ANZAMEMS (Inc.): notes towards a pre-history.
When I came to Australia in 1970, ANZAMRS was, if small, already formally established. A medieval studies conference had been held, I understand, at the Australian National University in 1959 and ANZAMRS (usually called 'Anzamisses') stemmed from that, being founded in 1967 largely through the energies of a significant scholar of medieval French (in particular of medieval manuscripts in Australian libraries), Keith Val Sinclair (1926-1999). He became its first Secretary and Sybil Jack its Treasurer. The inaugural conference was in 1969. The initial brief was to hold public lectures, symposia and seminars and to encourage local university groups. (1) I was shortly to meet one of its founding members, and a future President, Audrey Meaney (Anglo-Saxon, Macquarie University). I knew nothing about it at first, being in politics rather than literature or history, and being at UNSW, 'Kensington Kindy' as it was patronizingly dubbed by Gwyn Jones at Sydney. But J. O. Ward (JOW) in the History Department at Sydney, being told of my interests in Marsilius of Padua by the also recently arrived Pat Collinson (whom I'd met at dinner with Owen Harries), invited me to give a lecture. (2) So, in addition to Pat, I met the right people to put me in touch with ANZAMRS and the Sydney Medieval and Renaissance Group, with the James Bondish acronym of SMRG. Founded in 1968, SMRG was effectively a chapter of the infant ANZAMRS. It provided me with the first of my long-term friendships in the Australasian Medieval/Early Modern scholarly community--JOW, Rod Thompson and Sybil Jack. With eight specialists spanning the Medieval and Early Modern, Sydney History was unusually strong and diverse, especially given the relative size of the University. It was complemented by several working in Medieval and Renaissance English literature and language. The English Department was the last bastion of Leavisite orthodoxy, as I discovered when I gave a paper dismissing the very idea of a Great Tradition of English literature. A lively Italian Department under Professor Freddy May fostered serious interests in Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. There was, then, a considerable Sydney presence in ANZAMRS that was devoted largely to English literature.
Parergon (a term denoting subsidiary task or composition and connoting marginality) was the Association journal, first issued in December 1971. It succeeded a Bulletin put out by ANZAMRS 1968-71, edited by Audrey Meaney. This Bulletin in turn continued the Sydney University Medieval Newsletter, founded in 1965, and between 1972 and 1988 SMRG also issued Studium principally through the energies of JOW. (3) SMRG was particularly active, in organizing formal and informal talks, well-attended summer schools, and the occasionally well-digested feast, at one of which a table with much of the food collapsed under enthusiastic attention. The contents of Parergon were not, I believe, initially formally or systematically refereed. It was edited by Chris Eade in the Humanities Research Centre at the ANU. The Centre itself under Professor Ian Donaldson was quietly effective in supporting the Renaissance and Early Modern in an otherwise unconducive environment. In Australia, the centres of interest were overwhelmingly Sydney and Melbourne.
In 1969 (I think) Professor George Yule of Melbourne University, an established historian of post-Reformation religious thought and church history, decided to run a short seminar on Early Modern history and it was held at Ormond College Melbourne. He just telephoned around friends and asked them to give papers. This fairly cosy and casual event took only a few hours to set up; but as he explained to me later, he could do things himself through the College, he knew all the people working in the relevant fields, and many lived locally. For some, travel costs would have been little more than tyre wear on bicycles, or tram tickets. This mode of origination put a long-lasting stamp of informality on what was to be the Nuer-like ordered anarchy of the Australian Historians of Early Modern Europe. Among the initial participants, I believe, were Trish Crawford and Lotte Mulligan (La Trobe). La Trobe was on the eve of its period of expansion with a History Department that would rival the size of Sydney and be well stocked with young Reformation and Early Modern scholars (John Cashmere, in French, Judith Richards, Rhys Isaacs, John Graham as well as Lotte Mulligan).
George's almost impromptu gathering was a great success and so two years later, 1971/2, another was held. This was in Sydney, I think at St John's College. I attended with about thirty others including the above named from the first meeting plus Sybil Jack and Ros Pesman. Wilf Prest, who had been in the USA during the first meeting, recalls a fine paper from Pat Collinson on Keith Thomas' Religion and the Decline of Magic. As my interests were mainly Italian and late medieval, I remember a stimulating paper by Ros Pesman on Soderini and Machiavelli, full of names better known from Chianti labels. The format was simple: one hour per paper, no parallel sessions, plenty of discussion. I can remember being very impressed by the quality of papers which were not just got up to give something, but reports on research conducted over the previous two years. What also struck me was the congeniality of the group. Established friendships gave an intimacy to proceedings, but without compromising a welcoming inclusiveness, or critical edge. Again, if memory serves, the third meeting was back in Melbourne in 1974 at which there was an especially brilliant paper by Bill Craven (ANU) on Pico della Mirandola, later the argument of his book on Pico. (4)
By this time, it was apparent that there was a substantial body of high-class, challenging work being done in Australia in the Medieval/Early Modern period of European history. The comparative strength of this broad field of study among a young cohort of scholars has never been explained (most have had distinguished careers here and/or overseas), but the following, if impressionistic, may be part of the picture, itself helping to account for how this society could develop. Until well after the Second World War, postgraduate research was mainly undertaken in Britain. The bright students going there understandably gravitated to the most exciting and fashionable research areas, which because of an abundance of newly accessible resources, meant the Early Modern, especially its social history. As Michael Bennett has rightly stressed on occasion, many of the techniques and research areas now widely established among historians (such as historical demography and geography, and the analysis of gender, networking, patronage and statistics) were pioneered by early modernists. It is certainly true that the transformation and methodological self-consciousness of my own field of intellectual history, was driven by a handful of specialists in seventeenth-century political theory (Peter Laslett, J. G. A. Pocock and, a little later, Quentin Skinner). The 'Cambridge School' as it is often called was initially as much a product of Early Modern history as it was of a particular location. So in coming or coming back to Australia, young scholars brought very fresh views of internationally significant areas of research. My impression is that promotion and international recognition was quite rapid but it took a few years for the learned academies to recognize medievalists and early modernists. Perhaps a time lag is reasonable enough for such bodies, although during the 1960s and 1970s, they seemed a little shy of recognizing many outside Canberra.
The scholarly community, however, was still small enough in the 1970s to have cohesion and have it maintained by focussed seminars and conferences. After the success of the Melbourne and Sydney meetings, one was planned for Adelaide in 1976. This would be organized by a committee chaired, I think, by Lynn Martin on which also were Frank McGregor and Nick Wright who would later, I believe, build his own boat and sail back to the UK. By this time, proper notice was being taken of the Early Modern in New Zealand, the strength of which was additionally bolstered by the fact that the high school curriculum allowed special attention to post-Reformation England. The result was a professional constituency beyond university research largely missing from the more populous Australia. I felt more involved by giving my first paper at the Adelaide event. I remember Louis Green graciously remarking at a general session at the end, that we had made a quantum shift, from a small specialist seminar to a full-scale conference of perhaps 130 registrants. From it came what Wilf Prest strongly advocated, a publication, European History and its Historians, ed. Frank McGregor and Nicholas Wright (Adelaide: Adelaide University Union Press, 1977). I recall Lynn Martin announcing about halfway through the Conference dinner that we had broken the university conference dinner drinking record, which had been held by the now humbled architects. I also recall, more dimly, Alison Wall from Sydney (now married to Chris Haigh in Oxford) trying to give a paper first thing next morning with a momentous hangover; a few of us groaned in appreciation of her heroic effort. Discussion was muted.
By this time, that is 1976, not the discussion of Alison's paper, it was clear that the scope of the Early Modern was a little arbitrary. De facto, the group embraced medievalists, if trecento Italianists count as this and not Renaissance scholars. Louis Green had been prominent in Melbourne and Adelaide. A name and acronym change was hardly difficult and we hoped would send inclusive signals back into the twelfth century and its own putative Renaissance and nay, even emit inclusive bleeps to earlier times. Later ones, however, were beyond our scope, only gradually and furtively would the eighteenth century creep in. There was also talk about the need for formal organization of AHMEME. But it was nothing more than this, for busy and productive people the arrangements seemed to suffice. After all, most work then was done without seeking grants or needing much infrastructure, and the Australian Research Grants Council (ARGC) grant threshold for people researching in the humanities, was in any case too high for anything approaching an honest application. One could not apply for teaching relief. The only continuing organizational structure for AHMEME was this: money left over from the conference was given to whoever agreed to do the next. After 1976, anything spare went to subsidize postgraduates giving papers. I don't know whose idea this was, but it was readily agreed to and has become a valuable feature of ANZAMEMS. The minimal managerial mission to meet again when X or Y can use the money to fix things up is why evidence of AHMEME and AHEME is so thin. There is no paper trail unless people keep old conference materials and these were scant and indifferently produced in the early days, designed and treated as ephemera. An indication of this situation is shown by my own smoky memories of what came next.
We were at Macquarie in 1978 (organization principally by Bruce Mansfield and Leighton Frappell). This was the largest conference to date and we had the Governor General, Sir Zelman Cowan, at the dinner. It was a concern for some republicans and for others who, like Alison Wall had to have dinner seated near his armed and taciturn minders, reluctant to disclose even the calibre of their pistols. But the reasoning behind the invitation was considered. It signalled an increasing consciousness of the need to be recognized by those beyond the scholarly constituency attending. There was even some local radio coverage. I recollect being interviewed by John Gillies (University of Essex) about my own paper. There would be no mumblings of disapproval when at the recent Hobart Conference (2008) we had a reception at the Governor's residence.
It was possibly from the Macquarie meeting, according to Wilf Prest, that the convention was established of having a specially invited overseas speaker or two. The ghastly expression taken from business conventions of having a 'key-note' speaker was not in use, but there was clearly the money and momentum to get in 'visiting firemen'. At the Macquarie conference, Sir Geoffrey Elton gave a public lecture and an after-dinner speech, in reply to Sir Zelman (it added a certain tension on the topic of Sir Thomas More) and most valuably, Sir Geoffrey was consistently willing to discuss work with postgraduates, partly with the aim of enticing some to Cambridge. What I recall most vividly was the embarrassment caused when he introduced me to his ex-student Phillip Edwards, also at UNSW. Philip and I had never met, but for several years had inhabited offices on opposite sides of the same quadrangle building.
In 1980 we were at La Trobe (organization by Lotte Mulligan, John Graham and Judith Richards). In 1983, we were all at Brisbane (organization by Rod Fisher). I have no documentation but very good memories. It was a stellar event (no 'key-notes' but most sessions were still plenary) with Austin Woolrych, Keith Thomas, Natalie Zemon Davis, Lawence Stone and Ian Maclean as lively participants. Their presence in Australia at the appropriate time was partly due to ANU's HRC having a year devoted to the Renaissance and Early Modern.
In practice, AHMEME was its conferences. The lack of a cohering structural framework for them, however, was shown to be a problem with the Auckland conference in 1987. At the time it was thoroughly enjoyable, with stimulating papers from John Morrill, Chris Haigh and Jonathan Scott, whose splendid work on Algernon Sidney would shortly appear. My own paper, I recall distinctly, had a decidedly polarizing reception, several with ostentatiously folded arms declining even to offer polite applause. (5) But that, ego aside, was not the problem. It was only later I heard that the finances were in disarray, rather that there were none to array.
Meanwhile back with ANZAMRS, it had been decided around 1982 to put Parergon on a more professional footing. Elizabeth Jeffreys accepted the Editorship with precisely this in mind and held the position from 1983-9. During this time her position was effectively full-time and unpaid; the job was brilliantly done. (6) The transformation of the journal was only possible because of the devotion she could give, backed by the help in kind she got from the Department of Modern Greek at Sydney where she was an Honorary (unpaid) research fellow and her husband Michael, Professor of Modern Greek. We had occasional use of a large room for licking envelopes and gathering the journal for postage. Elizabeth would later secure her first proper appointment as Professor of Byzantine Studies at Oxford. Her account of her experiences with Parergon would be invaluable.
Shortly after Elizabeth was appointed to the Editorship, I was elected Vice-President of ANZAMRS (1984-6) in absentia (Chris Wortham, UWA broke the news). It was a big surprise and I had no idea what it meant. There was a Constitution for ANZAMRS but almost no one had a copy of it, though a number had good if slightly discrepant memories of what was in it. I had not seen it. In fact, I was contacted, either by Sybil, an exceptional treasurer with experience dating to the early days of ANZAMRS, or Audrey Meaney, as a recent President, both of whom did know what the constitution was about. Whoever it was contacted me, I was asked when I was going to call the first editorial committee meeting as, constitutionally, I was responsible for chairing it.
It was during this time (1983-8) that Elizabeth and the committee established a formal anonymous refereeing process for all papers, an international advisory board, the idea of thematic issues and a substantial book-reviewing section. Throughout there was constant concern over costs and only slowly increasing subscriptions. The journal dominated ANZAMRS finances, for it swallowed much of them, and so editorial committee meetings, enjoyable as they were with a convivial and hard-working committee, were frequently financial ones too. Elizabeth and I in particular wanted a name change, something direct and austere like the Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (AJMEMS). The acronym had an appealingly aggressive edge, but change was too risky. We were advised that library holdings might well be cancelled in the belief that it was a new journal, so we stuck with Parergon (initially, new series, first volume 1983), despite mutterings on and beyond the Committee that it proclaimed a cultural cringe. It was, we felt, certainly a dated title at odds with our ambitions. The journal is sufficiently well established now for this not to matter, there is a limit to the determining power of origins.
I was Vice-President again 1987-8 or 9. Shouldn't I be sure of this? It was during this latter term of office, that talk became more serious about getting the two groups together. For years the conferences of each had almost been interleaved, often being held in alternate years, never being held simultaneously, for the convenience of those involved with both. A fresh constitution would be needed, the old ANZAMRS constitution required adaptation for the much larger and journal-dominated organization ANZAMRS had become. We also wanted more history in Parergon, so again, a reason for amalgamation. Sybil had long thought, despite its cost and inconvenience, incorporation essential for ANZAMRS, as conferences, with the expansion of universities, were getting large and involving substantial money. This was particularly the case when for the first time the conference went to Perth, 1985.
This was a significant event. Hitherto ANZAMRS had operated mainly on a Sydney-Melbourne axis with statutory forays to New Zealand. To an extent this was understandable, with the largest universities in these cities, backed by good State libraries. With travel more expensive and time consuming than now and well before email, much of Australia and all of New Zealand was effectively geographically peripheral. This is far less the case today, just as internationally the distribution of printed and archival resources via the Internet has transformed the position of Australasia as a whole. Interests and materials are dispersed and with its advantages and logistical difficulties, ANZAMEMS serves a more evenly distributed community. Whether the communal mind-set has fully adjusted, it is less easy to tell, but if there is a geographical centre, it has arguably become Perth. In the 1980s, although there was a genuine desire to move beyond the old axis corridor, the fear was that people would not or could not get funding to travel to Western Australia. As it was, restricted funding for travel limited attendance at New Zealand conferences by those in Australia (New Zealand universities were more generous with funding to Australia). Chris Wortham's idea was that people would go to Perth if the conference were big enough and good enough: it would last a whole week with plenaries every day and thematically appropriate entertainment every night. The financial implications made the eastern states committee nervous, and I spent a long time on the phone to Chris, assuring him we were not trying to cramp his style, he assuring me that it was all under control. We were, but it was. The result of Chris's vision and work in securing substantial sponsorship was a brilliant and financially very successful conference set up through what he had already established after a visit to Sydney and exposure to SMRG, the very lively Perth Medieval and Renaissance Group (PMRG).
In some ways, the Perth conference for ANZAMRS was the equivalent of the 1976 AHMEME conference in Adelaide. Both made clear and effectively advertised that there was a large and varied body of expertise and energy, with a good postgraduate community having sound reason to study in Australasia and able to insure continuity. Additionally, Perth took for granted a high level of overseas participation and enjoyed publicity and attention well beyond the confines of an academic society meeting. Rather like the Macquarie AHMEME conference, both had radio interview and press exposure. The size and scope of conferences were making clear the need for formal and accountable structures of organization. After 1987, it was a point not lost on those members of ANZAMRS who were also involved in AHMEME.
The last purely AHMEME conference was in Adelaide (organized by Wilf Prest and Viv Brodsky). It ended with the strong possibility of a joint conference to follow. This trial marriage, as some called it, made a lot of sense as there was a considerable overlap of membership and a shrinking amount of time during which conferences could be held, and for many, less money for conference travel. The first joint AHMEME and ANZAMRS conference was in Hobart in 1994 (principally organized by Michael Bennett) which itself, it now seems difficult to believe, had required diplomatic negotiations, to allay suspicions of something becoming too large to be constructive and so not worth going to, which would of course, have made it smaller.
There was a point to this fear of the unknown. We had all to accept the necessity of parallel sessions which are problematic to arrange and are best at providing excuses for not attending something you feel you should. Even with the most felicitous structures of clash minimalization, they can leave you feeling you've missed something. I remember having to stop a couple of times during a paper I was once giving because of the laughter Roger Hainsworth was generating in the next room (I think this was Adelaide, 1992, I blame Prest and Brodsky). But with funding for travel dependent upon offering a paper, the spectre of the three twenty-minute papers in a session with-about-five-minutes-for-discussion loomed before us from the 1980s. This format defeats much of the purpose of giving papers and the little offerings take a disproportionate amount of time to prepare. Their delivery, alas sometimes comes with lack of discipline and professional consideration. I've been to more than one session wrecked by a speaker eating into the time of another, and more than once the victim has been a postgraduate. On one occasion, Cary Nederman (Texas A&M) cheerily abandoned his paper and spoke for the five minutes or so he had been left. I could never have been so gracious. This, I should add, was not at Hobart; Cary had needed to cancel very late and left me with a de facto plenary--a generous man with his time. In fact, it is the necessary evil of having distinct streams (up to five or six now) that has made plenary presentations so important; and here, perhaps the most significant change is that it is no longer thought imperative that they all be given by overseas scholars.
It was at Hobart that the working party was set up to consider amalgamation, and if acceptable, to find a name and draft a constitution and get the society incorporated. Much politicking disrupted tea-breaks in the sessions before the general meeting. Glenn Burgess, with a quasi-outsider's authority (a New Zealander in the UK and a member of Parergoris International Advisory Committee) had an effective and timely voice. The working party, set up in 1994 before the days of email and video conferencing, had to be located in one place. It was Sydney and the committee comprised J. O. Ward, David Rollison (UWS) and me, a combination thought to balance interests, or perhaps stymie anything happening.
The year 1996 saw the second and final joint conference in Brisbane where the draft Constitution was accepted (I was not there). The first ANZAMEMS Conference followed two years later in Wellington. The Constitution had involved a lot of work, taking soundings, drafting, seeking advice and not treading on eggshells. JOW's experience as a sometime civic mayor was invaluable. When small groups think of getting together they all fear being taken over by the others and rightly need justifications to change the status quo that has proved congenial and beneficial. So it should be stressed that amalgamation was neither a natural nor foregone conclusion and it was mainly those who were associated with both groups who pushed for it, in full awareness of the risk that those who did not like the idea might also vote with their feet. How to create a small academic society? Amalgamate two larger ones.
It may seem strange now, but one sticking point for a title was the word Renaissance, how could it be left out despite being invented by a Swiss friend of Nietzsche and a French nationalist? But inclusion stumped our JAC (joint acronymal capacities). Once the Renaissance disappeared, we had a workable label. Another fear was that the Shakespeareans would take over, no it was the twelfth-century mafia (after 1485 it's all journalism anyway), but no, wrong again, the danger came from the sealed knot of scholars fixated on seventeenth-century England.
My creeping note of flippancy should not distract from the important background against which the moves for the creation of a new society were played out. Dwindling financial resources, managerial threats to teaching the relevant areas (how are they relevant?) pressed upon us the need for a solidified Australasian presence, as a number including Sybil Jack, Wilf Prest and Michael Bennett had been forewarning for some time. Small and informal had worked very well, and it is probably still the case that focussed group meetings are more productive and economically efficient than large gatherings. But pressures on universities, university organization partially responding to them, encroachments on time, to say nothing of changes in the high school syllabus, were all having an effect. The small could be ignored, pleas about the productivity and quality of small groups and organizations cut no ice through the period of the Dawkins reforms for which the word University became a unit of student population density, rather than a signifier of a style of education. The days in which substantial research could be undertaken without first getting an ARC grant were dwindling into dusk--at least teaching relief could now be allowed. At the same time, the pressure to publish, garner money to prove you are good at getting it, and generate students was increasing. If this helps explain the drive to a larger society that might have voice and gravitas for those beyond its membership, it also helps explain the creation of the ARC funded NEER, to help with invaluable infrastructure, reinforce and facilitate an international standing that is demonstrable to those who need to know of this beyond the scholarly community itself.
The history behind the formation of ANZAMEMS and the success of NEER express something of the character of Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern studies in Australasia. By North American and European standards, the scholarly communities remain small. Anyone who has attended the great cattle market conferences in the USA, or given seminars in Europe to large groups of postgraduates, all seemingly working on the same few decades of say, the seventeenth century, will hardly need telling this, or of the advantages that accrue from such concentrations of expertise. But with size also come pressures to sub-division, insularity of specialization. In relative contrast, it is my impression that in Australasia there has been a greater intellectual fluidity and cross-fertilization among scholars. This applies at least to the intellectual intercourse of meetings if not to written work. As international virtual communities of scholars are more easily self-forming than they used to be and as resources are now so readily available beyond the libraries and archives in which they are held, there should, other things being equal, be a creative and imaginative dividend in the work done in Australia and New Zealand.
One specific benefit of an embedding in the new resource and communications era has been, at least pro tem, the virtual financial independence of Parergon as one of the Project Muse suite of journals. The concomitant freedom of ANZAMEMS from some of the constraints of the past will no doubt have its own difficulties. Throughout the history and pre-history of ANZAMEMS it has been the case, to convey the spirit if not the letter of Guicciardini's maxim, that every cloud has a silver lining, because every silver lining is actually underneath a cloud.
Centre for the History of European Discourses
University of Queensland
(1) This information has been supplied by Sybil Jack.
(2) Pat Collinson was later to succeed Sir Geoffrey Elton as Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. Professor John Gascoigne confirms that the event did take place: he was an undergraduate in the audience.
(3) This information has been organized by Constant Mews.
(4) W. G. Craven, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Symbol of His Age (Geneva: Droz, 1981).
(5) 'Radicals, Conservatives and Moderates in Early Modern Political Thought: A Case of Sandwich Islands Syndrome?', History of Political Thought, 10 (1989), 525-42.
(6) Elizabeth Jeffreys was succeeded by Dianne Speed, English, University of Sydney (1990-5); Chris Wortham, English, UWA (1996-2001); Andrew Lynch, English, UWA (2002-9); and Anne Scott, English, UWA (2010-).
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|Title Annotation:||Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies|
|Article Type:||Organization overview|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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