Arts Students Gretel

Generous history gift an act of hope for the future

On 23 November, the Vice Chancellor announced a $10 million gift from the Little Foundation to the University, $8 million of which establishes The Hansen Trust – the largest ever gift to the Faculty of Arts, and the largest philanthropic gift to a History program in Australia. The gift will endow a new Chair in History focused on innovation in teaching and learning; will provide a new PhD scholarship every year in perpetuity; will support three lectureships and, with input from the Faculty of Arts, a senior lectureship.

At the launch of the Trust, attended by staff from the University, Faculty and History Program, as well as Melbourne Humanities Foundation Board members, alumni and friends, donor Jane Hansen explained the key goals of this extraordinary act of generosity. With her permission, we cite here an extract of her speech, and some responses from across the University.

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Speech extract

One of my key goals in establishing The Hansen Trust is to ensure that the humanities at Melbourne can continue to attract and nurture a pool of talented Arts undergraduates. As a current Arts student, I am very encouraged by what I see in our young people at this University. They are curious, they are capable of being challenged, and they have the capacity for deep learning. It is this that gives me a sincere desire – and sense of responsibility – to contribute towards offering them the best education possible.

I know that if we keep thinking about how to creatively engage these highly intelligent young people with vibrant, interesting scholarship, we will not only continue to feature in rankings, but – of more interest to me personally – we will know that as a community we have done our job.

We will have given these generations the tools they require to think and research critically, to communicate and advocate in written and verbal form, and to act within a moral and historical framework.

They may not all argue like Cicero, they might not all write like the Bard, or think like Foucault, but they will know who each of these were and why they were so significant. And, importantly, the nature of this learning will have lifelong applicability in every aspect of their lives.

In other words, I passionately believe in the value of a liberal arts degree – and see history in its broadest terms as a key part of a humanities education.

Why does history matter? Who wouldn't want to know what made the 300 stand their ground at Thermopylae or why Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or Hitler pushed on toward Stalingrad or what caused Gorbachev to tear down the Wall?

Or more broadly, how the storming of the Bastille contributed to Western notions of freedom and equality, or how the interplay of religion and foreign rule has shaped the modern Middle East, or what has been the systemic impact of speculation from tulip bulbs to synthetic securities?

And, closer to home, to understand the British colonisation of Australia in the context of the rise and fall of great empires.

The implications of all of these historical events, and more, reverberate in our current day.

Anchoring our understanding of the past through analysis of the geopolitical, economic and ideological motivations behind these seminal events enables us to comprehend the present – and navigate the future.

Appreciating the past also helps to enrich the present – whether that be recognizing the narrative behind a piece of art at the Potter Museum, the context of a live performance at the MTC or the story surrounding an object in the Classics and Antiquities Collection.

Like most of the humanities, however, history is under resourced to deliver the kind of broad programming we would all like to see and that is the reason why we are here today.

So, in sum, the Trust's key goals are:

  • To position the History Program at Melbourne at the forefront of innovation and effectiveness in teaching and learning
  • To provide students at Melbourne with an outstanding education in history and a strong sense of the lifelong value and relevance of the discipline, and
  • To nurture the passion for history that exists among the broader community, and to increase the public visibility of the History Program.

Specifically I hope that, as a result of this initiative, every undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts will aspire to take at least one or more History subjects during their three year degree; and that, under the Melbourne Model, breadth students will find the offering in History so compelling that they too will choose to do at least one history subject during their generalist degree.

We thank the University for its willingness to adapt to the kind of targeted philanthropy that this gift represents.

Our support for the understanding of the past is an act of hope for the future – and we hope to attract others to join us in this endeavour!

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Former University of Melbourne Provost and Head of the History Department, Professor Peter McPhee AM

The establishment of The Hansen Trust is a landmark for the humanities, and for the discipline of history in particular. It is a powerful affirmation of the central importance of an historical perspective in our contemporary world, of the great treasures of knowledge and critical thinking opened up to students through a rich curriculum. The range of appointments and scholarships seeks to broaden the discipline's subject offerings and to offer opportunities to both new and established scholars. The Hansen initiative also comes with the challenge of seizing its potential. This generous and far-sighted act should transform our teaching and research in history in ways which will make all of us the richer.

University of Melbourne History Alumna, Dr Elizabeth Hartrick

As an historian, with a doctorate from the University, and an ongoing love of history of all kinds, I've been aware of the pressures facing humanities departments over the last decade. This gift, and Jane's evident passion, reminds me of my time researching history at Melbourne, and also the great joys and benefits of learning. So I thank and congratulate Jane on her recognition of the value of the discipline, her desire to do something to reinvigorate the teaching of history and enable new appointments, her courage to make this generous and carefully constructed investment in the.future of history. I have no doubt it will have a transformational effect. It will be very exciting to see its impact in years to come.

University of Melbourne History Student, Gretel Evans

This is an incredibly thrilling piece of news, and it will be very interesting to see the use that the History Program makes of this gift. While most students understand the importance of Melbourne as a great research institution, the impact of great teaching can never be underestimated. N matter what the benefits of online learning, or great facilities, it's still the case that the biggest impact on our education is great teachers – in lectures, tutorial groups, seminars and just generally around campus. If this gift can bring academics who are passionate about teaching to Melbourne, history students are going to be the beneficiaries of a great gift.

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A Message from the Dean of Arts

2015 has been another extraordinary year in the Faculty of Arts and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our alumni, near and far, for their continuing support.

The Faculty of Arts has over 72,000 alumni worldwide and as alumni you enrich our public programs, support our research, work with our students, employ and mentor our graduates, and continue to advocate for the value of education in the humanities, languages and social sciences. The value of that support cannot be underestimated.

It forms the foundation of our impact in the wider community and enables us to continue to strive for excellence across teaching and research.

Recently I had the pleasure of presiding at one of the many end of year graduations where we celebrated another cohort of outstanding graduates from the Faculty of Arts. Every year, I am privileged to witness the intellectual excitement generated by our students, all of them aiming to take what they have learned and to do something meaningful. This year one of our graduating ceremonies was addressed by Executive Master of Arts graduand, Alice Boer-Endacott. As valedictorian, Alice emphasised what all of we Arts graduates know to be true: passionate commitment to a discipline, a drive to excel and a willingness to be challenged are what it takes to make a difference. This is what an Arts degree at Melbourne provides.

A great Arts education forms the mind in new and unexpected ways. It is what enables the shift from a knowledge of facts and theories to a capacity to think seriously and creatively. It empowers us to put ideas into action. At its core is the transformative impact of deep knowledge and the way in which this knowledge becomes a shared experience and language. This creates new communities of thought and of action and through this we access and understand the things that make us human.

In the Faculty, we strive to build and shape this communicative community. From our incoming first-year students to the life-long engagement we enjoy with many alumni across the globe, we aim to grow this network of learning and reaffirm the sociability of a challenging and dynamic educational experience. Enabling this vision is key and this year we have been exceptionally fortunate to receive the support of many donors, including alumni.

Every one of them has made a difference and I want to thank them all for the boost that their acts of generosity provide to all our staff and to the students who benefit. One extraordinary gift among many has come from the generosity of Jane Hansen and Paul Little. Jane's experience as a history student has inspired her and her partner Paul to ensure that great teaching is available to future generations.

Inside this final edition for 2015, you will read more about this extraordinary gift and the impact it will make as well as news and events from the Faculty of Arts. In 2016 we look forward to a quarterly structure. And as the year draws to a close, I wish you all the very best for a safe and happy holiday season.