Carolyn Holbrook

Staff member

Carolyn writes about Australian cultural, political, and policy history—and has a particular enthusiasm for the ways that history can inform and improve contemporary society. Carolyn is an ARC DECRA fellow, and is currently researching a history of how Australians have regarded their federation since 1901. Previously, she has written about how we remember the First World War in Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography (New South, 2014) and The Great War: Aftermath and Commemoration (UNSW Press, 2019), the latter edited with Keir Reeves. With James Walter, Carolyn is writing a history of political decision-making in Australia, and with colleagues at Deakin and Warwick University she is researching the history of public health care, including Medicare, in Australia. Outside work, Carolyn enjoys cooking, pottering in the veggie patch, cycling (both outdoors and on the indoor trainer), and wheat beer.

  • Research

    Australian federalism has been little studied by historians, though it affects all our lives, as COVID-related issues such as aged care governance and border closures underline. Carolyn’s earlier work on Gallipoli and the Anzac legend—the vaunted ‘birth of the nation’—led her to wonder why Australians are so uninspired by our actual nation-making moment, the federation of the colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In tracing the history of attitudes to the federation since 1901, Carolyn is thinking about what our lack of affection for our civic institutions means for us as a nation. One of her early case studies is the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1919, during which relations between the Commonwealth and the states became extremely fraught. Carolyn’s research will examine other events and themes including the Western Australian secession movement of the early 1930s and the tension between state and Commonwealth powers in areas such as foreign affairs and social and environmental policy.

    Another research project Carolyn is working on addresses the apparent inability of our political system to solve the great problems of our age, such as climate change and housing affordability. Her forthcoming book, Across the Great Divide: Politics, Policy and Community, co-authored with Professor James Walter from Monash University, looks at four case studies: refugee policy; housing policy; employment services; and Indigenous policy. By examining the history of political decision-making in the decades since the Second World War, Carolyn and James hope to increase understanding of why policy reform has become so difficult.

    Carolyn also is developing an inter-disciplinary and comparative project about the history of public health care in Australia. The ways that societies frame the concept of ‘public health’ and the resources they dedicate to improving it reveal a great deal about them. Over the course of its history, Australia has viewed public health through lenses that include race, colonialism, social justice, and economic growth. Using perspectives from the USA, UK, and Germany, this project will trace the history of how Australians have conceived ‘public health’ and reach conclusions about our deep structures of economic and social power.

  • Selected publications

    • 2020. Carolyn Holbrook, ‘Gendered Perspectives on War and Nationhood: The Prism of Anzac’, in Marian Sawer, Fiona Jenkins, and Karen Downing (eds), How Gender Can Transform the Social Sciences: Innovation and Impact, Palgrave, London, 87-94.
    • 2019. Carolyn Holbrook and Keir Reeves (eds), The Great War: Aftermath and Commemoration, UNSW Press, Sydney.
    • 2019. ‘Redesigning Collaborative Governance for Refugee Settlement Services’, Journal of Australian Political Science, vol. 55, no. 1, 86-97.
    • 2018. Carolyn Holbrook and James Walter, ‘Policy Narratives in Historical Transition: A Case Study in Contemporary History’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 49, no. 2, 221-36.
    • 2017. Carolyn Holbrook, “‘What Sort of Nation?”: A Cultural History of Australians and their Federation’, History Compass, vol. 15, no. 11.
    • 2016. Carolyn Holbrook, ‘The Transformation of Labor Party Immigration Policy, 1901–1945’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 40, no. 4, 403-17.
    • 2016. Carolyn Holbrook, ‘The Collaboration of Intellectuals and Politicians in the Post-war Reconstruction: A Reassessment’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 47, no. 2, 278-94.
    • 2015. Carolyn Holbrook and James Walter, ‘Housing in a Federation: From Wicked Problem to Policy Cascade’, Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 74, no. 4, 448–66.
    • Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography, NewSouth, Sydney, 2014.
    • ‘The Role of Nationalism in Australian War Literature of the 1930s’, First World War Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 2014, pp. 213–31.
    • ‘Marxism for Beginner Nations: Radical Nationalist Historians and the Great War’, Labour History, no. 103, 2012, pp. 123-44.
  • Teaching

    Carolyn has taught a range of history subjects including controversies in Australian history, conflict and memory in modern Asia, and the ‘history wars’.

  • Supervision

    Carolyn is especially interested in supervising in these areas:

    • Australian cultural, political, and policy history: for example, federation, federalism, the First World War and its aftermath, immigration, employment, Indigenous and housing policy history, the history of the Australian public service, and national security policy
    • memory of war, conflict, and commemoration
    • the history of public health

    Current PhD supervisions

    • Anna Kent: In the Shadow of the Colombo Plan: Australian Government Scholarships to the Pacific 1948 – 2018
    • Lisa Cooper: Australian War Graves and the Pacific war
    • Jeff Hole: Microeconomic Reform in Australia through a Contemporary Lens
  • Awards, fellowships, and honours

    • 2020-21. Lead investigator, ‘The History of Public Health in Australia: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’, Science and Society Network, Seed Funding Grant, Deakin University.
    • 2017-. Director, Australian Policy and History.
    • 2016-. Editorial Committee, Journal of Australian Studies.
    • 2019-22. Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Award (ARC DECRA), ‘Australians and their Federation’.
    • 2017-19. Alfred Deakin Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, ‘A Cultural History of the Australian Federation’.
    • 2015. Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for History. Winner for Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography.
    • 2015. New South Wales Premier’s History Award, First World War History category. Joint winner for Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography.
    • 2015. Shortlisted for the CHASS Australia Prize for a Book for Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography.
    • 2015. Shortlisted for the Asher Literary Award for Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography.
    • 2013-14. Winner of the Australian Historical Association’s Serle Award for best PhD thesis in Australian history for The Great War in the Australian Imagination Since 1915.
    • 2012. Winner of the Dennis-Wettenhall Prize for the best PhD thesis in Australian history, University of Melbourne, for The Great War in the Australian Imagination Since 1915.
    • 2013. Winner of the Gollan Prize for Australian Labour History for ‘Marxism for Beginner Nations: Radical Nationalist Historians and the Great War’, Labour History, no. 103, Nov. 2012, 123-144.
  • Media and public events

    Carolyn can be found on Twitter @sigmundmarx

    Some media interviews and public talks include:

    • Invited Public Lecture, ‘The Unsentimental Nation? Early Commemoration of the Australian Commonwealth’, College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU, Canberra, 5 February 2020.
    • Invited Panel Member, ‘An International Consortium of History and Policy’, American Historical Association Conference, New York, 4 February 2020.
    • Keynote Lecture, ‘Alfred Deakin and the Living, Breathing Federation’, Deakin Vice-Chancellor’s Alfred Deakin Centenary Soiree, Deakin University, Melbourne, 28 October 2019.
    • Co-host with Rafael Epstein of ABC Melbourne Dawn Service, 25 April 2016-18.
    • Invited Speaker, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Sydney, ‘Historical Obsessions’, 19 May 2016.
    • Invited Public Lecture, ‘The Anzac Legend and the Decline of Radical Nationalism’, Russel Ward Lecture, Armidale, 10 September 2015.
    • Panel Appearance, Q&A, ABC TV, 27 April 2015.
    • ‘Anzac Commemoration’, ABC Radio National Breakfast, 24 April 2015.
    • ‘Brandzac Day’, 730, ABC TV, 15 April 2015.
    • Invited Speaker, ‘War, Then and Now’, with Hon. Melissa Clarke MP, ‘Peace Concert’, Medical Association for the Prevention of War, Perth, 8 March 2015.

Australian Policy
 and History

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