Monday, June 13, 2011

University of Melbourne, Faculty of Arts scholarships. Ernest Scott Prize 2011 short-list includes NZ title


The Ernest Scott Prize is awarded to work based upon original research, which is, in the opinion of the examiners, the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation.
It is one of the many Faculty of Arts scholarships made possible by the generosity of supporters and donors.
The following researchers have been shortlisted for this prize in 2011.

Emma Christopher.

A Merciless Place: the lost story of Britain’s convict disaster in Africa and how it led to the settlement of Australia (Allen & Unwin, 2010).

Emma Christopher leads her readers on a remarkable journey taken by petty thieves in late eighteenth century England. England disposed of its criminals by successively transporting them to three different continents: America, Africa and Australia. This is a book with a large span based on fine-grained trawling of the archives to follow the lives of petty criminals, those responsible for transporting them, and the men who commanded them. We learn of conditions in the back alleys of London, on the tobacco fields of the Chesapeake, and in slave dungeons in the forts of West Africa. While we follow the lives of unknown criminals and military officers, Christopher always places these singular stories in the larger canvas of Empire, reminding the reader of the extent of British ambitions and the unbridled power of those in command. Convicts who escaped execution in England, if they survived debilitating disease and starvation in Africa, might die from the severe lashings meted out as punishment. Christopher restores the forgotten history of transportation to Africa in vivid prose that brings each of her continental contexts to life. This is history with a serious purpose written in such as way as to be accessible to the general reader.

Jim Davidson.

A Three-Cornered Life: The Historian W.K. Hancock.(UNSW Press)

A Three-Cornered Life is a full dress biography of arguably the most influential historian produced by 20th century Australia. WK Hancock’s life and scholarship spanned three continents and he pioneered much of the post-imperial historiography of the British Empire.  It charts a personal journey from Bairnsdale through Melbourne, Oxford, Adelaide, Birmingham, London, Uganda and South Africa and finally back to Canberra which took in the early days of the ANU.  Indeed Hancock famously elevated the idea of historical ‘span’ as a guide to historical endeavour and his own career was a model of an exceedingly broad mind applied to some of the largest questions of modern history.

Stephen Foster.

A Private Empire. (Millers Point, N.S.W : Murdoch Books,  Pier 9, 2010)

Stephen Foster follows the career of a prominent Scottish family across 250 years during which time they dispersed into the far reaches of the Empire. The Macphersons of Cluny were Badenoch Highlanders whose ambitions and imperatives took them to Berbice in the north of South America, to Bengal in British India and also to Keera in outback New South Wales. They were true diasporans who sustained their traditional ties with the Highlands across the generations. Foster captures much of the inner story of British imperialism seen through the eyes of a succession of dynamic individuals connected by family and its vicissitudes. Their careers and their interconnections are deeply researched from a wonderfully well-preserved family archive in Scotland. This collective biography narrates a succession of intense personal dramas all set against the wide panorama of empire.  It juxtaposes the lives of everyday imperialists, their ambitions and their idiosyncrasies, with the broad tides of Empire. Foster brings the story Millers Point, N.S.W. : Pier 9, 2010 up to date with the current head of the family who has famously wrestled with the legal and political manifestations of racial conflict in present day England.  Rarely have the dispersed theatres of imperialisms been interlinked in such a stylish and personalised fashion. Race, fortune and politics are interleaved with family dramas across the wide horizon of the evolving Empire.

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman.

Best of Both Worlds: The Story of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahau (Penguin Books, 2010).
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman skillfully interrogates the relationship between the amateur ethnographer, Elsdon Best, and his Tuhoe informant, Tutakangahau. In doing so he charts the encounter between a man wishing to preserve the oral knowledge of the ancient Maori world and his informant, a man bent on an accommodation with the modern world in order to have traditions recorded for future generations. Holman succeeds in his aim is to restore Tutakanghau to a story in which Best has taken centre stage. Holman’s book is a beautifully written exploration of a friendship between two men, both literate and learned in different ways, and anxious to learn from each other. Holman places this friendship in the rapid changes occurring in Maori society: the growth of the money economy, accelerating land loss and the growing dominance of English. The result is an examination of a ‘richly ambiguous interplay of beliefs, ideas and seismic social changes’ that joined the lives of Elsdon Best and Tutakangahou of Maungapohatu.

Penny Russell.

Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia (University of New South Wales Press, 2010).

Penny Russell’s innovative examination of manners in colonial Australia explores the multifarious ways in which manners encode deference and delineate difference. Through an exploration of a range of sources, from personal letters and memoirs to newspapers and fiction, Russell demonstrates the unease that caused individuals to be constantly aware of social boundaries. She argues convincingly that manners were, in fact, central to the colonizing process since settlement of Aboriginal lands required the conviction that ‘civilisation’ was necessary to overcome savagery for the good of mankind. Yet what was meaningful in one culture was completely opaque to the other. Handshakes could not be innocent when followed by dispossession. As the Australian settlements grew, with their assortment of convicts and settlers, manners served mark out social position. Russell argues that class distinctions and ‘manners’ were all pervasive in colonial society and her book will challenge the enduring myth of Australian egalitarianism.

Learn more about this prize…

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