Reflections – Deakin University event ‘De-familiarising the Ordinary’

On 17 July 2015, the Deakin University Faculty of Arts and Education and the Contemporary Histories Research Group presented ‘De-familiarising the Ordinary’ with Professor Jim Cullen, Dr Kat Ellinghaus and Dr Glenn Moore. 

A large and enthusiastic audience braved Melbourne’s winter weather to attend the recent Friday evening seminar hosted by Dr. Cassandra Atherton at Melbourne City Centre. The seminar’s theme was ‘De-familiarising the Ordinary’, with the keynote address delivered by current Deakin thinker-in-residence Professor Jim Cullen. Jim suggested that the peace and prosperity Americans came to accept as ordinary after the Second World War—‘a vision encapsulated most vividly in the postwar version of the American Dream’—is now fraying. He proposed that rather than clinging on to this increasingly unsustainable vision, Americans must now rethink what they mean by the good life and devise a new American Dream.

Dr. Kat Ellinghaus and Dr. Glenn Moore also delivered papers. Drawing on her research into the Osage people, Kat argued that the familiar grand narrative of loss used to describe the Native American experience needs to be revised to include ‘countless individual stories of negotiation, resistance and financial survival’. The audience was fascinated here by the story of an Osage named Maria Tallchief, who became prima ballerina at the New York City Ballet Company in 1947, when Native Americans were very much second-class citizens. Glenn focused on the use of experiential learning to teach American history to Australian students. With fourteen years experience coordinating Melbourne University study tours, Glenn admitted that students find being taken out of the classroom difficult, confronting and confusing. However, he argued that this is the point of experiential learning, and the students end up with a more complicated, nuanced understanding of American history.

The success of the evening was in large part due to the audience. Numbers were healthy, with Deakin University students being joined by past and present students from Melbourne University and Monash University, and an Australian Catholic University Ph.D. candidate flying from Sydney for the event! The energy and cross-pollination of ideas created by this mix was impressive, and highlighted the potential of tapping into alumni networks when organising future seminars.

– Cassandra Atherton



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