This Global Seminar in summer 2019 in Sydney, Australia offers two UCSD courses: MMW14 World History (18th – 20th century) and ENVR142 Wilderness & Human Values Abroad. These courses provide a symbiotic historical and cultural exploration for which Sydney provides an ideal location. Australia has both ancient and modern historical roots, with an indigenous presence that stretches back more than 50,000 years and a colonial presence that emerged only in the 18th century through the scientific journeys of Captain James Cook and the establishment of Australia as a British Colony.
The world history course situates Australia in a global context beginning with the continent’s coastal exploration by Captain Cook in 1770 and its establishment as a
British Colony shortly thereafter. British settlement began on January 26 (celebrated today as “Australia Day”) 1788, with the arrival in Sydney harbor of some 11 vessels carrying persons convicted of criminal acts (generally larceny) and typically sentenced to seven years, sometimes 14. The loss of the American colonies after the American Revolution compelled Britain to find a new destination for such purposes and New South Wales (Australia) was chosen. Approximately 160,000 convicted individuals arrived in Australia between 1788 and 1868.
One of those transported was the father of Ned Kelly (1854-1880), the man who became Australia’s most renowned outlaw, folk hero, and subject of legends, stories, and movies, including the first full-length feature film in 1906, The Story of the Kelly Gang, and the 2003 movie Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger.
As an addendum, the island of Tasmania was developed as a place of punishment for those sentenced in Australia itself. It was from there that a remarkable incident occurred in 1834, when Australian prisoners hijacked a ship, the Frederick, and sailed it all the way to Chile! There, they lived free for two years, before their recapture and return.
Australia experienced a dramatic increase in immigration in the 1850s, due to the discovery of gold, similar to the effect that the discovery had on California around the same time. This accelerated the region’s global connections and the growth of Australia’s non-indigenous population,
which was devastating to its indigenous inhabitants.
Bolstered by economic growth and the Gold Rush of the 1850s, Australia’s immigrant population exceeded 1.6 million by 1870 and 3.7 million by 1901, and is more than 24 million today. The population of Australia was overwhelmingly of British or Irish descent by the time of federation, and has since become slightly more diversified, notably after post-World War II immigration. The latter is reflected in the popular Australian film They’re a Weird Mob (1966). Such changes have also provoked a racial backlash, as violently presented in the 1992 Russell Crowe film, Romper Stomper. Today, most of the population still draws its ancestry back to Europe, with approximately 10% now from China and India, which exceeds the indigenous population which is around 3% (approximately 800,000 people).
MMW14 addresses such major topics as imperial and economic inter-connections; scientific discovery, and it is noteworthy that Charles Darwin’s Beagle stopped on the continent on its homeward journey (and the scientist is the namesake of the most populous city on Australia’s northern coast); the environment, including human-influenced change, from the impact of invasive species to industrial and agricultural activity; disease, from the virus that devastated the Aboriginal population at the start of the course to the global influenza epidemic at the end; technological innovation, like steam ships that vastly increased the speed of ocean voyages with refrigerated cargo holds that made Australian meat available to English dinner tables by the turn of the century; issues of race and identity, particularly European-Aboriginal interactions; and finally, matters of labor and migration.
The continent’s federation in 1901 marked the colony’s transformation into a sovereign nation, though retaining close ties to Britain. Yet, in some ways, Australia charted a bolder course, impacted by European liberal principles, as in its recognition that women should have the right to vote (1902), before any European nation, including England, legislated this right. In other ways, the imperial legacy remained a guiding principle.
And so, Australia’s soldiers participated in the First World War in the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) forces. Their renowned actions in the Gallipoli campaign in the Ottoman Empire, half a world away, is commemorated each year as a national holiday (April 25) and was the inspiration for the 1981 film, Gallipoli. After the First World War, at the conclusion of the course, Australia became a member of the League of Nations and in the following decades, its political orientation increasingly shifted away from Britain and toward the United States, which had other cultural and economic implications.
The second course is ENVR142 Wilderness and Human Values Abroad which explores historical and cultural perspectives on the human relationship with the natural world, from prehistory to the present. The course investigates how humans have interacted with the natural world and how this interaction has been influenced by such factors as class, race, and gender. The course considers the cultural, political, and economic ramifications of this interaction and even explores ideas about the future of wilderness. Australia is an ideal place to explore this topic, from the perspectives on the natural environment of Australia’s indigenous inhabitants, the Aborigines, to the creation of Royal National Park, near Sydney, Australia’s first National Park, on April 26, 1879, just a few years after the American preservation movement established the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872. Today, Australia has more than 500 such parks, with a higher percentage of protected land than the United States. Australian national identity is deeply intertwined with its relationship with the “Bush” and, further still, the
“Outback.” This inter-relationship is depicted in the popular Australian film, The Man from Snowy River (1982), based on a story by Australian author ‘Banjo’ Paterson in 1890. The topic is also at the core of the even more popular film, Crocodile Dundee (1986), and
the cult classic, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), which became a musical a decade later, and in the more recent Tracks (2013), based on the 1980 memoir by Robyn Davidson, who trekked 1,700 miles through the Australian deserts to the coast, with four
camels and a dog. This Australian relationship with the “Bush” and “Outback” can be compared with that of the American relationship with “Wilderness” over the same period. Such a relationship must be explored with a deep consideration of issues of race, gender, and equity/inequity. The course examines urgent and complicated environmental challenges, including climate change (and its disastrous impact on the Great Barrier Reef), fossil fuels and the economy, deforestation and desertification, agriculture and the problem of water, and Aboriginal perspectives and rights. In light of the latter, Australia has declared a new holiday, Reconciliation Day, which is celebrated on a Monday in late May (May 28, 2018; May 27, 2019) or early June (June 1, 2020) in Canberra, and marks the beginning of a week-long, nation-wide celebration of indigenous history and culture.
Excursions: These directly connect with the program’s historical, cultural, and environmental themes. Proposed excursions include:
- The Arts
- Neighborhood Walks
- Natural Sites
- Meetings with Australian agencies on environmental, human rights, and educational issues.
- Kenneth Morgan. Australia. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP, 2012.
- Joelle Gergis. Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne UP, 2018.
- Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country. New York: Broadway Books, 2000. A lively and entertaining geographical, historical, and cultural exploration of Australia from an outsider’s perspective.
- Robert B. Marks. The Origins of the Modern World. A Global and Environmental Narrative from the 15th to the 21st Century. 3rd Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
- Digital Course Reader: Available on TritonEd. Selections from:
- Donald Hughes. An Environmental History of the World. Humankind’s Changing Role in the Community of Life. 2nd NY: Routledge, 2009.
- Robyn Davidson. A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
- Patrick White. Voss. A stirring novel by Australia’s most celebrated, Nobel-prize winning author. The story was inspired by the doomed exploration of the Australian Outback by 19th century Prussian explorer, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt (d. 1848).
- Henry Lawson (d. 1922). Poems and Short Stories. One of the most famous poets and storytellers of the Australian Bush.
- Tim Flannery. The Birth of Sydney. New York: Grove Press, 1999.
- Tim Flannery. The Future Eaters. An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People. New York: Grove Press, 1994.
- David Igler. The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush. Oxford UP, 2013.
- Matt Mattsuda. Pacific Worlds: A History of Seas, Peoples, and Cultures. Cambridge UP, 2012.