Archives for category: first person

Screenshot 2019-07-17 at 13.24.01

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expertise and its history and the ways that academics like me deploy it to underpin our knowledge and authority claims.

This is my current bio, taken from my UTS website.

Screenshot 2019-07-17 at 18.14.11I send versions of this bio to conferences and academic journals and reproduce it in thousands of conversations. It follows a pretty defined formula, beginning with my name (often also given with pre-noms), my position in a hierarchy and my employing institution. It then proceeds to mobilise my publications in order to establish my authority and field of expertise, complete with the sanction of academic publishers and grant-making bodies. At the end come more references to credentialising institutions that stand as further markers of status and serve as evidence of my international formation and legibility.

It is a bio that is geared towards establishing my standing as a professional and as an expert, who is fluent in a language of specialised knowledge that is portable, authoritative and objective.

And this language does work. Since the early part of the twentieth century university credentialed expertise has extended its reach into more and more knowledge domains,  underpinning the technocratic forms of rule-making that have shaped our societies, political systems and economies. Today it continues to be my passport to speak in academic and professional contexts across the world.

The problem is, I’m just not sure that apparently objective and disembodied expertise is what our world needs any more (if it ever did), and not least because there is no such thing as objective and disembodied knowledge free from social and economic relations in the first place.

When you look at it, my academic bio says very little about me. Although it obliquely speaks to some episodes in my life that were hugely important to me (my time at Oxford for example), it says little about where I come from and the forces and belongings that fashioned me. It does not reveal my values, my obligations or my commitments, and it speaks in only the most minimal terms about where I live, why I do what I do, and how that is connected to the community in which I make my home. The only thing to which it holds me accountable is the world of trans-local expertise and the institutions that retail in it.

Reading Bruno Latour’s recent book Down to Earth: Politics in the new Climate Regime* has mobilised me to try something quite different and unfamiliar. He ends his book by introducing himself and describing “where he would like to land”. In the process he turns on its head the usual formula for performing academic credentials to re-situate himself in a place and a set of values, hopes and solidarities.

So, following Latour, I’ve attempted to write a different kind of academic biography, one that locates me as a part of an historical process of formation (familial, settler colonial, religious), points to the ground I call home, foregrounds my commitments and my values, and understands my institutional location as the outcome of these commitments.

In short, it makes me political. But it also makes me a person who is much more than a brain on a stick.

It was, I confess, deeply uncomfortable to write, and probably it’s still a work in progress. Stripping away the apparatus of status built up over nearly twenty years (eek) of life in universities, made me feel vulnerable and exposed.

But I think that, really, is the point. In speaking about where I stand, I make myself available. And from there grows the possibility of relationships with both others and with places, and of common action. And goodness knows, that is what the world is going to need a lot more of as we find a way to live together in our common home.

Tamson Pietsch was born and grew up in Adelaide on the lands of the Kaurna people, as part of Australia’s German Lutheran community, and now makes her home in Sydney. She believes that the ways we make sense of who we are and how we got here helps to shape the societies we are striving to build. Tamson is committed to the roles that universities and other cultural institutions play as homes of this meaning-making. This commitment has been shaped by experiences and relationships made in academic and civic institutions in Adelaide, Melbourne, Oxford and London. It is a commitment that underpins Tamson’s work as an historian of higher education and ideas, and as Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. 

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* Go read this book! Not only has it helped me make sense of the entangled politics of ecological destruction, inequality, deregulation and globalisation, but it also points to an alternative. We need to learn new ways to inhabit the earth in order to live together in our common home.

 

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Olivia_TamsonOne of the best things I did in 2018 was help make the History Lab podcast. I’ve had the immense privilege of working with some amazingly talented and dedicated young producers and learnt a lot from them about story telling and meaning making and also just sheer hard work. Let no one cast shade on Millennials! These people have poured their hearts into this endeavour.

Together we have brought to life through audio the process of historical investigation – the asking questions and the sleuthing through sources and in many cases the not knowing.  Hearing steps echoing in empty corridors and puzzling over handwriting invites the listener into the process of discovery.  It opens up the experience of history-making to all who listen.

We wanted to do this because we are convinced that doing the work of thinking and making meaning together is central to building a good society.  And I think we really have made a difference. So far the podcast has had 44K listens in under 6 months! (how’s that for academic impact?!) And we’ve also hosted two events in Sydney that have brought together the community of listeners, culture-keepers and meaning-makers.

So if you are looking for something to listen to whilst driving across the Hay plains or waiting at Gatwick airport or flying across the Pacific, there are 8+ History Lab episodes that will surprise and delight you. They are each about 30 min long and you will get to hear me, among other things, puzzling over colonial love triangles and thinking hard about jelly babies. And if you like them we’d love it if you shared them with your friends.

Just visit https://historylab.net/ or search for “History Lab” on itunes or google podcasts or in any of the usual audio places.

Season 1

  • S1Ep1: Lindy Chamberlain and the afterlife of evidence – What happens to evidence after a criminal trial? Tamson goes looking for answers and finds herself in the shadow of one of the worst miscarriages of justice in Australian history.
  • S1Ep2: Damages of a broken heart – Why would the Courts be interested in the failed love lives of working class people? And what does a convict’s daughter, a barrister and a former Prime Minister have to do with it? We discover litigious lovers, colonial love triangles and the emergence of medicalised heartbreak on a quest to understand the history of love.
  • S1Ep3: When the Titanic sank in the desert – In the middle of outback Australia, over 400 kilometres from the closest ocean, stands a monument dedicated to the memory of the Titanic. Why? Encountering the politics of memory, Ninah and Tamson discover that a story about trying to remember reveals much about what we choose to forget.
  • S1Ep4: The making of History Lab – What does it take to make History Lab? Find out in our ‘Making of History Lab’ bonus interlude episode. Featuring some audience listening participation!
  • S1Ep5: Fishing for answers – Jutting into Sydney’s glittering harbour, the Sydney Opera House plays host to musicians and dancers, actors and singers. But beneath the notes of their voices, another song echoes across the city’s waters. Can we still hear it?

Season 2

  • S2Ep1: The Bank, the Sergeant and his bonus – In 1817, the Bank of New South Wales opened as the first financial institution in the Australian colonies. But when the first customers arrived for the grand opening, they found someone had already made a deposit.
  • S2Ep2: Invisible Hands – Where do jelly babies come from? Mass-produced things are all around us. But they all start with a single object. Olivia goes looking for the patternmakers, whose invisible hands create many of the products we use every day.
  • S2Ep3: Skeletons of Empire – Is world peace just a dream? In the aftermath of WWI, nations came together in an attempt to ensure such a war would never happen again. In this episode, Glenda Sluga and Ninah Kopel search for the ephemeral traces of that belief in a unified world.
  • S2Ep4: Making history in audio (behind the scenes of Season 2) – The History Lab audio makers explore how they’ve tried to understand the past through sound in History Lab Season 2.

If you are a researcher or historian and are interested in making a History Lab episode with us, please do get in touch. There’s a pitching form on our website and a bunch of information about how it works, or just email me. We are open to all discussions.

History Lab podcast is a collaboration between the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS and 2SER 107.3.  Huge thanks go to Emma Lancaster, Tom Allinson, Miles Martignoni, Olivia Rosenman, Ninah Kopel, Jason L’Ecuyer, Joe Koning and everyone else involved in making this show happen, including our fantastic collaborating historians – it’s been wild. Bring on 2019!

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Constantine Raises (R) and Dr. John Tymitz (L) one of the original members of the Institute for Shipboard Education, photograph by Paul Liebhardt c1984

Constantine Raises (R) and Dr. John Tymitz (L), one of the original members of the Institute for Shipboard Education, photograph by Paul Liebhardt c1984

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

(continued from Part 2 and Part 1 of Chasing Constantine Raises)

The official records of the 1926-27 Floating University have disappeared. The Raises collection overview notes that Raises himself presented this material to the University of the Seven Seas (a successor enterprise launched in 1960) after which it “may have been permanently lost”. I contacted Semester at Sea (the organisation that now runs the university cruises) and they have confirmed that this early material does not exist. 

So I’ve followed up the other threads of the story. I’ve been to the Riesenberg archives in San Francisco and found nothing more than drafts of salty books on naval adventure, none of which bears evidence of a Greek translator. Of the books Riesenberg published in the 1920s that I  managed to find, none features Raises in the acknowledgments. But all archives are partial records and this one especially so. I have failed to find Andrew J. McIntosh’s papers, and similarly had no success in my search for the records of the diplomat George Horton. I am in the process of trying to chase down the copies of the New York World (on microfilm at the New York Public Library) to see if the editor Herbert Swope wrote the articles Liebhardt suggests he did, though again it would not be remarkable if he had – so many newspapers carried accounts of Lough’s plans. But perhaps, just perhaps, such an article might mention the Newport dinner?

When did Raises began to tell this version of his life? Maybe, in late 1920s New York, after Horton’s book on Smyrna had received such huge attention, Americans made the assumption for him? Possibly it was only after Lough’s death in 1952, when the other members of the original cruise had all gone, that the Newport story emerged. By then Raises was in his early 50s and trying to relaunch the student cruise while also running his own travel agency. He organised a very successful reunion in 1952 of the alumni of the 1926 voyage and a similar event in 1954 for the 1928 successor voyage, and in 1958 he had connected with a small businessman and Rotarian called Bill Hughes who wanted to launch a university that would sail around the world studying international problems. It was the early years of the Cold-War. After the horrors of the Holocaust, the Nuremberg trials had introduced the world to the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity; Senator Fulbright had just launched his international scholarship exchange program, and the United States was seizing a new and more interventionist global role. An origin myth that invoked one man’s survival of an earlier catastrophe and linked it to an American innovation in international education may have fitted the times? 

But this is all speculation. Much of the story Raises told Liebhardt is plausible. Possibly the dinner on the Newport did happen.

Why should the reader believe the version I present, over Raises’ testimony? My account grows out of the kind of expert knowledge about the world that is certified by universities and the conventions of historical scholarship,with its socially sanctioned apparatus of source analysis. Raises’ version was embedded in his own personal experience of travel and migration in the American century.

Which of us gets to know?