hil, honorary associate in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney and
Michael Otterman, author and human rights consultant.


What are the human costs of the conflict in Iraq? Otterman and Hil will present a human portrait of the Iraqi Diaspora as told by those who experienced it first-hand: Iraqis themselves. For their new book, Erasing Iraq (Pluto 2010), Otterman visited Syria and Jordan to speak with Iraqi refugees about their lives before, during and after the 2003 US-led invasion. Richard Hil travelled to Sweden where he interviewed members of the world's largest Iraqi exile community outside the Middle East. Otterman and Hil will recount the real world experiences of many of the Iraqis they met, plus contextualize the current five-million-plus Iraqi refugee crisis with relevant history of the conflict.

Dr Richard Hil is honorary associate in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. Richard has taught previously at Southern Cross University, Queensland University of Technology, University of the Sunshine Coast, James Cook University, and the University of York. He has published widely in the fields of criminology, child and family welfare, youth studies, and peace and conflict studies.

Michael Otterman, a New York City based human rights consultant, is the author of two books: American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond and with Richard Hil and Paul Wilson, Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage. He is a graduate of Boston University, University of Sydney and was Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies from 2006 – 2009.

Listen to the podcast (Running time 57 min, 26.3Mb MP3))

27 May - A Green New Deal

Michael Renner, Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute

In an era marked by deep global recession on one hand and the spectre of climate change on the other, the pursuit of so-called green jobs could become a key economic driver in sectors like energy, transportation, buildings, and infrastructure. A portion of many national economic stimulus programs contain environment-friendly investments, and additional momentum toward a low-carbon global economy could be gained with the help of a so-called “Green New Deal.” In addition to greening production technologies, skill-building will be critical both for new employment and for transforming existing jobs.

Michael Renner is a Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization headquartered in Washington, DC. His work has mostly focused on the connections between environment and employment as well as the linkages between environment, resources, and conflict. Michael was the lead-author of a September 2008 report, Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World, commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Labour Organization.

Co-presented with the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney

Listen to the podcast ((Running time 1 hour 3 min, 29.1Mb MP3)

10 June - Harlem, the black capital of the world

Shane White, Stephen Robertson and Stephen Garton are part of a collaborative team working on everyday life in Harlem in the 1920s, when the neighbourhood became the black capital of the world. Their award-winning website maps everything from street speakers to parades, traffic accidents to basketball games, house fires to arrests for numbers ­ the form of gambling invented in Harlem that became its largest black business, and the subject of the team¹s recently published book - to recreate what it was like to live in this 'black metropolis'. One finding of this research was that Harlem was not the segregated place it has been long thought, but a neighbourhood in which whites remained a significant, influential presence.

Stephen Garton is Professor of History and Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney. He is the author of four books and over sixty articles, chapters and encyclopaedia and historical dictionary entries in such areas as the history of madness, psychiatry, crime, incarceration, masculinity, eugenics, social policy, poverty, returned soldiers, masculinity and sexuality.

Stephen Robertson is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. His research areas are twentieth-century United States, history of sexuality, law and society, New York and digital history.

Shane White is Challis Professor of History and an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow at the University of Sydney. His main research interests are in African American history and in the history of New York City.

A Sydney Humanities Salon Co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 3 min, 28.9Mb MP3)

17 June - Digging up Sydney: A conversation between the disciplines of History and Archaeology on ways of researching Sydney's past

Beneath the streetscapes and parklands of Sydney lie the fragments and material traces of both the Indigenous and Colonial/Settler past. All of us probably consider the history of Sydney to be familiar and well-documented, yet archaeological research across the Sydney Basin constantly brings to the surface surprising discoveries that challenge and contest the existing historical narratives about our city. In this Salon four archaeologists will present aspects of their research that challenge the received histories of the city in a conversation with pre-eminent Sydney historian Dr Grace Karskens.


Mary Casey is a Director, Casey & Lowe, archaeology and heritage consultants, and a research associate, Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney. Mary has directed a number of State-significant archaeological projects, including the Conservatorium of Music; Parramatta Convict Hospital, Parramatta Justice Precinct; and Darling Walk, Darling Harbour.

Annie Clarke is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and convenes the Heritage Studies Program. She carries out research on the archaeology and rock art of cross-cultural interaction in Arnhem Land, the role of indigenous agency in the formation of ethnographic collections and the practice of community-based archaeology and heritage.

Martin Gibbs is a Senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He is currently undertaking an Australian Research Council funded project on the 16th Century failed Spanish colonies in the Solomon Islands.

Grace Karskens teaches Australian history and public history in the School of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. She is interested in Australian colonial history, cultural and environmental history and material culture. Her latest book is The Colony: A History of Early Sydney.

Paul Irish is an archaeologist and Principal Consultant with Mary Dallas Consulting Archaeologists. He is currently running two research projects in the Sydney area; one looking at the region’s post-European contact Aboriginal places and the other regarding the archaeology and Aboriginal history of the Kurnell Peninsula.

A Sydney Humanities Salon Co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 38 min, 45.2Mb MP3)

5 July - History as a Communication Problem

John Durham Peters, Chair of Communication Studies and Professor of International Studies at the University of Iowa

Russia, as the old saying goes, has an unpredictable past. One of the most dynamically changing things in the past two centuries has been the past. This talk explores how the basic problems faced by historians–the historical record, its transmission, and interpretation–are problems of communication. More specifically, it argues that changing technologies of communication have altered what counts as evidence, and thus have altered not only how we speak to one another, but the relationship between the living and the dead, present and past.

John Durham Peters is A. Craig Baird Professor and Department Chair of Communication Studies, and Professor of International Studies, at the University of Iowa. He is the author of two books, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (1999) and Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition (2005). He is the author of over fifty journal articles and book chapters on the philosophy of communication, intellectual history of communication research, democratic theory, and cultural history of media.

Co-presented with the Department of Media and Communications, Media @ Sydney Seminar Program. John Durham Peters's visit is supported by the Faculty of Arts, University of Sydney, and the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association

Listen to the podcast (Running time 57 min, 26.3Mb MP3)

19 August - Scholarship at Large

Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director at Duke University Press, Cathy N. Davidson, Ruth F DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University and Professor Shane White, Department of History, University of Sydney

Forum chaired by Professor Iain McCalman,Department of History, University of Sydney


How often do we hear that academics can't write? That academic prose is leaden, burdened with excessive theory? Lacking wit and narrative drive? These days, most Australian publishers run screaming from scholarly book manuscripts. Yet in the United States, Duke University Press has made academic publishing cool-and popular. Do the people at Duke know something we don't? Ken Wissoker, the editorial director at Duke, believes his press not only produces smart books, it also shapes intellectual inquiry.

But what about the future? What will happen to scholarship-and to thinking-in the age of digital technology? How do we develop new means to disseminate ideas? Cathy N. Davidson, the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University and past president of the American Studies Association, joined with Ken Wissoker to asking us to think beyond the book.

Ken and Cathy spoke about the prospects for academic publishing and the future of civilization with eminent and widely published historians Iain McCalman and Shane White.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 22 min, 37.7Mb MP3)

25 August - The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris

Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, and the senior political writer for The Daily Beast.

The Icarus Syndrome tells a tale as old as the Greek–a story about the seductions of success. Peter Beinart portrays three extraordinary generations: the progressives who took America into World War I, led by Woodrow Wilson, who for a moment became the closest thing to a political messiah the world had ever seen. The Camelot intellectuals who took America into Vietnam, led by Lyndon Johnson, who lay awake at night in terror that his countrymen considered him weak. And George W. Bush and the post–cold war conservatives, who believed they could simultaneously bludgeon and liberate the Middle East. In each case, like Icarus, America’s leaders crafted ‘wings’–a theory about America’s relationship with the world. They flapped carefully at first, but gradually lost their inhibitions until, giddy with success, they flew into the sun. In each case, new leaders and thinkers found wisdom in pain. They reconciled American optimism with the realities of a world that will never fully bend to our will. In their struggles lie the seeds of American renewal today.

Peter Bienart is associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and former editor of The New Republic. He is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. Beinart is the author of The Good Fight (2007) and The Icarus Syndrome (2010).

Co-presented with the United States Studies Centre

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour, 27.6Mb MP3)

6 September - Waiting for the Preacher: Obama’s America in World Religious Context

Jack Miles, Senior Fellow for Religious Affairs with the Pacific Council on International Policy and Distinguished Professor of English and Religious Studies, University of California, Irvine

Bill Clinton went to war to rescue Kosovar Muslims from Serbian Catholics and dreamed of reconciling Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews. George W. Bush left office embroiled in a war to reconcile Iraqi Muslims to one another. Strange errands, these, for a pair of ardently declared American Protestants. Now comes President Barack Obama, fathered by a Kenyan Muslim and raised for significant middle years by his atheist mother and a Muslim stepfather in Jakarta. Accused during his election campaign (and still) of being a crypto-Muslim, the man seems to send religious messages before he even opens his mouth. But what about that celebrated mouth? The vivid, if objectionable, language of “clash of civilizations” and “war on terror” has been replaced by–well, by what exactly? What is the religious (and anti-religious) world waiting to hear from a leader both acclaimed and mocked as a preacher? Or has the world already received its answer?

Jack Miles is Senior Fellow for Religious Affairs with the Pacific Council on International Policy and Distinguished Professor of English and Religious Studies, University of California, Irvine. A past MacArthur Fellow (2003-2007), Miles won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his bookGod: A Biography, which has since been translated into sixteen languages. A former member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board, he has published shorter work in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Atlantic Monthly, and other publications. He is currently general editor of the forthcoming Norton Anthology of World Religions.

Co-presented with the United States Studies Centre

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 9 min, 31.7Mb MP3)

9 September - Cities - Sydney, Freetown and Cape Town: Convicts and Empire

Dr Kirsten McKenzie and Dr Emma Christopher, Department of History, University of Sydney

Many Sydneysiders think they know all about the history of their city, but few know that its convict past links it firmly to Africa, a continent many Australians know little about. Emma Christopher and Kirsten McKenzie uncover a forgotten history of abandoned plans and lost hopes, of political objections to sending convicts to Africa and the sufferings of those who were sent there. By revealing the convict connections to Freetown, Sierra Leone and Cape Town, South Africa, they show how very nearly the stories of Africa and Australia came to taking different turns. The salon will launch Emma's new book A Merciless Place: The Lost Story of Britain's Convict Disaster in Africa and How it Led to the Settlement of Australia.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 9 min, 31.7Mb MP3)

30 September- Cities - Shanghai: Colonialism, Cosmopolitanism and Chinese Modernity

Professor David Goodman, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Dr Yiyan Wang and Dr Yi Zheng, School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney

Researchers of this panel will present the city of Shanghai to the audience as they know of it from various perspectives. Professor David Goodman will give an introduction to the history, ethnography and the pre-1949 colonial conditions of Shanghai. Dr Yiyan Wang will demonstrate how Shanghai’s cosmopolitan environment in the 1920s and 1930s was conducive to the emergence of Chinese modernism in literature and art. Dr Yi Zheng will examine how city narratives, from travel guides to fiction to personal memoirs, act as an important part of urban culture, shape and structure our knowing, feeling and understanding of the cityscape, its inhabitants and history. She will focus in particular on how Shanghai stories function as the romance of a bourgeois city.

A Sydney Humanities Salon co-presentation

5 October - Doing the Dirty Work of Higher Education

Professor Gareth Parry, University of Sheffield, UK

In the age of near-universal access, what should be the division of labour between colleges and universities? Fifty years ago, the distinguished American scholar Burton Clark described colleges as doing much of the dirty work of higher education. As open-door institutions, they transferred some students to selective universities and persuaded the rest in strongly vocational directions. The talk explores the issues of access and equity posed by a larger role for universities in widening participation and by new remits for colleges and schools in higher education.

Gareth Parry is Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield. His research is addressed to policy reform and system change in tertiary education. He was a research consultant to the Dearing committee of inquiry into higher education in the UK (1996-97) and the Foster review of further education colleges in England (2004-05).

Co-presented with the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.

Listen to the podcast (Running time 1 hour 3 min, 15.2Mb MP3)

14 October - Emotions, the Brain and the Body: The science connecting health and the emotions

Professor Esther M Sternberg MD and Professor Ian Hickie AM

How do the emotions affect our physical and mental health? What is the science that shows how brain and body interact to make us sick or well? Two of the world’s leading researchers expose and explore the pathways within the brain through which our emotions connect with our bodies. Professor Sternberg will present the results of her decades of research showing how nerves, molecules, and hormones connect the brain and immune system, how the immune system signals the brain and affects our emotions, and how our brain can signal the immune system, making us more vulnerable to illnesses. She illustrates how these links work and discusses what the implications can be for treatable and chronic diseases. Professor Hickie will discuss studies conducted by the Brain and Mind Research Institute that indicate the role the emotions play in the developing adolescent brain and identify which factors are likely to lead to serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, and the ways in which early interventions might be used to prevent and treat these diseases. Professor Sternberg and Professor Hickie will conclude with a conversation and open forum about the science connecting the emotions, the brain and the body.

Esther M Sternberg, MD is Chief of the Section on Neuroendocrine Immunology and Behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health, Director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program, NIMH/NIH and Co-Chair of the NIH Intramural Program on Research in Women's Health in the USA. She is internationally recognized for her discoveries in brain- immune interactions and the brain's stress response in diseases including arthritis: the science of the mind-body interaction. She publishes numerous original scientific articles, reviews and textbook chapters in leading scientific journals and has authored two popular books: The Balance Within: The science connecting health and emotions and Healing Spaces: the science of place and well-being.

Professor Ian Hickie is Executive Director of the Brain & Mind Research Institute, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Sydney and an NHMRC Australian Medical Research Fellow. He is a member of the Foundation Executive Committee of Headspace: the National Youth Mental Health Foundation and is a member of the Australian National Advisory Council on Drugs. In July 2008 Professor Hickie was appointed to the Federal Health’s Minister’s new National Advisory Council on Mental Health. His research integrates clinical and neurobiological research with health service reform and his clinical and health services development work focuses on expansion of population-based mental health research and development of international mental health strategies.

Co-presented with Arts and Health Australia, the Brain and Mind Institute and the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney