Distinctive history courses 'down under'

Australia’s universities offer varied history programmes. Jayne Persian outlines the diverse and exciting topics available to students.

Why study history?History is the study of the past and its interpretation in the present. Historians make sense of the past using evidence from a wide range of written, oral, visual, digital and material sources. Using a range of approaches, they examine past events, processes and relationships, interpreting their origins, significance and consequences. Students of history acquire skills of intellectual analysis, understanding of events within their contexts, constructing arguments and writing and presenting complex material in an ordered way. History graduates are sought for positions in management and leadership because of their skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, research and communication. History also prepares students for postgraduate study and professional research roles in a wide range of organisations.

History in AustraliaThe Australian Historical Association (AHA) is the premier national organisation of historians - academic, professional and other - working in all fields of history. Its members number more than 800, including universities, libraries and other affiliates. AHA conferences are held annually and a number of prizes, awards and honorary fellowships are offered.

The School of History at the Australian National University in Canberra has been ranked 12th in the world in the 2011 QS World University Rankings for History. Members of the School specialise in Australian, North American, Early Modern and Modern European and British history, exploring history through the lenses of Aboriginal, cultural, colonial, gender, intellectual, labour, political, legal, post-colonial and transnational history. Studying history at the Australian National University allows students to benefit from the resources of the national capital’s cultural and collecting institutions, including the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, and the National Gallery of Australia.

Distinctive history programmes can be found across Australia. The University of Melbourne has the largest Honours School (usually with about 70 enrolments) and postgraduate school in Australia (there are around 160 candidates doing master’s and PhDs), sustaining a lively research activity in a wide variety of fields. At La Trobe University, students explore Europe, the Americas, Australasia, Asia and the ancient and modern world. Students at Monash University can take courses in American, Asian, Australian, Contemporary, European, and Medieval and Renaissance History, while Deakin University focuses on the 19th and 20th centuries, covering Australia, America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, as well as international history more generally. Historical and Heritage Studies at the University of Ballarat incorporate approaches to community history, applied history and heritage studies, as well as more traditional history.

Students at the University of New South Wales study American, Ancient, Asian, Australian and European history, as well as courses in world history, comparative history and transnational history. The Department of History at the University of Sydney offers undergraduate and postgraduate coursework and research study in a variety of fields, primarily the history of Europe, Australia, the United States and the Atlantic world, and China. Particularly strong in the department’s research and teaching are the history of imperialism, colonialism and globalisation; international, transnational and diplomatic history; urban history; social and cultural history; the history of gender and sexuality; the history of medicine and health; the history of war; the history of genocide; and study of the ‘history wars’ and history and memory.

Macquarie University’s Department of Ancient History offers over 80 units for study at undergraduate level and covers the antecedents of western civilisation in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world. The University of New England offers three separate undergraduate majors: Australian History, International History and History.

University of Western Australian staff research and teach medieval and modern aspects of Australian, European, Asian, African and United States societies, while students at Murdoch University study in three main areas of historical inquiry: cultural history, with an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural focus on the histories of Australia, Europe, South-East Asia and the United States; regional history, with a focus on the history of modern nation states; and thematic history, with a focus on important international themes in history.

The University of Adelaide offers a rich array of courses in European, Australian, American, and South Asian history. The School of History and Classics at the University of Tasmania offers units on the history and culture of ancient Greece and Rome, medieval and modern Europe, USA, Asia and Africa, as well as Australia and Tasmania. At the University of Queensland, students can study the history of Australia and the Pacific, Britain and Continental Europe, the Middle East, North America and East Asia including China, Japan and Southeast Asia, and thematic history.

University history departments and programmes can advise you further.

Dr Jayne Persian
Executive Officer
Australian Historical Association