Facts & figures
- Top 30 in the world
- 2020 QS World University Rankings
Facts & figures
Studying history helps us understand the origins of the modern world and to uncover forgotten people and their paths. History encompasses every aspect of human life in the past. We work with diverse kinds of evidence and each valuable skills in interpretation and analysis.
We are the largest history department in Australia, with units of study on particular cities, nations and regions, especially Europe, Australia, China and North America, as well as thematic and comparative units on topics ranging from scandal to epidemics. Each year we offer a rich array of study options and we continually review and renew our curriculum.
Many of our staff have won awards for their teaching and research. We are committed to giving our students a highly regarded education and a gateway to life beyond university.
The study of history equips you to understand change, to look at things from different perspectives, and to assess diverse kinds of information. It offers a variety of topics, from war to politics, culture and sexuality, the history of ideas and the history of food; and it spans the Middle Ages to the present, from Australia to China, the United States and Europe.
International and Global Studies gives you a rigorous understanding of the paradoxes and complex interconnections of globalisation. This degree will equip you with the ability to work in global society.
The History Department, one of the largest and most dynamic in Australia, has developed long-standing expertise in teaching and research across a wide range of geographical areas, including Australia and the Pacific, Asia, Europe and the United States. The Department also possesses a number of research strengths across burgeoning thematic and comparative fields such as global and Indigenous history, the history of race, science, medicine and public health and the history of ideas, as well as social, cultural, political, economic, labour and urban history. With over 50 postgraduate students currently enrolled and a large number of external grants awarded to members of the Department, History is a research powerhouse.
Some quarter of a century ago, the Department of History decided to build American history into one of its strengths. As a result, it has one of the world’s stronger and largest concentrations of historians with expertise in American history outside of the United States.
It includes Thomas Adams (urban, labour, African American history), Frances Clarke (Civil War and Reconstruction), James Curran (US foreign relations), Stephen Garton (Harlem, African American), Chin Jou (medicine, African American, political economy of food), Michael McDonnell (revolution and Indigenous history), Shane White (African American, New York). As well, the department’s two recent Laureates Glenda Sluga and Warwick Anderson are advocates of an international and global history that often involves developments in the United States.
Our books have won prizes in Australia including the NSW Premier’s General History Prize, the Queensland Premier’s History Prize and the AHA’s Hancock Prize for best first book, as well as significant prizes in America. We have also won prizes for articles published in various American journals and, as well, prizes, including one from the American Historical Association, for best innovative digital web site.
While many of our students have gone to the US for their graduate work, the Department has a very strong record in supervision in this field. In the last five years eleven students supervised by us have been awarded their PhD. Many of these students have books accepted for publication based on their work.
As individual scholars we have extensive links with colleagues in the US. This includes co-authoring articles and other work with US scholars (Clarke, McDonnell). And this in turn highlights the strong collaborative turn obvious in our published work.
Since the 1930s, the Department of History has conducted research in Pacific history, and from after World War II in Asian history, reflecting its exceptionally cosmopolitan scholarly commitments.
Currently, Pacific-oriented research is thriving, focussing on regional Indigenous histories (Lui-Chivizhe; Johnson); imperialism (Aldrich; Anderson, McCreery); and science and medicine, especially in Hawaii and Papua-New Guinea (Anderson). The Department also supports research in Southeast Asian histories, particularly in the Philippines (Anderson), Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (Aldrich), Burma (Rodriguez), West Papua (Chao; Kluge), and Indonesian history (Melvin). There are special strengths in Chinese and central Asian history (Brophy; Rodriguez), and in Chinese-Australian relations (Loy-Wilson; Curran).
We retain an interest in South Asian history, including India and Sri Lanka (Masselos; Aldrich). Jess Melvin (ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) Fellow) has research interests across Southeast Asian history and politics, particularly Indonesian military history, political violence and comparative genocide studies. Postgraduate research in Pacific History is supported by the G. C. Henderson Scholarship.
Since the appointment of George Arnold Wood as the History Department’s first Challis Professor in 1890, Australian history has been one of the Department’s strongest and most consistent areas of research strength. Research in Australian history is characterised both by its transnational and global reach and its close, situated readings of people, places and institutions. Researchers in Australian History in the department connect their work with Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Russia, India, China, Europe, South Africa and the USA, and forge interdisciplinary links with other departments in SOPHI and across the University and beyond, including museum studies, education, art and literature, architecture and legal studies. The field has particular strength in postgraduate research, and has been recognised by SUPRA and VC awards for excellence in postgraduate supervision. From 2015 to present, more than 20 PhD students have graduated in various areas of Australian history and there are 15 enrolled today. Many of our graduates have gone on to academic positions in Australia (including UNSW, ACU, Melbourne, UTS) and beyond (including SOAS at UCL); others occupy positions of influence in government, cultural institutions and schools. Many of our postgraduates have obtained publishing contracts and gone on to produce prizewinning books. Members of the Department, fellows, affiliates and graduates their have won prizes and appeared on shortlists for numerous awards including the Prime Minister’s Prize, the NSW Premier’s Prize for Australian History, Ernest Scott Prize, and various literary prizes awarded by the NSW, Victorian and Queensland, and South Australian governments. The field is supported by a funded chair, the Bicentennial Chair of Australian History, and a number of well-endowed bequests, such as the Col. George Johnson fellowship, Australasian Pioneers Club Travel Grant and a generous anonymous travel fund.
Particular areas of strength and thematic focus include: Australian settler colonial history and the British imperial context in both its social/cultural (Russell, Loy-Wilson, Dunk, McKenzie) and political/legal aspects (McKenzie, McKenna, Curran, Johnson, and related work on monarchy by Aldrich and McCreery); frontier encounters and frontier violence (McKenna, Johnson); politics and international relations, particularly Australia and the USA (Curran); race, science, medicine and public health (Anderson); place and environmental history (McKenna, Dunk); histories of migration, displacement and ex-patriate communities (Fitzpatrick, Loy-Wilson); history of knowledge and higher education (Horne); and Pacific world history (Johnson), including Indigenous history of Oceania and the Torres Strait, and the decolonization of museum collections of Pacific art and artefacts (Lui-Chivizhe).
Premodern: The department’s research strengths in premodern Europe include medieval France and Spain, towards the cross-cultural history of the Mediterranean (Sirantoine); and a concentration of expertise on Renaissance Italy that is unmatched in Australia (Eckstein, Gagné). Both Eckstein and Gagné are urban historians, a research strength across a number of geographical and temporal fields represented in the department (e.g. by Adams and White in American history).
Modern: The department has research strengths in nineteenth-century Britain and France (Aldrich, Fitzmaurice, Hilliard, McCreery) and European imperialism and decolonization (Aldrich, McCreery), and colleagues whose work is discussed under the heading of Australian history such as McKenzie and Russell). Twentieth-century Europe is represented by Duranti (France, Italy, Germany, Britain), Fitzpatrick (Russia), and Hilliard (Britain and now France too). The history of international institutions, human rights, and genocide, is an area of particular strength (Duranti, Moses, Sluga). Legal history is an emerging research strength in European history (Duranti, Hilliard) and other geographical fields (for instance, Clarke in U.S. history, McKenzie, Johnson and Russell in colonial histories). Other areas of research strength include the history of ideas (Fitzmaurice, Moses, Hilliard, Sluga); colonial legacies in Europe, including museum collections and contemporary debates about the colonial past (Aldrich); theory and practice of monarchy (McCreery); naval history (McCreery); remaining territories attached to European states, from Gibraltar to French Guiana to Greenland (as well as Australia, New Zealand and US overseas territories) (Aldrich, with John Connell of the School of Geosciences).
Medieval and Early Modern Centre (MEMC)
MEMC is a cross-disciplinary FASS research centre housed in SLAM. We foster collaboration, training, and research across disciplines. We host multiple regular seminar series, student reading groups, workshops, and special events. Our affiliates belong to a wide range of departments and faculties across the university. We are one of only three such centres in Australia.
In addition to our activities as a research hub, we also support postgraduate students and early career researchers in a community that encourages intellectual range and exploration. Currently, its community of postgraduate and emergent researchers includes members from Art History, English, History, Music, History & Philosophy of Science, Archaeology, Italian, Religion, Philosophy, and others. MEMC’s executive committee represent diverse disciplines. Currently: John Gagné (Director, History); Francesco Borghesi (Associate Director, Italian); Dan Anlezark (English); Jan Shaw (English); and Hélène Sirantoine (History).
MEMC is a crucial research environment for the humanities at our university. It provides multidisciplinary lifeblood for dozens of academic staff and hundreds of affiliated researchers and students. From 2011-2018 it housed the Sydney node of the ARC Centre for Excellence in the History of Emotions; now it also houses the Global Middle Ages project. The breadth and depth of its activities consolidate the strength of medieval and early modern teaching and research at our university. MEMC’s members have a track record of success with ARC grants, and a history of using that success to enrich our intellectual community through events and publications. MEMC also raises the University of Sydney’s global profile in premodern studies; in 2019, it hosted the biannual international ANZAMEMS conference.
Some of its current projects include:
Global Middle Ages (GMA)
GMA offers a non-Eurocentric view of the medieval world. It began in 2015 as a fixed-term project funded by SSSHARC, during which time it hosted an international conference and convened several seminars to rethink the boundaries of the Middle Ages with colleagues from across Sydney and beyond. It forged particularly strong links with Macquarie University. In recent years, Hélène Sirantoine (History) has regularly convened the seminar, hosting a number of guests from Australia and overseas, most recently François-Xavier Fauvelle, the archaeologist and historian of medieval Africa and newly-appointed professor at the Collège de France.
GMA’s SSSHARC funding has now ended, but its activities continue. It now runs as a seminar series under the aegis of MEMC, with a reduced budget. One of the GMA’s published outcomes is a special issue of Parergon, the journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (ANZAMEMS): “Translating Medieval Cultures across Time and Place: A Global Perspective,” (35:2, 2018).
More broadly, GMA has helped to lead the emergent national discussion on premodern global history and the decolonisation of medieval studies. Its activities have broadened the scope of what Australian scholars consider the “medieval,” and GMA has stimulated the expansion of MEMC’s scholarly remit.
The Department of History houses a cluster of premodernist historians with particular expertise in Mediterranean cultures from the 11th to the 17th centuries. Nick Eckstein, John Gagné, and Hélène Sirantoine mostly study southern Europe (Italy, France, and Spain), and Andrew Fitzmaurice works on the intellectual history of the early modern Atlantic, as well as longue durée problems in global legal history (sovereignty, corporations). They overlap in certain key areas, including urban history, sovereignty, and the history of empire. Their work as a cluster is also complementary in modelling a wide variety of research areas and methodologies, distinguished by a commitment to new archival research, fresh approaches to the study of documents, and critical visions of premodern space, materiality, and ideology. There are currently 6 postgraduate students (16% of the departmental total) pursuing degrees in premodern topics in History.
Sydney’s premodernist historians have a record of success with research income, including recent ARC grants ‘City Space and Urban Experience at the End of the Italian Renaissance’ (Eckstein DP, 2017); ‘Corporations as Sovereigns’ (Fitzmaurice DP, 2017); ‘Paper World: Document Loss in Premodern Europe’ (Gagné DP, 2017); and ‘Cultures of Modernities in the Global Medieval and Pre-Modern World’ (Sirantoine, FASS/SSSHARC, 2015).
Members of the premodernist cluster are also Faculty-level leaders in the field: Gagné is director of the Medieval and Early Modern Centre; Sirantoine is convenor of the Global Middle Ages seminar. Individually, they sustain collaborations with a number of leading researchers around the world, including current projects with colleagues at the universities of Melbourne, Toronto, St. Andrew’s, Edinburgh, Villanova, and Stanford. They also maintain close associations with institutions, including the Casa de Velázquez (Madrid); the Spanish National Research Council (or “CSIC,” Madrid); and the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Florence).
Settler Colonial Cultures
The History Department has a significant research strength and concentration in the field of imperialism and settler colonialism in the long 19th century, with particular emphasis on critical studies of the British empire. This research concentration exists in dynamic relation with the ‘Decolonising/Indigenous/Oceanic Histories’ cluster. It encompasses work on colonialism, sexuality and scandal (Aldrich, Russell, McKenzie); family and white settler domesticity (Russell); legal cultures (McKenzie, Russell); urban histories (McKenzie, Russell, McKenna); place and environment (McKenna); monarchy and republicanism (McCreery, Aldrich, McKenna); classical heritage in Sydney (Caine, Russell, Horne, in collaboration with classicists); colonial universities and education (Hilliard, Horne); honour, status and manners (Russell); biography and life stories in colonial worlds (McKenzie, McKenna, Russell); labour and commerce (Loy-Wilson); Chinese in Australia (Loy-Wilson); South Africa and the Indian Ocean (McKenzie, Russell).
This is an expanding and dynamic field which has attracted numerous ARC grants, past and present, some in collaborations with teams at UNSW and elsewhere. Much depth of postgraduate research, book publications and prizes, honours seminars, workshops and collaborative projects in formation.
Race, Science, Medicine and Public Health
The Department of History leads the world in the critical transnational study of racial thought, especially in relation to science and medicine. Our success in this field was crystallized in Warwick Anderson’s ARC Laureate Fellowship (2012-17) research program in ‘racial conceptions’ across the Global South, which supported five post-doctoral research associates and five post-graduate students. The research program was the subject of plenary panels at annual meetings of the Australian Historical Association and the American Historical Association. It has resulted in publication of six monographs, five edited collections, and more than 80 articles and chapters. It prompted the appointment of Anderson to the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University (2018-19). Supported by further ARC Discovery Project grants, Anderson continues to conduct and supervise research in histories of biological and medical ideas of human difference, and studies of perceptions of inter-species ecological relations - along with two post-doctoral fellows, Sophie Chao and James Dunk, and two current Ph.D. students. Collaborations with Miranda Johnson and Leah Lui-Chivizhe in the Department, with the Charles Perkins Centre, and with leading scholars from Harvard, continue to promote pioneering (and often prize winning) critical inquiries into racial thought and race relations in Australia and the world.
The Department of History is committed to promoting Indigenous and Oceanic or Pacific histories, as well as exploring more generally modes of decolonizing history. A strong cohort of historians, including Leah Lui-Chivizhe, Miranda Johnson, Sophie Chao, Michael McDonnell, Mark McKenna and Warwick Anderson, have conducted extensive research in Indigenous histories and cultures, mostly in collaboration with Indigenous peoples. Our research in this area is distinctively transnational, with a focus on deep Oceanic connections. Anderson and Johnson were awarded an ARC Discovery Grant to examine the history of research practices in Aboriginal communities; and Anderson has applied for an ARC Special Research Initiative grant to study, in collaboration with Anindilyakwa and Yolngu people, the development of Indigenous genomics.
Lui-Chivizhe is a collaborator on two international research groups. The 100 Histories of 100 Worlds in One Object (German Historical Institute London and University College London) is with early career indigenous and BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) scholars working on producing new methods, approaches and formats for object histories of the British Museum’s collections from the Global South. While Reclaiming Turtles All the Way Down (Max Planck Institute, Berlin) concerns histories of science and other knowledges related to the centrality of turtles and tortoises in native/indigenous cosmologies.
McKenna was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to research foundational histories of place in Australia, all of which are grounded in local and regional Indigenous communities. McDonnell was awarded an ARC Discovery Grant for his prize-winning work on North American Indigenous history, and is a Chief Investigator on an ARC Linkage project with the National Portrait Gallery looking at Indigenous encounters with empire in comparative contexts. McDonnell also regularly collaborates with North American Indigenous communities in teaching and research. Lui-Chivizhe, Johnson and Anderson, along with Indigenous colleagues at Harvard University and across North America and the Pacific, are leading an international research program aimed at decolonizing history in theory and practice, which already has resulted in a special issue of the leading international journal History and Theory, edited by Anderson and Gabriela Soto Laveaga (Harvard). Additionally, we have developed local research collaborations with Jakelin Troy in the Sydney Indigenous Research Portfolio and with Indigenous health scholars at the Charles Perkins Centre.
Monarchy in the modern world – including monarchies and decolonisation
The department is an international leader in the new field of ‘studies of modern monarchy’, especially in the links between European monarchies and colonial empires. Aldrich’s ARC DP grant for studying banished indigenous rulers ($296,000) led to the convening, with McCreery, of three conferences on European monarchies and colonies. Aldrich and McCreery subsequently edited (and both contributed chapters to) three volumes published by Manchester University Press, and a special issue of the Royal Studies Journal, with contributions by McKenna as well. They also organised an international conference in 2020 on ‘Global Royal Families’ hosted and largely funded by the German Historical Institute in London grant with further funding from SOPHI; papers developed from that conference will also become an edited collection. This work has allowed the department of an international network of scholars – contributors to the three published volumes and journal issue, and the forthcoming volume include scholars from the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
This emerging cluster covers material and visual culture, the history of modern monarchy, Australian history and the history of the British empire and its legacy, as well as the history of other European and Asian monarchies. Aldrich, McCreery and McKenna have worked jointly on several conferences and publications. All have received ARC funding on individual or joint projects, as well as substantial funding from other sources. They have all participated in academic outreach, in Australian and international conferences, and through public lectures, radio and television interviews, publications in the press and consultancies. They are currently working with the National Museum of Australia on a major exhibition - ‘The Queen and Australia 1952-2022’. In 2020, Aldrich and McCreery designed a taught an Honours seminar on the history of modern monarchy that directly related to the work of the cluster and international colleagues.
Work, Labour and Inequality
In the late-19th Century across the so-called Western world what was known as the labour question--who does what work and under what conditions--became one of the central political and social issues of the day. More recently, since the 1970s, even as the global economy has produced ever more wealth and profit, economic and social inequality have increased at rates unheard of in world history. The History Department at the University of Sydney brings together a broad group of scholars working across time periods and geographical areas with demonstrated strengths connecting issues of work and labour to social and economic inequality. From the colonial North American frontier to the immigrant communities of Sydney to the labour of the household to regimes of slavery and others forms of unfree labour to urban fast food restaurants to Gulf of Mexico ports, Sydney historians are producing some of the world's most influential, sophisticated and deeply researched scholarship that shows how the broadly understood labour question and what we often decontextualize as "economics" have been intimately related to the production of a wide variety of social inequalities across time and space.
History of Knowledge and Education
The department is home to several historians who investigate knowledge and education as social and cultural institutions with broad-ranging local and global influence. Strengths include Hilliard’s research on the politics of reading and literary critical movements, and Horne’s on university life (including students and women) and higher education in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the histories of old and new knowledge such as science, medicine, anthropology, pedagogy and Indigenous knowledge (Anderson, Chivizhe, Jou, Horne, Macleod, Garton). Much of this research has been supported by ARC grants outlined elsewhere in this document, and has also attracted a number of research postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows. Networks include History of University Life Higher Education Research Seminar which draws research interest from across FASS and the University including Education and Social Work, Political Science and Design and Planning. The Seminar provides a formative and supportive platform for research papers on higher education many of which have been published in leading journals. The Seminar also attracts HDR students from across the Faculty (including a number from History) who attend both as participants and presenters, and sustains a broader informal research network of Australian scholars on the history of higher education who are influential in the field.
Citizenship and Democracy
The question of citizenship lies at the heart of democracy. Who is entitled to democratic rights (and who actually receives them in a meaningful manner), who is not and how these inclusions and exclusions change over time define both the promises and limits of the democratic political ideals many of us hold dear. The History Department at the University of Sydney brings together scholars working across geographical and temporal contexts who grapple with these questions that strike at heart of our political identities. From the exclusion of indigenous and racialized populations across the Antipodes and the Americas to anti-immigrant politics in cities from Sydney to London to Los Angeles to the origins of human rights discourse to the contradictions at the heart of "founding" democratic events like the American revolution to the rights of the incarcerated and convicted to the ways in which racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities have fought for meaningful political inclusion from Europe to China to Australia to the Americas, University of Sydney historians work at the cutting edge of showing how our most important political ideals actually play out beyond the classroom and textbook and in messy, real world historical context.
Australia and China
The Department continues to build its expertise in the field of Australia-China relations history, in teaching, research and supervision. Sophie Loy-Wilson has built a new field of Chinese Australian history which proposes a ‘fresh take on the history of white Australia,’ following ‘…the new breed of Chinese Australian historians who take seriously the Chinese point of view.’ (Simic and Balint) Loy-Wilson studies Chinese Australian communities, both in China and Australia, and looks at the relationship between these communities and Australian society. From 2017 onwards, David Brophy has published articles and analyses on Australia’s foreign and domestic policy response to China, and is currently writing a book on this topic for Black Inc/LaTrobe University Press (scheduled for 2021). Titled China Panic, the book will set current anxieties surrounding China’s growing international role and the implications for Australia in their historical context. He is also involved in supervising HDR students working on the history of Australia-China relations. James Curran is likewise writing on the topic of Australia’s contemporary relations with China, with a book to be published by NewSouth in 2021. Curran has also published a number of op-eds and other essays/articles in the Australian and overseas press on the relationship. He is also supervising, along with Brophy, a Phd on the history of Australia-China relations from 1949-2003 by Frank Yuan.
Like all the Departments and Programs in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, the Department of History has a lively research program.
We conduct an outreach program to increase the number of students from low socio-economic and diverse backgrounds studying history at the University of Sydney.
The program initiates and strengthens connections between partner schools and the University. We work with high school students from Mount Druitt, Parramatta, Granville, Campbelltown, Auburn, Liverpool, Coonabarabran and Broken Hill to familiarise them with university life and foster the aspirations within these communities to pursue and excel in tertiary studies.
Some of our activities include:
If you are a history teacher or school principal interested in a partnership with our department, please email Professor Mike McDonnell, or phone 9351 6733.