Kirsten McKenzie Lecture

4 October 2018
Fox Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, UWA
General Public, Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni

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Tom Raw, the Griffin: a burlesque poem, in twelve cantos.

[Charles D’Oyly] Tom Raw, the Griffin: a burlesque poem, in twelve cantos.  (London: R. Ackermann, 1828)

A Scandalous Empire

The 2018 Fred Alexander Lecture by Kirsten McKenzie, Professor of History, University of Sydney.

A serial imposter swindles his way through the colony of New South Wales claiming to be a British lord. An activist lawyer is lauded for exposing illegal slave dealing – until he is revealed as an escaped convict in disguise. The mysterious pregnancy of an unmarried young woman transforms into a debate about colonial constitutions. The official commissions of enquiry sent out to investigate the British empire in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars never dismissed such stories as unimportant local gossip. Scandals, they knew well, were part of the mesh of people, power and information that bound the empire together. Can historians use them in the same way?

In this lecture Professor Kirsten McKenzie reflects on two decades of her own investigations into empire. In so doing, she considers the role that seemingly marginal characters, and ostensibly trivial disputes, might play in much larger forces of social change. Just as scandals today tell us about the world we live in, so the often-forgotten scandals of colonial societies can reveal the texture and drama of their past. 

Kirsten McKenzie is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Sydney, where she has been based since 2002. As a Rhodes Scholar from Cape Town, South Africa, she completed her D.Phil at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1997. She is the author of Scandal in the Colonies: Sydney and Cape Town, 1820 – 1850 (Melbourne University Publishing, 2004), A Swindler’s Progress: Nobles and Convicts in the Age of Liberty (University of New South Wales Press and Harvard University Press, 2009/2010) and Imperial Underworld: An Escaped Convict and the Transformation of the British Colonial Order (Cambridge University Press, 2016). She was awarded the Crawford Medal by the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2004. A Swindler’s Progress was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, 2011 and the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2010.

Professor McKenzie is the 2018 UWA Fred Alexander Fellow.

The Fred Alexander Fellowship is dedicated to the memory of Professor Fred Alexander (1899-1996), the founding Head of the History Discipline (then Department) at The University of Western Australia.