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Building a better future through understanding our international past

Building a better future through understanding our international past

Professor Glenda Sluga

Professor Glenda Sluga—an Australian Research Council (ARC) Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow—is head of the Laureate Research Program in International History, based at The University of Sydney. The program is bringing into focus the ‘lost international past’—the history of international ideas, actors, and structures that underpin the global order of the present day. In doing so, they are establishing their position as Australian historians at the centre of the study of international history in the world.

“For a long time historians have studied nations, and this may have included foreign policy, but what was lost was the rich history of national involvement in international organisations, and the idea of international governance, through the 19th and 20th centuries,” says Professor Sluga.  

“What our research team is working to do, is re-establish the significance of that engagement with the international—in terms of economic as well as climate questions—which is particularly important at this point in time when there is a lot of cynicism towards global institutions and ideas.”

Working in cooperation with a wide range of international institutions such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Professor Sluga’s team is part of a collaboration recently awarded significant new funding of €3 million from the European Research Council. Their remit is to chart the rise of global environmental governance, as international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord continue to raise controversy on the world’s political stage. 

Back home, Professor Sluga is using her ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship to create a ‘Graduate Research Laboratory’, which is designed to engage a young and upcoming generation of researchers and students from the social and natural sciences, and draw them into the discussion about international history.

“We are running the Graduate Research Laboratory as part of our week-long conference ‘What is International History Now?’, where we are working with all our collaborators, from around the world, to give students from Australia a chance to engage with all these amazing researchers. Through their participation, we are challenging them to rethink how you study international politics in the past and the present,” says Professor Sluga.

Professor Sluga’s mission is to draw together the multidisciplinary threads of law, history, political science and economics, and get experts in these fields talking with each other about what the future of internationally framed studies might be. These collaborations help to highlight the relevance of history for other disciplines in answering contemporary questions.

“There are all sorts of challenges that humanity has faced in the past, and it’s at points of crisis, such as wars, when people have realised you need some sort of international governance, functioning bodies which represent nation states, but also have their own independence. What we are doing is helping people to understand the international past in a deeper and more profound way—it would be great if we learnt an historical lesson that would allow us to avoid the same types of crises in the future,” says Professor Sluga.

Over the last year the team has had its findings published in journals such as the American Historical Review, and the Journal of World History, and has edited volumes with Cambridge University Press on Internationalisms: A Twentieth Century History. Two other collections are in the press: A volume on ‘Sites of International Memory’, and a special issue on ‘Liberal and Illiberal Internationalisms.’

Professor Sluga says that she is hoping to use the ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship to work with people in government, to help them understand their own role in the international historical past.

“There is a long, and really interesting, history of Australians working as diplomats or as civilians setting up and being involved in international organisations, but this history is not well known,” says Professor Sluga.

As an ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Sluga has received additional funding—$20,000 per year over five years—to undertake an ambassadorial and mentoring role to promote women in research.

Named ARC Australian Laureate Fellows—Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet—are highly prestigious fellowships. To be considered for these named fellowships, candidates must first be selected as an Australian Laureate Fellow. Individuals are only considered for these awards after the selection advisory committee has recommended them as Australian Laureate Fellows.

The selection advisory committee considers how candidates will deliver their ambassadorial role based on a description of the activities that they will undertake to promote and support women in research. Only candidates who can clearly demonstrate their capacity to promote women in research, mentor early career researchers, particularly women, and encourage them to enter and establish careers in research in Australia are awarded an ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick or Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship.

Professor Sluga was awarded an ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow, because she is doing just this. As part of her fellowship, she is undertaking a series of initiatives to promote and assist the discussion of women in the humanities (both as researchers and as the subjects of research), setting research agendas at the highest levels and providing assistance to early career women.

She is also keen to promote the work of women in international history—an interwoven aspect of the research project is highlighting the place of women in the past histories of international politics.

“Women have been fundamental to international politics in the past, and it is in part their political legacies that are reflected in our present international institutions. We need to remember and understand that past if we are going to be able to more fully grasp the choices we have to make our future,” says Professor Sluga. 


Image: Professor Glenda Sluga
Image courtesy: Provided by Glenda Sluga

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