Academia and the Expansive British Nation


  • Tamson Pietsch


This paper considers the ways in which academic communities forged through international networks led to a version of the nation different to that commonly invoked by both British and Australian post-imperial historians. In July 1912, delegates from all of the degree-granting universities of the British Empire gathered in London and asserted the existence of an academic community defined by shared culture and shared interest; a community whose borders were drawn so as to include the settler societies of the neo-Britains but exclude both Europe and America as well as India, Africa and the dependencies. It was a view of an expansive British nation, what the educationalist and Liberal Imperialist Member of Parliament, R.B. Haldane in 1903 called “the nation in its widest sense”. Yet how much were these grand statements merely Edwardian rhetoric: an idea of “Greater Britain” not reflected in reality? In answering this question, this paper examines academic careers and practices in the years before the Second World War, particularly focusing on physics in Australia. Dr Tamson Pietsch is visiting Sydney University from New College Oxford, where she is Sir Christopher Cox Junior Fellow. She is a South Australian and was a 2003 Rhodes Scholar.