By Professor Timothy Minchin. ANZASA president (2015-)
I moved to Australia from the UK in 2004, when I took up my position teaching North American history at La Trobe University’s main campus in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. La Trobe had a rich tradition in American history, and upon arrival I was told a lot about ANZASA by the university’s four recently-retired American historians – Bill Breen, Warren Ellem, Rhys Isaac, and John Salmond (sadly, Bill is the only one of this fine quartet who is still alive). Bill and John, in particular, had helped to establish the Association and lead it in its early days in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They regaled me with stories of friendly and fun-filled conferences, along with plenty of colourful anecdotes.
I quickly joined ANZASA (for a very reasonable fee!) and went with John to ANZASA’s 2004 conference at the University of Auckland. I was pleased to find that ANZASA’s reputation for providing a supportive and friendly conference still held true. Like many of us, I had attended the big professional association conferences, particularly in the U.S., and while these provided some valuable networking and put runs on the CV, I often found their size overwhelming. It was difficult to forge lasting contacts, and everything was so busy. As an early career researcher, in particular, it often felt difficult to make an impact and feel included.
At ANZASA, however, the size of the gathering – usually about 80-100 in total – was perfect for both scholarly and personal enrichment. It was big enough so that speakers could receive informed and constructive feedback on their work, yet small enough so that lasting connections and friendships could be formed. In the years that followed, I remained active in the Association, and always looked forward to the welcoming and constructive conferences. As an immigrant, an added bonus was that they gave me an excuse to visit new cities in Australia and New Zealand, and the conscious rotation of conference destinations – and the inclusion of our valued New Zealand colleagues – meant that every conference was different and enriching.
Another characteristic that struck me about ANZASA was the emphasis it put on including and helping postgraduates. Mentoring is now a buzzword within universities, but ANZASA was practising it well before that was the case. Postgraduates, who were often funded to attend by ANZASA bursaries, delivered many of the papers. Some were published in the Australasian Journal of American Studies, the association’s long-running journal. There was also an emphasis on recognising undergraduate excellence, and the association still offers a prize for the best undergraduate essay published in AJAS every two years, as well as a similar postgraduate prize. Both are crucial to our future. At ANZASA conferences, tenured academics attended postgraduate papers well, and there was less of a barrier between “staff” and “students” than I had witnessed elsewhere. I think this is still the case, and it remains one of ANZASA’s great strengths.
I have remained active in the Association, and three years ago I felt privileged to be asked to serve as president. In the last fourteen years, the climate within most of our members’ universities has become more challenging, especially for our core disciplines of history and literature. ANZASA’s staying power is testament to members’ dedication, especially those long serving ones who prioritise attending conferences and supporting the association. Some, like University of Sydney professor Shane White, have not missed a conference during their entire academic career.
I would also like to thank the hard work carried out by AJAS’s editors, Paul Giles and David Goodman, and by the ANZASA executive, currently comprised of Paul, David, Frances Clarke, Jennifer Frost, Barbara Ryan, and Tim Verhoeven. Both perform a lot of valuable work for the Association. Jennifer, for example, is hosting the 2019 conference at the University of Auckland, and I urge you all – including our valued international visitors – to attend and experience ANZASA’s welcoming and constructive conference environment. I would also like to thank postgraduate members Hollie Pich, Sam Watts, and Marama Whyte for their work in updating the website.
And for those of you who are not members, I encourage you to contact our treasurer, Tim Verhoeven at Monash University, and join!