Day One

10.00 – 10.30 am: Registration

10.30 – 10.55: Welcome
Speaker: Katie Barclay

10.55 – 12.00 pm: Keynote
The West in the South: The Challenges of Decolonising Medieval and Early Modern Scholarship in Australasia
Professor Louise D’Arcens, Macquarie Univeristy
Chair: Erin Sebo

12.00 – 1.00: Lunch

1.00 – 3.00: Western Civilisation and its Discontents: A Roundtable on Teaching and Pedagogy
Speakers: Tiana Blazevic, Christopher van der Krogt, David McInnis, Helen Young
Chair: Clare Monagle

This roundtable will invite participants and the audience to reflect on the opportunities and problems the concept of ‘western civilisation’ raises in the classroom. Each panellist will first speak briefly (c. 10 minutes each) about their own experience and perspectives; the Chair will then facilitate a conversation between the panellists (c.15-30 minutes); and the discussion will then be opened up to the audience for the rest of the session.

The roundtable will address questions including:

  • What does ‘western civilisation’ mean for humanities teaching in an Australia/New Zealand university context?
  • How do we integrate diverse views, indigenous and non-western perspectives?
  • What could bicultural/multicultural teaching and learning look like and how can it strengthen the place of medieval and early modern disciplines and the humanities more broadly?
  • What strategies can we use to address and respond to controversial / distressing issues in the classroom? Both the ways our disciplines are being co-opted by extremists but also longer term problems of racism and Eurocentrism in our fields.
  • How do we ensure the emotional, cultural and physical safety of students while fostering robust discussion and critical debate on controversial and potentially sensitive topics?
  • What practical steps can/should senior faculty, permanent staff and institutional leaders take to protect and support early career and contingent colleagues who engage in politically controversial teaching/research?

3.00 – 3.30: Tea break

3.30 – 5.00: The Politics of Western Civilisation Studies
Speakers: Amelia Brown, Tiana Blazevic, Sarah Ferber
Chair: Peter Sherlock

This panel is dedicated to some of the political issues surrounding the academic study of Western Civilisation, particularly in the field of Classics and Ancient History. Amelia Brown from the University of Queensland will reflect on some political aspects of the study of Ancient Greece, and its language, literature, art, archaeology and history, as part of the formative narrative of the idea of Western Civilisation. Her focus will be the divergent traditions of the study of Ancient Greece, and especially its monuments, in Greece, the US, and Australia. From the Persian Wars to the Parthenon, she will offer some contrasts on how Ancient Greek culture is selectively politicised in Greece, the US and Australia. Sarah Ferber will be provide a detailed account of the key events and issues which led to the installation at the University of Wollongong of the Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation) with funding by the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. In December 2018 the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong announced that the Sydney-based centre was to provide a $50-million dollar package to install a new degree entitled ‘Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation)’. In a significant departure from standard practice, Academic Senate had not been consulted about the new program. Over the following several months, staff and students expressed concern about the executive processes of approval. The UOW experience provides a basis for reflection on the wider politics of the ‘Western Civilisation’ debate in relation to humanities undergraduate teaching in 21st-century Australia, and exposes the limited capacities of high-level regulatory mechanisms in the face of culturally loaded commercial incentives. Tiana Blazevic from the University of Adelaide will discuss how the so-called ‘decline of Western Civilisation studies’ has become a focus of online hate groups and rising anti-intellectualism. In particular, she will discuss how the far right appropriate Ancient Greek and Roman history on social media and blog sites to further their ideas of white supremacy, anti-immigration and misogyny. She will argue that students are more exposed to far-right ‘memes’ and blogs on the ancient world and have greater access to it in today’s rapidly developing digital world rather than academia or traditional historical sources or scholarship.

5.00 – 6.00: Break

6.00: Public Panel
Level 1 Lecture Theatre, Napier Building
Speakers: Jenni Caruso, University of Adelaide; Han Baltussen, University of Adelaide; Robert Phiddian, Flinders University; Clare Monagle, Macquarie University
Chair: Wilf Prest