Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington (1992)
Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC): Research and Enterprise at the University of South Australia (UniSA) in Adelaide, where she has been since January 2020, and Adjunct Professor of History at the Australian National University.
Marnie’s link with Merton comes from her DPhil years. An Australian, she grew up in Tasmania, and studied for a Bachelor of Education Honours, majoring in Philosophy and History at the University of Tasmania. She was selected as a Rhodes Scholar in 1992, and was at Merton from 1992 until 1995, serving as President of the Middle Common Room in her second year. Her DPhil thesis, Historical imagination and education, focused on the Oxford philosopher, historian and archaeologist RG Collingwood, whose papers are held in the Bodleian Library.
Several years of lecturing in history, philosophy and education followed, at Oxford, the University of Washington in Seattle, and then back in Australia at Macquarie University in Sydney. She spent many years in academic administration – as Associate Dean of Education at Macquarie, where she oversaw curriculum innovation; as Pro Vice-Chancellor at Monash University in Melbourne; and then seven years in the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic and Professor of History at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. At ANU, she was responsible for introducing a national admissions scheme, which offers places to the top three students in every school in Australia, and worked on major fundraising roles such as the $106 million Tuckwell Scholarships gift and a $260 million redevelopment on campus, known as Kambri.
As a child, Marnie wanted to be a librarian, because she thought that librarians can just read books all day. Perhaps this love of books was at the heart of the radical career move which saw her leave academic administration and return to research in her twin loves of history and philosophy.
Marnie has eight books to her name, from Fifty Key Thinkers on History, published in 2000, to the most recent: Big and Little Histories: Sizing up Ethics in Historiography, which will be released in open access by Routledge in 2021. She is now writing a book called Machine-Made Histories, which explores whether artificial agents can make histories, and editing a book with Daniel Woolf on histories written from ‘the losing side’. ‘Research’ in her new job title is therefore definitely personal as well as at the level of university research strategy. As a philosopher of history, she approaches the subject with the historian’s sense of perspective and the rigour of philosophical training.
And there’s one other lasting connection with Oxford: Marnie is on the scholarships governance committee for the Rhodes Trust – which oversees over 100 scholarships worldwide – and was National Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships in Australia for five years. She was the fifth secretary, and the first woman, to hold the position. She is clearly passionate about education and the opportunities it brings:
"If I had unlimited resources to address any one issue, the thing that would most change the world is everybody having better access to education."
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch as a student, what was your first impression?
I remember thinking that I had travelled from a country with close to 60,000 years of human history, and that I was about to explore a rich new historical landscape. It was very exciting!
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
I remember the privilege of leading the graduate student consultations about the Holywell graduate accommodation development. I now think of it as my first student accommodation project, and I still think about how important access to good, affordable accommodation is for students.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I am a very keen hiker, and in the UK I learned all about ‘rambling’. I had never walked over fields in that way before, and I remember being chased by a cow or two along the way!
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?
Your career, your pathway, your timing. It has taken me decades to feel comfortable about my own pathway. Lots of people give you career advice—through kindness—and that can buffet you about until you find your footing. I have found it now, and I am happy.
Describe Merton in three words.
Preeminent is the one word that sums it up.
Professor Hughes-Warrington gave an online talk, part of our 40 Years Series of lectures, on Wednesday 14 April 2021. Her subject was, 'The Ethics of History'.