Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 3. Nr. März 1998

Europe in the Antipodes: Changing Patterns in Research

Peter Morgan (Perth)

Introduction: The Paradigm-Change in European Research

The Australian Academy of the Humanities is in the process of publishing a report, Australian Research Council Strategic Disciplinary Review of Research and Research Training in the Humanities as the basis for policy formation for the next 20 years.

As the consultations were being carried out for that report, it became clear to me that fundamental questions regarding large-scale changes in European Studies research in Australia were in danger of being overlooked as a result of a narrowly discipline-based focus.

The following material is based on my contribution to this Review, namely a survey of European Studies research in Australia. In it I attempt to outline the main issues in European Studies research in Australia, and to represent some of these issues from a perspective which is of interest to a primarily European audience. I hope, that is, to reflect some concerns about the way research on Europe is going in parts of the world outside Europe - a world dominated by "English as a global language" (David Crystal) and a world in which sub- and supra-national models are playing an increasingly important role alongside national models in the comparative study of cultures.

What we are talking about here is a change in paradigm for the organisation of research on and information about Europe from a national model to an interdisciplinary area-studies model. In this latter model, national identities are no longer paramount. The broader shaping influences of language, society and culture are providing a different perspective on supra- and sub-national identities, on overarching points of similarity and difference within the global regions. This change has major consequences for the study of Europe outside of Europe. Australia can serve as a case-study for changes which mutatis mutandis apply in the non-European English-speaking world. The changes in patterns of research on Europe in Australia, that is, reflect world changes in the ways different major culture and interest-groups are thinking about themselves and about others. My paper is thus a reflection on the way in which Europe is being "re-conceived" in academic research outside of Europe as a result of the events of 1989, and of changes in global politics.

How did this situation come about?

During the post-war period Australian universities maintained an impressive level of teaching and research in European history, languages, literature, philosophy, art and cultural history, and social and political sciences. The USA was making inroads into humanities research, but Europe - or at least an island outpost to the far west of Europe was still the main focus. Since the late 1980s this situation has changed dramatically.

Between 1975 and 1989 Australians began to neglect Europe. How could this have occurred?

Changes in National Orientation

Consequences for "European" Education:

Australian self-understanding was being subjected to profound scrutiny on issues such as multiculturalism, Australia’s geo-political identity as part of Asia, and the nature of Australian national identity. This process of reformulation of national identity took place during a time in which Australia’s European heritage was being downplayed by government and was not being reinforced in the education system. At an important point of development, Australians seemed to be unclear as to their national identity, having grown out of the dependence on their British and European parents, still being led by their American older siblings and beginning to view their Asian neighbours with a mixture of wonder and envy.

1989: Time For A Change?

In 1986 the Lo Bianco report on the state of Languages Other Than English (LOTE (1)) in Australia deplored the low level of language education in schools and advocated the maintenance of ‘world languages’ alongside the languages of trading and commercial partners and community languages. In spite of this, only approximately 12% of Australian year 12 examination candidates are currently enrolled in the study of a foreign language. Of these, approximately half study a non-European language. (French is the most popular European language, Japanese and Indonesian the most popular non-European languages.)

By the late eighties economic issues were determining university funding patterns to an extent quite new in Australia. The mix of students was more diverse and more demanding of employment-oriented education. Many university-level European language departments were faced with amalgamation or some other form of administrative rationalisation in order to survive. This applied even to those languages, such as French, German and Italian, which were still broadly represented in secondary schools. Languages such as Russian, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, and Swedish, as well as ancient languages, which were not generally taught in the secondary system, are at the point of extinction.

All of this came to a head in 1989. The events of that year brought a sense of urgency to internal debates about the future of European studies research in Australian universities. Just as Europe itself reached the end of an era, so too European studies in Australia was coming to the end of a paradigm of teaching and research. Since 1989 there has been an increasingly lively debate about the relative importance of Europe, Asia and America for contemporary Australia. Very recently the controversial historian and commentator on Australian identity, Geoffrey Blainey, could write under the heading, "Reports of the death of our European links are an exaggeration," "Australia’s future does not have to lie in only one corner of the world. Its future can lie in Europe as well as in Asia. ... It should still be possible to hold on to many of those ties. The danger is that some of these European ties will decline unless positive steps are taken to foster them".(2)

The Paradigm Change to European Studies

The events of 1989 gave an impetus for change in the moribund environment of European studies in Australia. Two main lines of development can be identified.

The first response was determined primarily by domestic pressures of student enrolments and institutional funding-patterns in Australian universities. In the light of the dwindling interest in Europe, small independent language and literature departments were amalgamated into schools of European Languages or European Studies, as a means of shedding units with low enrolments, reducing staff numbers and appearing to save language courses. Unable to regenerate themselves from within, to attract new students nor external interest and funding, these departments of European Studies or European Languages are languishing in an increasingly hostile institutional context.

Fortunately this is not the only story. A second, proactive and positive line of development came about in response to both the changes in Europe itself and the internal difficulties of Australian humanities departments. The decisive factor here has been the willingness of Europeanists to ‘bite the bullet’ and rethink the whole teaching scenario, creating new courses to both address the changed situation in Europe and provide undergraduate students with an integrated and coherent understanding of ‘Europe.’ This involved critically considering, defining, and conceptualizing the importance of Europe for Australia, and designing interdisciplinary academic courses of study which would ultimately support research schools under the new rubric of "European Studies." In this process of reconceptualization the old national paradigms of ‘language and literature study’ have been supplemented and in part displaced by a model in which the idea of Europe and its regions has become predominant.

Here we can speak of the beginning of European Studies with a capital ‘S’.

In terms of the functioning of university teaching departments, this has led to far-reaching changes. Integrated generalist first-year units have been devised at several campuses teaching about Europe. These courses cover a broad range of material on contemporary Europe in English, but aim also to encourage students with little or no language background to commence the study of a European language at university level (under the rubric, "better late than never!"). With the aid of multimedia language programs being developed at several centres around the country and with the support of reciprocal study programs and financial support in the form of overseas study grants, this remedial approach to the low numbers of foreign languages enrolments is showing signs of hope for the future.

In many cases the need for course coherence has led to co-operative ventures between language departments and departments such as history, political science, and sociology with valuable collaboration and enrichment for students and staff alike. Collaboration has made students of history, political science and other disciplines aware of the importance of language for academic scholarship, and the contact with other disciplines has helped language departments to broaden their approaches to both teaching and research.

In multimedia centres throughout Australia innovative language programs are being developed. Increased co-operation among previously independent teaching units, and sharing of approaches among the different language areas have accompanied the dramatic changes in multimedia technology. The explosion of interest in computer assisted language learning has led to a revolution in approaches to language teaching. A new level of student interest is already in evidence as a result of these innovations in European as well as Asian and other languages.

European Studies as a Research Discipline

In the Australian context research is strongly driven by the demands of undergraduate teaching. Nothing demonstrates the link between humanities teaching and research better than the directions which European Studies research is taking in Australia. Changes in undergraduate teaching and course offerings are being reflected in post-graduate and academic staff research. To focus simply on the state of research in European Studies without considering the introduction of teaching programs would be to risk losing sight of the forces which are bringing about change.

European Studies can be considered a coherent ‘interdisciplinary area’ based on fundamental questions about the conceptual, cultural, socio-political and economic entity, "Europe," which are of relevance to all the member nations, states, regional and ethnic groups which consider themselves to be, or which want to be, part of "Europe." The concept of "Europe" is clearly historical in as much as we are dealing with configurations of societies which have identified themselves to some extent in terms of a supra-national idea since the time of Homer. In as much as Europe has existed as part of the ‘imaginary institution’ of societies and individuals (Cornelius Castoriadis), it is a cultural, construction, transmitted through literary, musical, artistic and other forms of expression.

A cursory glance at recent Australian Ph.D. titles indicates that major changes have occurred in most humanities disciplines over the past decade. The methodological paradigms of traditional academic disciplines are clearly no longer able to contain the major issues in current research. Interdisciplinarity is a major issue.

This new perception of broad cultural and linguistic groupings has led to considerable enrichment in traditionally well-represented areas of European Studies research (for example, European history and philosophy, British, French, German and Italian literary studies, classics and ancient history, political philosophy, sociology etc.).

Broad-based "European" research is now being carried out in European Studies frameworks throughout Australia - on topics such as the European Union and European integration, the cultural and historical ‘regions’ of Europe, West, Central and Eastern Europe, Balkan and South-Eastern European studies, Northern Europe and Scandinavian studies, Southern Europe, contemporary Europe, Medieval, Renaissance and Reformation studies the resurgence of Central Europe, the Balkan crisis, contemporary European social and literary theory, European film, Jewish studies, European multiculturalism, racial debates and migration, ethnicity and national identities in Europe, European architecture and fine arts, European post-modernism, European women’s and gender studies, socio-linguistics of Europe, comparative studies of European fascism, socialism and post-communism, Holocaust studies, in short, on comparative and interdisciplinary studies of all aspects of European life.

Other ‘cognate’ areas of European Studies include colonial and post-colonial studies, aspects of American studies, and of course, Australian Studies. Various French departments now have impressive records in Francophone research, including Africa, the Caribbean and other areas affected by French colonialism. English departments now have a long history of interest in Indian, South-East Asian and other post-colonial literatures and cultures. Current research on aspects of Australian history and society, such as migration studies, literary and cultural studies etc. stresses the variety of European influences, in addition to the British, which have been at work in creating modern Australia.

Many of these areas of study have only become possible within the new European Studies paradigm, making use of increased co-operation of language and other humanities departments as a result of the introduction of interdisciplinary teaching programs and the convergence of research interests across the humanities.

The Language Question

At the moment enrolments in many European language courses have stabilised at relatively low levels, while enrolments in history, English literature, philosophy and generalist humanities departments are stable or increasing. Current European Studies research in departments of history, political science, classics and ancient history, philosophy, music, English literature etc. is still strong, but is being carried out by a corpus of academic staff who benefited from language training which is no longer the norm, or who have foreign language-learning experience. Where senior humanities academics often have a thorough grounding in at least one European language from secondary school as well as university, junior academics in the humanities increasingly lack this valuable scholastic resource.

With the decline in undergraduate enrolments in European languages, the question of linguistic competence has come to the fore. Many high-achieving students in undergraduate European Studies courses are monolingual speakers of English. They have not necessarily had any language training in secondary school and are increasingly likely to find the choice of languages restricted even if they do begin to learn a language at university. Often the decision comes only after interest has been awakened during the course of studying a first-year European Studies unit, and language study begins at second-year level. With the ‘streamlining’ of postgraduate study, the opportunities for such students to make up for lost time in learning languages is extremely limited. Specialist degrees in European Studies with language requirements have been introduced at some universities in order to tie language study to European Studies, but with varying amounts of success. The danger with these degrees is that they exclude those students who have not had the benefit of foreign language acquisition in the secondary system, and thus have a narrow student intake base.

While it is clear that academic and post-graduate research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, it is also becoming increasingly confined to English language sources in the humanities. This is one of the key problems of European Studies in Australia and, I would argue, in the English-speaking world. While English is likely to become the "global language" for the next century at least (David Crystal), serious research in European Studies demands high levels of competence in more than one European language other than English. The burgeoning interest of Australian students in European topics is not necessarily accompanied by linguistic competence in appropriate European languages. Postgraduate work in European Studies is already being carried out more and more in English. It is already difficult to find younger staff with the necessary language skills to teach European Studies courses.

Organisations and Forums

Several forums for European Studies have been particularly active in the mid- nineties. The Contemporary European Studies Association of Australia (CESAA), an interdisciplinary interest group based at Melbourne University with state representatives, and a membership base throughout Australia publishes a newsletter and organizes regular conferences and seminars. The Centre for European Studies at the University of New South Wales hosts an email newsletter and bulletin board, and the European Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has been active in publishing a newsletter and organizing seminars. Websites for the various universities provide detailed information on undergraduate and postgraduate course offerings, research interests and publications, units, majors and degree programs, and other information relevant to European Studies. Conferences take place biennially under the auspices of the Australian Association for European History.

What the Future Holds

At this point it is difficult to tell how European Studies will develop. Despite various state and national government policy initiatives since the Lo Bianco Report (1986), there has not been a significant increase in students taking European languages at university. This is currently the weak point in European Studies. Successful programs at various universities have demonstrated that students can be attracted to interesting and coherent courses in European Studies. However the difficulty remains of making language study attractive to students, especially those capable of undertaking postgraduate studies, and providing adequate language training within the short period of the undergraduate degree.

A healthy interrelationship has developed between teaching and research. While the under-enrolment of humanities students in language units is a major problem, the interest of students in the European heritage remains strong. The level of ongoing research and the changes in the types of research towards interdisciplinary approaches to European questions allows us to look with a measure of optimism towards the future of European Studies.

So What for Europe?

In my final comments I would like to present some theses specifically for a European audience based on this Australian case study of the re-conceptualization, re-formulation, and re-organisation (i.e. "Wissenschaftsorganisation") of European research. What are some consequences of the introduction of the new area studies model?


At the beginning I referred to the Australian example as a case study. I believe that developments in Australia as outlined above are indicative of global changes in "Wissenschaftsorganisation der Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften" of Europe. The aim is to stimulate discussion in the spirit of the conference preamble, namely through the critical description of the experience of new and different modes of approach to the task of organising information and research about Europe.

Thesis 1

European Studies reflects changes in the self-understanding of Europeans after the end of the east-west divide and in an era of the strengthening of the European Union.

The paradigm-change from traditional ‘language and literature’ studies to area- and cultural-studies modes corresponds to a change in ways of thinking about Europe as a supra-national entity in relation to its constituent nation-states at the end of the post-war era. With the passing of the classical phase of the nation-state in Europe and the increasing strength of the supra-national European Union, and after the end of the post-war east-west communist / capitalist division, ways of approaching Europe are being revised. National and nation-state structures are no longer the sole avenues of approach to understanding.

National paradigms are increasingly subjected to critical scrutiny as regional and sub-regional identities, ethnic and other groups are included in a broader area-studies model making use of cultural, historical, political and socio-economic approaches. Most importantly, perhaps is the use of older European divisions into western, central, eastern, south-eastern, southern and northern Europe, based on the work of Central European historians and cultural and literary scholars such as Istvan Bibo, Jenö Szücs, Györg Konrad and others. Since 1989 there has been a new urgency to debates about who ‘belongs’ to Europe and who doesn’t. These questions have arisen with reference to the eastern bloc nations, to parts of ex-Yugoslavia, to the Greek-Turkish, Albanian and Macedonian conflicts. These debates are not only about membership of a wealthy club: they are also about broad regional similarities and differences.

Thesis 2

European Studies reflects the dominance of English as the "Global Language"

Increasingly, academic research is being carried out in English using English sources. Levels of competency in languages other than English (LOTE) are dropping in the English-speaking world. This trend will continue with English set to become the "global language" (David Crystal) for the next century. Larger amounts of information will be available in English; however much will be lost from view simply by not being available in English. This will lead to marginalization and peripheralization of those areas which are not able to support the large-scale ‘importation’ of English or which are less easily translated from one language into another (especially literature and cultural material).

In Australia we are now in the situation where students are undertaking postgraduate work relying on information in translation, and on translated texts. Moreover these students are often unaware of the linguistic status of these texts. Humanities departments in Australia, America, the UK and elsewhere, particularly if they have adopted deconstructive philosophies for interpretation of texts, are very often ignorant, or even contemptuous, of the linguistic and philological particularities of texts. These developments are indicative of the tendency toward the use of English even in academic areas hitherto reserved for language specialists throughout the English-speaking world. When a translation is accorded the same status as an original text, as is happening in English departments throughout North America and the English-speaking world, then there has been a major paradigm change in the role of English as a world language.

Thesis 3

European Studies challenges Eurocentric attitudes and facilitates the comparison and critique of national canons .

The European Studies model has brought a new openness to multicultural and intercultural perspectives in European research. In traditional ‘language and literature’ departments the study of literary texts was paired with achieving a high degree of linguistic competence, ideally to the point where academic work was written in the target language. Expertise in the target language entitled the ‘outsider’ to participate in the nationally-defined discourse of literature, literary criticism and culture of that language group (or of certain sections of that language group). However this participation was always on the basis of the outsider having internalized the language, norms and values of the target group. The traditional model did not encourage questioning of the canon, the value-systems on which it is built or the assumptions of normative interpreters of that canon.

Research under the European Studies rubric is carried out from a more independent and critical perspective than the earlier types of literary and cultural studies in particular. The foreign ‘Germanist,’ for example does not necessarily operate along the patterns established by the sanctioned schools of Germanistik of Germany. Austrian, Swiss and other perspectives are viewed within a pluricentric environment of German-speaking central Europe, and the national assumptions underlying the creation of the German literary canon are questioned from external points of view. In the European Studies model an intercultural and multicultural perspective is becoming the norm.

Adoption of the European Studies model has led to a diversification of the canon for literary, historical and other areas of study. Nationally privileged models have given way to broader multicultural, intercultural and comparative models, albeit often using English as the medium of comparison of cultures. This new model has entailed a loss of standard of the high levels of language proficiency achieved in traditional ‘language and literature’ approaches. But at the same time it has allowed a more critical and wide-ranging approach than was the case in traditional departments of European languages, where research by non-nationals tended to be determined by the host language group and where national models were paramount.

Thesis 4

European Studies reflects changes in global understanding which can be described in terms of Samuel Huntington’s thesis of the "Clash of Civilisations" (i.e. that cultural rather than political differences will be the basis of future global relationships).

The establishment of European Studies in Australia and elsewhere reflects a global change, recently and controversially expressed by the American political scientists, Francis Fukuyama ("the end of history"), and Samuel P. Huntington ("the clash of civilisations"). At the end of the post-war period, after the primarily political conflicts of the era of national identities, culminating in the dissolution of the American/Soviet cold war, a new model of global interrelationships has been suggested based on broad cultural lines. Culture, for Huntington, has become more important than political or economic forces and has taken over the role that political ideology played during the Cold War.

In humanities research on Europe, the national model has likewise begun to yield to a model in which broader questions of long-term cultures and overarching cultural systems are playing an increasingly important role. Cultural studies, with a broad synchronic emphasis, has supplanted the individual disciplines of national literatures and histories as the dominant organisational structure for the study of Europe. Since 1989 there has been a renewed interest in the concept of Europe and in the continuity of European civilisation as an entity over and above the nations which it comprises.(3)

Thesis 5

The adoption of the European Studies model corresponds to internal concerns about the nature of Australian identity.

For Samuel Huntington, Australia is a traditionally western country on the periphery of several cultural regions, trying to join its most powerful geo-political regional neighbour, Asia. Perched between Asia and the Pacific regions, bordering on the Indian Ocean region, socially and culturally predominantly European, Australia is engaged in an ongoing debate about what its identity really is and where it really belongs.

Viewed in this light, the dramatic re-emergence of Europe in 1989 coincides with important debates about Australian national and cultural identity. Australia had been undergoing a process of political and cultural realignment since the early 1970s, when a new cultural orientation towards the USA and a geo-political orientation towards South-East Asia began to manifest themselves. This process came to a head in 1989. A critical awareness of the problems of Australian national identity resulted from dissatisfaction with facile and politically opportunist attempts to relocate Australia in Asia. And the second generation recognized that their parents, the post-war migrants and refugees whose roots lay in Europe, were passing away. These and other factors contributed to a new awareness of the European roots of Australia, which had been neglected and were in danger of being forgotten.

The nineties have witnessed a wave of semi-historical, biographical and memoir literature dealing with the recovery of the European past of migrants and their families after a period of establishment, assimilation and acculturation as Australians. This wave of discovery/rediscovery of roots has a distinctly European flavour: it is not primarily about national identifications, but rather attempts to re-establish a European link which looks both backward and forward. National identification certainly plays an important role in individual histories. But the unifying theme in these works is the re-establishment of a body of beliefs, values, experiences and feelings which are broadly European and thus link whole groups in the Australian community to a sense of the past and the present. The experiences of refugee Jews is central to this literature, but is not exclusive. It often takes the form of children researching the withheld history of their parents and families.(4) The process of discovery of the parents’ ‘roots’ parallels their children’s discovery of their own identity as adults. This phenomenon also was expressed in the recent multiculturalism debate, in which earlier, rather naive policies of cultural maintenance were subjected to profound scrutiny in terms of the formation of an Australian identity. At its worst it has degenerated into the demand for a simple, single ‘Australian’ identity voiced by the controversial Member for Oxley, Pauline Hanson, for whom Asians, Aboriginal Australians and anyone maintaining a dual identity are equally unwelcome. But at its best this debate engendered a sense of and pride in the cultural diversity of Australian life as the product of the mixing of a large number of predominantly European cultures into a new and tolerant polity.

The European Studies model, with its emphasis on cultural and value-systems, has facilitated a level of discussion of questions of Australian identity which simply did not exist within traditional models of European language and literature study.

© Peter Morgan (Perth)

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(1) Joseph Lo Bianco, National Policy on Languages, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1987; cf. also Department of Employment, Education and training, The Language of Australia: Discussion Paper on an Australian Literacy and Language Policy for the 1990s, 2 vols., Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1990.

(2) Geoffrey Blainey, "Reports of the death of our European links are an exaggeration," The Australian Newspaper, Thursday September 11, 1997, p. 13.

(3) Consider the current popularity of publications on Europe, for example, Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World View (London: Pimlico, 1991), John Merriman’s A History of Modern Europe from the Renaissance to the Present (New York: Norton, 1996) and in particular Norman Davies’ magnum opus, Europe: A History (Oxford: OUP, 1996).

(4) Cf. for example, Susan Varga, Heddy and Me (London: Penguin, 1994), Mark Raphael Baker, The Fiftieth Gate (London:Fontana, 1997), Helen Demidenko/Darville, The Hand that Signed the Paper (St.Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1994), Fotini Epanomitis, The Mule’s Foal (St.Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1993), Andrew Riemer, The Habsburg Cafe (Pymble, NSW: Angus and Robinson, 1993), Peter Skrzynecki, The Cry of the Goldfinch (Moorebank, NSW: Anchor, 1996).

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