Our Research

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences carries on this proud tradition through our commitment to rigorous research and innovative teaching across the breadth of the humanities and social sciences. This vision guides the daily work of the five schools, forty-eight departments, almost 10,000 students (including over 500 PhD candidates) and more than 400 academic staff that make up the faculty.

Established in 1852, our faculty is the founding faculty of the University of Sydney and was the first Faculty of Arts in Australia.

We believe in the inherent value of research in the humanities and social sciences and our research agenda is driven by the pursuit of new knowledge that will be of benefit to Australia and the world. We offer one of the most comprehensive programs in the humanities and social sciences in Australia and the Asia Pacific region. Our strength in European, American and Asian studies means we are particularly strong in comparative work, a vital capacity in our highly interconnected world. We are also committed to collaborating with leading institutions around the world.

Our research partners include premier institutions in Europe and North America, the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia. Complementing our research connections with leaders such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Harvard University and the Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences, our students and staff have many opportunities to go on exchange and work with international partners.

Our rich partnerships see students study a broad range of disciplines worldwide, including International studies at Georgetown University, French at the Sorbonne, Hebrew studies in Tel Aviv, medieval studies at King’s College London and contemporary media in Seoul.

As a leading institution for humanities and social sciences research, our faculty continues to attract the foremost thinkers across our diverse disciplines. One indicator of our excellent performance is the recognition we have received from external funding bodies, including the Australian federal government.

In the Federal Government’s most recent (2012) round of Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) funding – the benchmark for assessing university research performance – our faculty achieved truly outstanding results. Our research ranked at the highest possible level (well above world standard) in the broader research fields of: Language, Communication and Culture; History and Archaeology; Philosophy and Religious Studies. Three further discipline groupings were rated at above world standard – Economics, Studies in Human Society, and Studies in Creative Art and Writing. All of our research areas were assessed at world standard or above, demonstrating our research performance as among the best in Australia for the humanities and social sciences.

In 2012 the faculty also continued to excel in the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) highly competitive grant schemes, including notable successes with the postdoctoral ‘Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards’ (DECRAs) and mid- career ‘Future Fellowships’, which are intended to support the nation’s next generation of research leaders. Among our DECRAs are projects ranging from environmental history, democratisation and global media studies, to bank regulation and state formation. Our new and prestigious Future Fellows include: Professor Peter Anstey (Philosophy) for his work on the nature and status of principles in early modern philosophy; Dr Ute Eickelkamp (Anthropology) for her work on cultural resilience in Central Australia; Dr Michele Ford (Indonesian Studies) for her work on trade unionism and trade union aid in Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor-Leste; Dr Baoping Li (Asian Studies/ Archaeology) for his work on Chinese trade and diplomacy in Southeast Asia from the 9th to the 19th century; and Professor Jennifer Milam (Art History and Film Studies) for her work on visual cosmopolitanism, national identity and imperialist ambitions in garden spaces.

Our People

Driving our ongoing success in securing highly competitive grants and fellowships and making major contributions to our disciplines and public debate is the dedication and innovation of our academic staff.

In 2012, the faculty cemented its relationship with Harvard University with the arrival of Professor Pippa Norris, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the John F Kennedy School of Government and now Professor of Government in International Relations at Sydney. Professor Norris began her tenure with the faculty as Director of the ARC-funded Electoral Integrity Project. This ambitious and timely global initiative seeks to monitor and understand the causes of vote-rigging and electoral fraud in order to help address the violent instability these practices can spark. Professor Norris received the inaugural 2011 Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship, which provides $2.6 million in funding over five years to women academics in the humanities and social sciences for their research excellence. Her expertise bolsters the faculty’s already strong reputation in the fields of human rights and democratisation and neatly complements the work of the Department of Government and International Relations more broadly. She joins our other ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor Warwick Anderson (profiled in our last edition), who holds a joint appointment in History and Medicine.

The faculty’s pioneering position in the field of human rights and international development has been boosted by the European Union’s renewed funding pledge of €1.5 million to the Master of Human Rights and Democratisation (Asia Pacific) program. This unique program not only extends our understandings of human rights research across the Asia Pacific region, but also funds up to 30 scholarships each year for students to spend a semester abroad at one of four partner institutions: Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia), Kathmandu School of Law (Nepal), Mahidol University (Thailand) and the University of Colombo (Sri Lanka). The overwhelming success of this program was made possible under the leadership of the inaugural Program Director, Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer, whose own project on democracy and torture in Sri Lanka and Nepal was also awarded €1.5 million in funding by the European Commission in 2011. Moreover, in 2012, the Faculty consolidated its extraordinary expertise in the area of human rights and democratisation with the launch of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, led by Professor John Keane, which brings together our leading researchers and students working across these vital issues. The Institute will provide a focal point for our work on human rights and democratisation, not only in the Asia Pacific, but globally as well.

Two of our philosophers were awarded US$1.5 million from the John Templeton Foundation in 2012 to explore the nature of time under the project, ‘New Agendas for the Study of Time: Connecting the Disciplines’. Led by Professor Huw Price and involving Dr Kristie Miller, this three- year project will foster collaborations between our faculty and colleagues in the Faculty of Science. This exciting project attempts to answer age-old questions over the mysteries of time, elucidated through a philosophical and scientific approach.

Our academics are also forging research pathways into new territory. Professor Iain McCalman (History) was awarded a prestigious A. W. Mellon Foundation Award for the establishment of a ‘Mellon Australian Observatory in Environmental Humanites’. Professor McCalman will lead an innovative research program into how insights from the humanities and social sciences can help address the deep challenges presented by climate change. This project builds on the success of the faculty’s Environmental Humanities Research Group, also coordinated by Professor McCalman, in collaboration with colleagues from Archaeology, English, Gender and Cultural Studies, Government and International Relations, the Macleay Museum and Sociology and Social Policy.