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Faculty of Arts guide to MWF21: part one

Melbourne Writers Festival is proud to partner with the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. In an expert guide to the MWF21 program, academics from the faculty have put together their top picks to inspire research, discussion and debate.


Reverend Professor Russell Goulbourne

Dean of the Faculty of Arts

I’m really looking forward to Michael Williams’s interview with Marilynne Robinson. I feel as if her extraordinary Gilead quartet has somehow accompanied me through my 30s and 40s and helped me as I’ve thought about purpose, values, and vocation. In particular, I keep turning back to the first of the series and to the wisdom of the Reverend John Ames, who observes: ‘One great benefit of a religious vocation is that it helps you concentrate. It gives you a good basic sense of what is being asked of you and also what you might as well ignore.’ Whether you have a religious vocation or not, we’ve got an opportunity now, as we reach for a post-COVID normal, to reflect on what we do next and what we choose not to do—and Robinson’s work can only deepen our ability to reflect well.

One of the fantastic things about being Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne is that we have a great number of hugely talented alumni—and, better still, I get to meet some of them! I’m really looking forward to once again being in the company of Arnold Zable, who was recently given the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement. Zable’s work illustrates beautifully the capacity of literature to extend sympathies and enrich one’s sense of self—and overhearing the conversation between him and Michael McGirr will, I know, be a great privilege.

As a relative newcomer to Australia—I moved here from the UK at the beginning of 2019—I’m still trying to understand the obstacles that stand in the way of guaranteeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the freedom to control and manage their own lives. So I’m very much looking forward to Australia and the End of Empire and the analysis of the ongoing legacy of colonialism in the conversation between Veronica Heritage-Gorrie and Randa Abdel-Fattah at, who are both well known for their searing insights into the contemporary banalization of injustice and violence.


Professor Margaret Cameron

Head of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies

The School of Historical and Philosophical Studies is excited by so many of the upcoming presentations at Melbourne Writers Festival that it was hard to pick just a few! Philosophers, especially Philosophers of Science, are enticed by the talk by Clem Bastow, Jamie Marina Lau and Sam van Zenden, Reading the Mind. These three acclaimed authors will discuss topics that are key to our well-being, looking at the relationship between writing and mental health.

Another treat for the philosophically minded will be AC Grayling’s The Frontier of Knowledge, based on his new book of the same name. Urging greater interdisciplinary interconnectivity, Grayling will make the case for better systems of knowledge and information-gathering inside and outside the university.

There is plenty to choose from if you are interested in First Nations history, literature, and political thought. But you will do well to tune into Facing the Legacy of Colonialism with Claire G Coleman, Alison Croggon and Roj Amedi. Historians and conservators will be especially keen to hear their panel discussion about how we can use collections—from archives, libraries, museums and private owners—to better understand how we are and continue to be connected to Australia’s colonial past.

Pairing this presentation with Bruce Pascoe and Tom Griffiths’ discussion about their recent and celebrated writings, Dark Emu and The Art of Time Travel, would be a great idea. They too will take up the important historical and philosophical issues surrounding collections and conservation, issues which lie at the heart of the humanities.


The Reverend Professor Russell Goulbourne is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and a noted French literature scholar. He was previously Professor of French Literature at King’s College London, where he also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities from 2014 to 2018. Professor Goulbourne has published and taught extensively on major figures in French intellectual culture of the 17th and 18th centuries including Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau. His research interests include the history of the book and textual editing, and reception of classical antiquity in early modern France.

Professor Margaret Cameron is Head of School of Historical and Philosophical Studies and a member of the Philosophy discipline. At the University of Victoria, Canada, she held the position of Canada Research Council Chair in the Aristotelian tradition from 2008-2018. Her primary areas of research expertise are in the history of philosophy, especially the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods.


Image: Marilynne Robinson by Alec Soth