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Classical heritage and the story of Sydney

Sydney's classical heritage: past, present, future
An interdisciplinary program partnering with museums, galleries, theatres, councils, libraries and schools to explore the importance of classical ideas and culture in Sydney from first settlement until today.

About us

Based at the University of Sydney, Classical Heritage and the Story of Sydney is a broad program exploring the importance of classical ideas and culture in Sydney from first settlement until today.

Our research

With our partners in museums, galleries, theatres, councils, libraries, and schools, we are examining how classical ideas and forms have evolved, developed and retained their significance in a modern, diverse and multicultural society. Here are just some of the questions and issues we are exploring:

  • How important was the classical tradition in establishing the core educational and public institutions and civic values of Sydney? 
  • How did metropolitan developments compare with those in rural towns of New South Wales?
  • Is there a version of the classical tradition that is unique to Sydney? What forms of art and architecture, and what specific texts and mythologies, have shaped our urban landscape and culture?
  • How does the Sydney story compare with that of other colonial cities? We hope to collaborate and converse with other projects underway around the world, including New York.
  • How has Sydney, as a modern and multicultural society, navigated the tensions between elitism and equality, tradition and modernity, exclusion and diversity that cluster around appeals to the classical tradition? 
  • Where do we see the influence of classical texts, ideas, values and aesthetics in contemporary art, culture and society? How did classical ideas and approaches impact on the ways in which Indigenous people have been depicted and understood?
  • Contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Gordon Bennett and Daniel Boyd have used and commented on classical ideas and forms in their works. We also engage with an historical investigation of Indigenous art and culture, including an exploration of the ways in which classical ideals informed the depiction of Australian Aboriginal peoples. To what extent and in what ways have these ideas and approaches been integrated or critiqued by Indigenous artists and writers?

Classical Heritage and the Story of Sydney has several strands:

  • education across the school curriculum
  • the built environment
  • the development of public institutions
  • public art and live theatre.


Archibald Fountain

Classics in Colonial Cities: a Virtual Conference 

15-17 November 2021

2nd Call for expressions of Interest

Submission deadline: 1 June 2021

IIn the light of the extensive interest in the classical heritage evident in so much of the British Commonwealth, we have decided to organize a virtual conference on Classics in Colonial Cities in November 2021.The conference will focus on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and how classicism contributed to the development of cities and the creation of civic life and identities.

Key themes we wish to explore include:-

  • the role of Classics in Education
  • the Dramatic and Visual Arts,
  • the Built Environment,
  • the representation of Indigenous peoples – and Indigenous responses.

However, we are open to suggestions on other significant topics relevant to the life and fabric of the city.

We see the conference as leading to a publication of essays that will encompass these themes.

The conference will include individual papers that will be recorded and made available in advance, expert panels addressing significant questions, interviews with some scholars and experts and open discussion on selected themes. We will have a number of pre-recorded sessions and will send links out in time for people to watch them before the conference begins.

The conference will be hosted by the University of Sydney from 15-17 November, 2021.  As we have to deal with significant time differences,  the joint sessions will occur from 9.00am – 11.30in South Africa, 6.00pm- 8.30pm in Sydney, and 8.00pm – 10,30pm in New Zealand

We are calling for expressions of interest from anyone who would like to offer a paper, organize a panel discussion, set up an interview or suggest some other form of presentation.

Please send an abstract of up to 300 words and make clear what form you would like for your presentation. If it is a panel, please name all panellists, if an interview the interviewer and interviewee.

If you would like to propose some other format such as a video, or some form of visual presentation, we would be happy to receive it.  

All proposal should go to: by June 1 2021.

Symposia and workshops

We hold regular symposia and workshops to develop themes and projects that reflect the interests of our external partners and link them with our own fields of research.

Our forums in 2019 foucssed on classical heritage in Sydney and education.

2019 Symposia


Headshot of Professor Barbara Caine
Professor Barbara Caine
Academic profile