Letter | Save Art History at La Trobe

Patrick McCaughey, former director of the National Gallery of Victoria and the Yale Centre for British Art, has kindly allowed his letter protesting the slashing of art history from La Trobe to the Vice Chancellor of La Trobe university to be published.

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

Some colleagues  have contacted me recently about the possible closing of the art history program at La Trobe University. If this is the case, I write now to urge you to re-consider the matter.

Everybody would recognize that times are tough for Australian universities in general and for the humanities in particular. Having to close down good academic programs and limiting the offerings of the university must be an unpleasant aspect of academic administration. You have my sympathy.

The discipline of  art history in Australia in general is practiced at a particularly high level amongst the humanities. It is no intellectual slum and its graduates find a surprising number of vocational opportunities to put their academic knowledge to good practical use in educational institutions, the art market, journalism and in the ever proliferating  public art museums and galleries across the country. The soundness of Australian art historical scholarship, its originality and its robust connections to museums and galleries and to artists in the field have given it international distinctiveness. It has made a substantial contribution to the wider culture beyond the groves of academe.

Whether it treats of Australian art, both that of indigenous people or that of white settlement, or takes European or Asian topics, Australian art historians work at a level indistinguishable from their counterparts in Britain or the USA. This is all the more remarkable given the distance from cultural sites and sources. Indeed Australian art historians frequently surprise scholars at major institutions overseas with the quality and liveliness of their scholarship.

These generalizations about the discipline can be readily applied to art history at La Trobe since its founding by Professor Peter Tomory four decades ago. I have always regarded the La Trobe art historians as a rather a formidable group with a track record of major publications behind therm. It seems a terrible shame and an intellectual injustice to disband a discipline which has contributed so notably to the reputation of La Trobe University and made such a substantial contribution to Australian artistic and intellectual life. I do hope you will re-consider the issue.

 Yours sincerely,

Patrick McCaughey

Remember to sign the petition protesting the cuts here.

Disclaimer: Lisa Beaven is one of the directors of the Melbourne Art Network and also a lecturer in the Art History department at La Trobe. Her partner David Marshall is also a director of the Melbourne Art Network.

3 comments for “Letter | Save Art History at La Trobe

  1. Judith m. Richards
    July 17, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    During my years of teaching History at La Trobe, I always believed that Art History was a very important area of study, both within its own terms and discipline and also because it provided such significant complementary dimensions to a number of other disciplines. Its disappearance would be a most significant loss to the whole area of Arts and Humanities teaching.

  2. Alec Hyslop
    July 18, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    The action being taken by the Faculty seems to ignore the fact that the need for fewer subjects is a separate issue from the need for fewer majors. In the case of Art History, the savings are miniscule in relation to the financial shortfall, whereas the damage, in public perception, in removing a discipline, and a choice for students, is immense.
    The benefit is so obviously out of proportion to the loss. You do have to wonder at the thinking.

  3. Julie Robarts
    July 20, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    The loss to a university of even one experienced scholar, let alone an entire program, closes down complex webs of future research possibilities for students, resulting in an impoverishment of our nation’s social and cultural life.

    Julie Robarts, PhD Candidate, Italian Studies, University of Melbourne, BA La Trobe (Italian, History), MA (Melb)

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