Building Bridges to Australia
September 17, 2014
In 2008 I spent a year in Australia as a Fulbright Senior Scholar where I got used to seeing kangaroos on the way to work, and even more importantly lived in a country where the memory of World War I (my area of research expertise) remains strong. I spent the year conducting research to compare the experiences of Australian and West African soldiers, both “soldiers of empire” brought into combat during World War I.
This year I returned to the University of New South Wales Canberra (UNSW-Canberra) as the recipient of the 2013 Fulbright Alumni Initiative Grant. My purpose had changed. Instead of completing my own research, I wanted to build on my personally and professionally fulfilling Fulbright experience by creating opportunities for Chapman students in the new MA in War & Society to experience the benefits of scholarly exchange between the United States and Australia.
A cutting-edge and vibrant field of scholarship, War and Society studies explore topics like genocide, the relationship of service-people and veterans to the state, changing conceptions of the war disabled, the role of race in military affairs, gender and the national military experience, war and the world-wide movement of peoples. Yet understanding combat, or military history, is also essential to the impact of war on peoples worldwide. Another conundrum concerns the present-day political implications of how we understand the experience of war. In both Australia and the United States, there is a tendency to reinforce national myths of exceptionalism when studying the history of warfare. I considered all these issues during the tenure of my Australian Fulbright Alumni Initiative Grant.
The results speak for themselves!
Students in the respective programs at UNSW-Canberra and Chapman University will soon be able to take on-line classes offered by each respective institution for credit in their Master of Arts program. This collaboration will help to globalize the educational experience of graduate students, creating new cultural and educational contacts around the Pacific Rim. American and Australian students will now have the opportunity to discuss and learn from each other, challenging each other’s worldview and assumptions. These virtual relationships are only the first step. We also have plans for student and faculty exchanges, and I am pleased to say that Chapman University will host Prof. Craig Stockings, an expert in Australian military history, for our fall semester 2015 to teach a course and offer advice in the inaugural year of our MA in War and Society.
The timing of these collaborations is also important. The years 2014-2018 are the centennial of the Great War. The year 1917 represented a transformative moment in the conflict with the bloody battle of Passchendaele for the Australians and America’s official entry into the war. In 2017, a jointly-organized Australian-American conference with explore the impact of 1917 on the trajectory of the war and world history.
These initiatives reveal the far-ranging impact of that one Fulbright grant can have.
Professor Jennifer Keene is Chair of the History Department in Wilkinson College of Humanities and Social Sciences.