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It’s an odd thing to launch I book, I am discovering. There’s so much that happens under the surface of bringing them to fruition that it’s hard to know how to speak about them once they exist. They are such a temporal creation – a product of one’s former selves – with all their foibles etched onto the page. Do you speak on their behalf? Or try and let them speak for themselves?

Empire of Scholars was sent into the world in London last week (13 Jan 2014 in Senate House, Bloomsbury) and the launch went better than I had hoped. I had spent the morning submitting my British citizenship application and the afternoon dashing about trying to work out launch logistics, and found myself flustered, nervous and a bit overwhelmed when the event began.

It is always one of my fears with these type of things that no-one will show up. But I should not have worried. The room was totally packed out with people standing and sitting on the floor, and I could see folk from all the corners of my life visible around the table and propped against the walls. Peter Mandler (Cambridge) and Elleke Boehmer (Oxford) said very generous and substantive things, as did many members of the audience, and it was odd to hear myself spoken of in the third person.

I had purchased some decent wine and afterwards many people stayed late at the reception, meeting new people, and actually seeming to enjoy themselves. This I took as the best endorsement of all. After all – as the book itself tries to show – the business of scholarship is a communal and a collaborative one: the work of many minds and many unseen hands. And surely the reason that we produce these things in the first place is so that they might serve as part of a conversation with our colleagues, past, present and future.

I am not sure what the best way to send a book out into the world is, but for me at least it feels like some kind of big ritual like this was important.

Thanks to all those who came and if you email me now I’ll send you a 50% launch discount voucher which is valid until the end of January 2014.

Enumeration, a Farmer Supplies Answers to the 232 Questions on the Farm Schedule, 1940 - 1941

A Q&A on my research has been published on the blog of  the European Research Area Collaborative Research Network (ERA-CRN), where you can read me waxing lyrical on such heady subjects as universities, networks, history and academic mobility.

Q1: What is the Empire of Scholars about?

At the start of the twenty-first century we are acutely conscious that universities operate within an entangled world of international scholarly connection. Empire of Scholars examines the networks that linked academics in Britain and the settler world in the age of ‘Victorian globalisation’ …

Q2: What got you started on this line of research?

In retrospect this germ of this book was sown when I was an undergraduate at the University of Adelaide. In the seminar room there, fading photographs of past history professors adorned the walls and written after all their names were the letters M.A. (Oxon) 

Q3: What has been the most surprising finding for you in researching Empire of Scholars?

I was surprised by just how connected colonial scholars of the 19th and early 20th century were to British academia. I had grown up with the idea of the ‘tyranny of distance’ combined with a form of cultural cringe which saw academics who migrated as second class scholars who couldn’t make it in Britain. But this was not the story I found in the archives …

Q4: How has this research contributed to your knowledge about the role of academics, higher education and universities in society and politics?

My research on the late 19th and 20th centuries – a period of increasing global connection, in which universities struggled to adapt themselves to new kinds of knowledge and technology – has influenced the way I understand today’s higher education sector…

Q5: Does this relate to your current research interests and how?

I am developing my research in two new directions, both of which examine the relationship between mobility, knowledge and higher education that I first considered in Empire of Scholars …

Q6: What advice do you have for those interested in researching higher education (the role of academics and universities) in modern times and also in different parts of the world?

I have found it useful to pay attention not just what higher education practitioners and institutions say about themselves, but also to what they do – to their practices. Academics are often strangely reluctant to turn their critical eye upon themselves …

… read the full Q&A on the ERA-CRN blog.

This piece for the Association of Commonwealth University’s (ACU) Bulletin magazine, no 179 (July 2013), has just come out. It’s behind a subscription wall, but for you, dear readers, my love knows no bounds. It has also been picked up by University World News (20 July 2013) here.

1931 Universities of the British Empire Congress, in Edinburgh

At the start of the 21st century, we are acutely conscious that universities operate within an entangled world of international scholarly connection. Phrases such as ‘the knowledge economy’, ‘internationalisation’ and ‘global competitiveness’ pepper the literature produced by universities and about them.

Yet the global world of higher education is unequal, and some institutions and countries are better positioned in it than others. Such phrases can often serve to mask the social and institutional practices that help shape academic connections, and the uneven geographies that they entail.

These are practices that have a long history – one that dates back to the development of the modern university at the end of the 19th century. This was a period in which the networks of the British imperialism drove much of what is today called ‘Victorian’ globalisation, and it was along the routes of empire that long-distance academic connections expanded and developed. If we are to develop a critical understanding of our own scholarly communities, then this is a history we need to consider carefully.

Read the rest of this entry »

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