Making Historical Sense of Student Life: Some Possibilities

Alan Atkinson

Abstract


The period spent as a university student is a vital stage or turning point within individual lives. Of particular interest for this paper is the way students themselves have watched their own habits of thought change during university years. I am also concerned with in the connection between shared thought and shared feeling – the way learning is interwoven with a sense of clearly limited community. Examining these things from an historical perspective (rather than, say, a sociological one) presents difficulties as well as advantages. Diaries and memoirs are the main sources for uncovering the view “from within”. I look in particular at a small number of Australians who were students between the 1880s and the late twentieth century and who have left some record of their own transformation, from John Monash to Alice Garner – all of them at either Melbourne or Sydney universities. The case of Gough Whitlam, at this university during 1935-41, shows up some of the issues especially well.