Great Fire Smyrna 1922, refugees crowding into boats

Overcrowded boats with refugees fleeing the Fire of Smyrna, 1922. The photo had been taken from the launch boat of a US warship.

Or: A reflection on the sadistic humour of the goddess Clio.

There is an alternative origin story for the Floating Univeristy that does not (at the moment) get told in my book.

It begins like this:

Some time in the cold New York winter of February 1925, six men met for dinner on a ship moored on the East River at the southeastern tip of the Bronx. The Professor, the ship’s Captain, the diplomat, the newspaper Editor and the Quaker had been brought together by a Greek refugee called Constantine Raises.

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beach life beach chair strandkorb via Flikr CommonsWhile I was eating oysters in Tasmania, some of my history colleagues were busy on all the medias. The 26th of January provides an annual a bumper crop of #publichist in ‘Straya (not collected here) but when parliament is out of session and people are on the beach and bored editors are looking for copy, it seems historians can be relied upon to comment on most things. Trusty historians. Where would we be without them? This time with choice quotations.

  • Kate Fullagar on symbols as gateways and how not to begin an email (“History Lesson”, 16 Jan, 2018 –

    How friendly can one be with one’s former kidnapper?

  • Alecia Simmonds (sorry “‘World-renowned historian, Alecia Simmonds’) chatting with the ABC’s Tim Brunero about a not un-important 18thC dude who put pen on paper a lot (The gorgeous letters of Matthew Flinders, date not particularly clear, Tim Brunero on Soundcloud)

    He really flirts with her, but he can’t go through with it

  • Alecia Simmonds (again) (Tennis has a gender problem and it doesn’t have to be like this, 26 Jan, 2018, Sydney Morning Herald)

    I spent my childhood in an intimate imagined dialogue with every female tennis player on the circuit: beguiled by Arancha Sanchez-Vicario and her exotic double-barrelled name, infatuated by Monica Seles’ primal grunts and convinced of the physical superiority of lesbians by Martina Navratilova’s speed.

  • Paul Kramer posing some alternative questions we can ask about racism and immigration in the US, but more widely applicable (Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Racism represents an American Tradition 22 Jan 2018, New York Times and the longer, less trimmed edition)

    Elites in the United States and elsewhere — long before Donald Trump’s presidency — have long known they could sustain their power by capitalizing on, deepening and, where necessary, inventing divisions between self and other, friend and enemy.

And if you have read this far, your reward is my entreaty to do yourself a favour and read Charlotte Higgins’ piece on the wonderful Mary Beard and what it is to be an academic in the public sphere and how lives and careers don’t run along a smooth logical path and how to make public discourse better than it is.

  • Charlotte Higgins, The Cult of Mary Beard, 30 Jan 2018, The Guardian

    This is also how she teaches – with an unusually sincere attachment to the principle that the pedagogical process should be rooted in an encounter, a relationship and a dialogue.

    One reason Beard is so widely beloved is that her interventions in public life – whether one agrees with her or not – offer an alternative mode of discourse, one that people are hungry for: a position that is serious and tough in argument, but friendly and humorous in manner, and one that, at a time when disagreements quickly become shrill or abusive, insists on dialogue.



What a time it is to an historian!

Here in our corner of the world in Australia, the last few weeks have witnessed a series of social and political events that have absorbed the nation.

To my mind at least, they show that the gaping cracks long evident in the notion of citizenship and belonging (and therefore sovereignty) that underpinned 20th century Australia are now so wide as to be swallowing us whole.

This was a notion of citizenship founded on settler colonialism, racial exclusion, imperial benevolence (British or American), wage arbitration, and the gendered politics that came with it. And it is in this sense that the dual citizenship crisis engulfing parliament, the Manus Island refugee crisis still unfolding with tragic consequences, the politics of the non-binding same-sex marriage postal survey, the Liberal government’s out-of-hand rejection of the Uluru Statement’s proposal for an Indigenous voice to parliament, the ongoing disaster of environmental blindness and destructive resource extraction, and the interlinked outrage of insecure work and tax avoidance are all connected.

Who gets to belong? Who gets to participate and on what (and who’s) terms? These questions underpin our political moment, not just in Australia but across the globe.

They cry out for contextualisation – no wonder the historians are out in force:

Are you an historian who has written for a wider audience? Send your #publichist pieces in for puffing!