UNSW Canberra continues Defence’s literary tradition

| 19 Sep 2018

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Since the first appointment of a Professor of English to the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1913, literary studies have formed a key part of the scholarly training offered to trainee officers in the Australian Defence Force.

That tradition continues at UNSW Canberra, where literary studies are promoted through our humanities degrees and aided by the Academy Library’s Special Collections, which are home to more than 13,500 rare books and manuscripts.

Humanities Professor Nicole Moore says there is a lot that students, including trainee officers, have to gain from literary studies.

“Officers in our defence forces need intellectual curiosity about the world’s cultures and empathy across many forms of difference,” Professor Moore says.

“Literature is one of the best means we have to teach those qualities. At the same time, our officers need to understand their own culture – here we have long had a strong specialism in Australian literature, in all its diversity – so they can stand up for what they’re asked to defend.”

The University’s three-year partnership with the ACT Writers Centre, funded by the Copyright Agency, brings a high-profile writer to UNSW Canberra each year.

This year, Jane Glesson-White has been selected for the residency. As well as working on research for her upcoming book, Burnt Angels, she will deliver a public lecture and teach first and second year classes.

“I’m teaching in Dr Heather Neilson’s classes on classic literary texts, a subject close to my heart, Dr Gleeson-White says.

“I’ve written two books and blogged about classics. I’m fascinated by their continuing relevance and the way they live on in film adaptations, song lyrics, other books.

“So I’ll be talking about that, and perhaps also about the surprising way other books keep popping into my head as I set out on this new project, as if helping me to understand this chunk of clay I’m beginning to unearth.”

Professor Moore says Dr Gleeson-White will be an asset for the undergraduate students.

“Jane’s skills in synthesising information into prose that grabs readers, that we all find engrossing, are the kinds of skills all students need for our contemporary world, not just in the ADF,” Professor Moore says.

They have to be DIY information processers wherever they go, and to be able to communicate complex ideas in a way that makes a difference. That is what we want them to take away from our time with us – and Jane’s classes will shortcut some of that learning in a fantastically appealing way.”

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