Archives for category: students

STCA letterhead, 318.03 Passage, 477 Students’ Triges (1925), HAL Archives

I came across the records of the Student Third Class Association (STCA) in the Holland America Line archives in Rotterdam while I was on the endless chase to track-down records on the Floating University, which also sailed on a Holland America Line ship. At first I could not believe what I was reading. Was it really possible that a major transatlantic shipping company ran a student organisation as a front for their commercial rebranding? The answer, it seemed, was yes.

My article on the STCA, which was founded in the early 1920s by a student of Yale University called James Stanton Robbins and sponsored by the Holland America Line throughout the interwar period, has just been published in Diplomatic History, and it sheds light on much bigger questions in the history of U.S. foreign relations in this period.

Working for the Holland America Line in the 1920s, J.S. Robbins presented the Student Third Class Association as a student organization and the voyage across the Atlantic as an extension of college life. Deftly exploiting cultures of trust embedded in elite East Coast college life, Robbins recruited students to sell third class travel to each other, and in the process played a major role in laundering the reputation of steerage travel by commodifying university prestige. The indignities of Ellis Island, the notorious conditions in steerage, and the prevalence of white, middle-class fears of racial and class-based contamination are well established in the history of 1920s United States, as is the generally white and elite nature of East Coast colleges and universities. This article shows that in the mid-1920s, the STCA used U.S. students to foster the idea that long distance travel was affordable, accessible, and acceptable to the U.S. middle-class.

Yet Robbins and his fellow student travel organizers have disappeared almost entirely from the history of Americans abroad in the early 1920s. The rapid growth of student third class travel across the Atlantic in this period is usually portrayed either as part of the history of U.S. tourism (a 1925 innovation of the shipping companies in response to the dramatic reduction of steerage traffic from Europe to the United States after the introduction of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Restriction Act) or as a footnote in the history of international education (which tends to cast the shipping companies as merely a means to get to Europe for the summer). This article provides a new account of the cultural and economic politics of travel in the interwar period, showing how the ground of post-1945 mass overseas tourism was laid in the 1920s by U.S. college students who, both as travelers and retailers, remade the hierarchy of steamship travel and the politics of class formation.

I think the history of the STCA is important to the history of U.S. foreign relations because it collapses boundaries between consumer and producer, campuses and commerce, and the United States and the world in the 1920s. In doing so it helps de-naturalize this series of binaries that remain stubbornly entrenched in our histories. The STCA highlights how central universities and colleges were to the United States’ commodifying empire, not just as engines of expertise and ways of knowing, but also as sites that fashioned what Paul Kramer has recently called “bourgeois internationalism’s structuring habitus”—the college ties, elite mobility, and geopolitical imaginary that functioned as a key component of U.S. internationalism and cultural and dollar diplomacy before and after the Second World War.

In uncovering the intimate relationship between the expansion into Europe of the networks of this commercial empire and the thick cultures of sociability cultivated in elite white East Coast college campuses in the period after the First World War, this article responds to Kramer’s call for “bridge-building projects that join local, subnational, and national histories of U.S. capitalism to transnational histories of the capitalist world economy.” Highlighting the centrality of college students as commercial as well as cultural intermediaries, both domestically and abroad, it shows how post-1945 U.S. foreign relations drew upon the commercial and cultural entanglements of the interwar period.

You can read the full text of the article here.

Tamson Pietsch, “Commercial Travel and College Culture: The 1920s Transatlantic Student Market and the Foundations of Mass Tourism” Diplomatic History, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 83-106




I’ve written a chapter (co-authored with Meng-Hsuan Chou) in a new book from Berghahn, edited by L. Tournès and G. Scott-Smith and titled Global Exchanges: Scholarships and Transnational Circulations in the Modern World.

The book aims to examine the politics and efficacy of international scholarship schemes and our chapter focuses on the long history of the Rhodes scholarships. There’s a lot (a lot!) to say about that history, and our chapter is only the first attempt at a general analysis of the way in which the scheme shaped the lives of those who received it in the twentieth century. Beginning by placing the foundation of the scholarships in their historical context, we go on to examine three basic issues that underpin most international exchange programs: first, the geographic distribution of award; second, gender parity in award; and, third, the long-term geographic mobility of scholars. Working with publicly accessible data on Rhodes scholars as published in the Register of Rhodes Scholars, we bring together historical and quantitative methods to identify patterns of continuity, change, and regional diversity in the management and effect of the scheme.

Here is an excerpt from the section on geographic mobility:

Geographic mobility is at the heart of contemporary debate concerning knowledge exchange and generation. The assumption is that mobility enables scholars to make new contacts and acquire different knowledge that could lead to the acquisition of cultural and social capital, and opportunities for new collaboration and possible innovation. Hence, states encourage the mobility of scientists, scholars and students via funding support and through the reduction of administrative barriers to entry. The Rhodes scheme has traditionally brought selected participants to Oxford, envisioning that they would likely return to their countries of election and take up public positions of leadership.

However, how far this has actually been the pattern for scholars has not been systematically examined. In order to track the geographic mobility of Rhodes scholars across the twentieth century, we therefore developed three indicators: (a) those who made their careers at home; (b) those who made their careers both at home and abroad; and (c) those who principally made their careers outside their country of election.

Geographical Mobility of Rhodes Scholars 1913–1983 (in percentage)

Geographical Mobility of Rhodes Scholars 1913–1983 (in percentage)

As this table shows, the majority of scholars elected in the years analyzed established their careers in their countries of election, with limited mobility to some mobility (more than seventy-five percent of all cohorts for all coded years). Scholars with extensive mobility, who established their careers outside of their countries of election, have generally remained in the minority (around twenty to twenty-five percent of their cohorts). However, since 1913, it is evident that the percentage of scholars in this category has been steadily increasing. We believe that it is likely that more recent cohorts, especially those from the late 1990s onward, may have still greater geographic mobility patterns than earlier cohorts.

One of the difficulties of this data is that it collapses the particular local and cultural contexts that shape patterns of behavior in different countries. To provide more fine-grained differentiation between the election constituencies, we have therefore disaggregated the geographic mobility patterns of Rhodes scholars who have been elected from the United States (a dominant cohort for most years) in comparison to those who were from other election regions.

Geographical Mobility of US vs. non US Rhodes Scholars (in percentage)

Geographical Mobility of US vs. non US Rhodes Scholars (in percentage)

The above table reveals several striking patterns. First, Rhodes scholars from the United States have been more likely (about twice as likely) to spend part of their careers at home than their counterparts from other election regions. Second, while very few US scholars established their professional careers abroad, many more non-US scholars pursued this option (between twenty-two percent in 1913 and sixty-two percent in 1983). Third, the relatively high mobility (compared to other decades) of non-US scholars elected in 1923 points to the danger of telling a linear story of increasing mobility across the century. The opportunities and constraints of the interwar and World War II years, the period in which this cohort developed their careers, meant that more non-US scholars built their lives abroad than did so in later decades. This data clearly shows that awardees from different constituencies have used the Rhodes experience differently in the establishment and consolidation of their professional careers: while US scholars have utilized it as a platform to pursue a variety of careers principally at home, non-US scholars have employed the Rhodes program as a springboard to careers outside of their countries of election.

We caution, however, against making assumptions between these patterns and the notion of “brain drain.” As several recent studies in other contexts have shown, the notion of brain drain is likely to oversimplify the relationship that Rhodes scholars have had with their countries of election. Work by Tamson Pietsch suggests that Rhodes scholars who were academics maintained strong ties with their home countries, supervising the next generation of leaders and scholars from their countries of origin by hosting their stay abroad. The importance of such intergenerational networks might also be considered in other professional contexts, notably medicine or management consulting. In these instances, rather than acting as the source of brain drain, Rhodes scholars who have made their careers outside their countries of origin have nonetheless still contributed to knowledge mobility and circulation— factors that are usually considered to sit at the heart of national innovation.

The chapter is available electronically and in print as Tamson Pietsch & Meng-Hsuan Chou, ‘The politics of scholarly exchange: taking the long view on the Rhodes Scholarships’ in L. Tournès and G. Scott-Smith, Global Exchange: Scholarships and Transnational Circulations in the Modern World (Berghahn Books, 2017). Introduction to the book available here.

You can read a pre-print version on here.

University-aged students in Australia are missing from the electoral roll in large numbers.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has recently released data that suggests that 18% of 18-24 year olds are not registered to vote. The largest non-enrolled group is the youngest, with a staggering 48% of 18 year olds and nearly 24% of 19 year olds not enrolled.

This data on enrolment rates needs to be set alongside population data.

Young people are under-represented

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2015 there were 140,000 more people aged over 70 than there were aged 24 and under. But AEC statistics from March 2016 reveal there are 725,340 more grey-haired voters over 70 than there are youthful voters under 24.

What these statistics show is that young people in Australia are disproportionally under-represented on the electoral roll. They are not engaging in the most fundamental of all democratic rights: voting. In doing so they are reducing their electoral leverage at a time when generational issues should be high on the political agenda.

Why this matters

This matters for two reasons.

First, young people have a lot at stake when it comes to current political decisions.

In her recent book, Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young, Jennifer Rayner points out that today’s young Australians are the first generation since the Great Depression to be worse off than their parents.

When it comes to work, young people find it harder to get a foot in the door and harder to advance when they do. Rayner quotes ABS figures which reveal that the number of young people working in casualised employment has risen from 34% in 1992 to 50% in 2013. Over the same period wage growth for young people has dropped well behind that of older workers.

As Rayner shows, average incomes for people in their 20s have grown at less than half the rate of those people in their mid-50s. And with these older workers staying on in their jobs longer, the prospects of advancement are significantly curtailed as well. While this can mean flexibility for some, it more often means vulnerability, exploitation, and uncertainty.

Poorer work prospects make it doubly hard for young people to enter an increasingly unaffordable housing market. Especially given they are carrying another kind of debt, from which previous generations were exempt, and that is higher education loans.

Waiting longer to buy a first home, or not being able to afford one at all, has life long consequences. It makes harder the kind of risk taking necessary for entrepreneurship or starting a small business. And it either means being saddled with debt well into your 60s, or entering them without the financial investment that for many people home ownership represents.

This magnifies the problem fashioned by insecure work, of the generational disparity in the relative size of superannuation savings.

And then there is environmental policy – an issue in which young people have a real and long-term stake.

“Lopsided” society

Jessica Rayner talks about the emergence of a “lopsided Australia where young and old live differently”.

In part this generational inequality is a consequence of global demographic, technological and economic forces that have come together at the start of the 21st century.

But these are forces that too often are exacerbated rather than mitigated by policy measures. If young people are going to build a fairer future for themselves and coming generations, argues Rayner, they are going to have to get involved.

And this leads to the second reason that the under-representation of young people on the electoral roll is a problem.

If we want a strong and representative democracy we need young people to participate in it. We need them to believe their voice matters in the future of this country and we need that voice to be heard.

Our political institutions work better when we all care about them: their health is in the hands of those who will inherit them.

Crucial role of universities

Universities have a crucial role in building a participatory democracy. One of the ways they do this is by teaching students to engage in robust and thoughtful discussion.

Every day in the classroom, be it mathematics or anthropology, university lecturers foster respectful cultures of disagreement and impart tools of argument and evidence, that teach students to be informed participants in public debate.

Beyond the classroom, students put these skills into action. On the sports field, in the university bar, and in the myriad array of clubs and societies on campus, universities provide opportunities for student participation and leadership that they will carry throughout their lives.

This civic role is one of the reasons universities have long been valued as public institutions that encourage students to be active and engaged citizens.

There are, of course, a wide variety of ways that students enact this citizenship, and many views they express in the process. But one of the ways they participate needs to be via the most fundamental of democratic processes and that is our voting system.

We need our young people to have a voice in our formal democratic processes. Not only will current political decisions have long-term consequences for their lives, but our political institutions and our society will be stronger for their participation in it.

Must enrol by 23 May

Australians have until 23 May 2016 to enrol to vote in the 2016 election.

The AEC has made this process really easy with a simple online enrolment form. All that is needed is evidence of identity, such as a driver’s licence or Australian passport number, and a residential address.

University lecturers can help to ensure this happens.

Attending university is one of the factors causing young people drop off the electoral roll. When they move out of the family home for study or work, the AEC loses track of them, and without a shared culture of participation, it can be hard to get them back.

Appeal to lecturers

Ask your students if they are enrolled to vote. Tell them about the statistics at the start of this article, and get them to check their enrolment in class. Download the infographic to show at the start of your lectures.

In doing so you will be acting in the long tradition of the academic as public intellectual: a scholar who not only contributes their expertise to public debate, but also a scholar who fosters that debate through a commitment to encouraging active participation in its processes and institutions.

This article was published in The Conversation, 13 May, 2016