Monday, 1 June 2015

Public Scholarship at La Trobe University (Chris Mackie)

Professor Chris Mackie conducting research on the archaeology
and history of the Gallipoli battlefield.

[Photo by Simon Harrington]
In March 2015, I was appointed as the inaugural Professor of Public Scholarship at La Trobe University.

This is a half-time role with a University-wide remit. Its purpose is to increase the dissemination of La Trobe’s academic knowledge and expertise into the wider community. It's intended to enhance our teaching and research – to give it a different dimension.

We certainly don’t want public scholarship to be just another thing to do for academic staff.

Projects that I have underway include reviewing the University’s public lecture program, and developing strategies around incentives for staff to be in the public space in addition to their many other tasks.

I'm particularly keen to assist staff and graduate researchers in creating a public dimension for their research.


There are many benefits in having a public profile - for the individual, the academic discipline, and the institution. Many staff see it as a way of giving back to the community, and others see it as a good career move (a good sign for an employer).

Most people are doing good research, so why not have it out there? In addition to researcher benefits, there are various reputational benefits for universities in having staff engaged outside of the institution itself. The title of a recent paper that I read summarises this very well: ‘Outing the invisible academic: how researchers can get the hearing they deserve’.

I have had a long-standing interest in this aspect of academic life.

I am a Classicist by training (i.e. ancient Greece and Rome), and I realised very early on in my career that the survival of this area in the university curriculum depended very much on our engagement with the broader community (and I include the university community in that).

Classics is perceived by many people as a niche, arcane kind of area, and so La Trobe academics in this field needed to be pro-active in letting people know how rich it is as a vein of study. In the new area of Ancient Mediterranean Studies, my colleagues Rhiannon Evans, Gillian Shepherd, Sarah Midford, and I set out a series of strategies: to be in the high schools, public lecture spaces, and on La Trobe iTunes U. As far as the last of these is concerned, we have been extremely successful, with millions of listeners from around the world tuning into our podcasts. Other parts of the University have also seen some striking success on iTunes U, including Health Sciences, History, Physics, Journalism, and others.

As I talk with people around the University, I am struck by how active La Trobe is and how much good stuff is being done. Indeed, La Trobe has a great tradition of public scholarship.

You see the quality of what we do from the published pieces in The Conversation and other media outlets, on iTunes U, through public lectures, and various other initiatives and partnerships, particularly in the regions.

Having said that, however, I am conscious that we can do more – and do better – in some of our activities, and my job is to bring that about.

As a starting point, the RED team and I have organised a 2-hour ‘Writing for The Conversation session' on WEDNESDAY 17 June, 1-3pm at the John Scott Meeting House chamber. This event covers how to build a media presence and public profile, identify and access the right audience of your research, and communicate your research with a wider audience. Register for it now (please note that that it will be videoconferenced to Albury-Wodonga, Bendigo, Mildura, and Shepparton).

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Professor Chris Mackie studied Latin and Ancient Greek at the University of Newcastle (NSW, Australia), then wrote his PhD at the University of Glasgow (Scotland, UK) on the Roman poem the Aeneid by Vergil. 

He has written and edited numerous books and articles on Roman and Greek topics, especially on the epic poems of Vergil and Homer, and also more broadly on Greek mythology. Much of his research focuses on the Trojan war, as told by the Greek and Roman sources, and the way that this has had an impact on the later European tradition of war narratives. 

More recently, he has developed interests in the Gallipoli region of western Turkey, and is currently on a three-nation team (Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey) doing a historical and archaeological survey of the Anzac battlefield. 

Professor Mackie joined La Trobe University in 2010 after 24 years at the University of Melbourne. He is currently Professor of Public Scholarship and of Mediterranean Studies.

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