2012 Research Grants


The US Studies Centre awarded research grants totalling $100,000 for 16 projects on a wide range of topics in the humanities and social sciences by academics from 10 Australian universities.

The Centre received 55 grant applications with applicants from 21 Australian universities.

Grant recipients will work on their research projects at their home institutions. Timothy Minchin and Michael Ondaatje will be based at the US Studies Centre for a few weeks as Visiting Fellows.

In 2012 grants were awarded to the following researchers:

Andrea Benvenuti and David Martin Jones - A strange watershed: Whitlam and the redefinition of US-American relations (1972-75)

Andrea Benvenuti and Martin JonesConventional wisdom holds that, by severing Australia’s last few remaining imperial ties with Britain and downplaying its strategic alliance with the United States, Gough Whitlam’s Labor government (1972-75) embarked upon a new course in Australian foreign policy—a course premised on a more independent and progressive appraisal of the national interest. However, this depiction of Whitlam as a leader who dexterously navigated the complexities of Australia’s foreign relations, set Canberra’s relations with its major allies on a more mature footing and successfully reoriented Australian foreign policy towards Asia does not seem to stand up to close historical scrutiny. The aim, therefore, of our research project is to take advantage of the wealth of declassified government sources now available to historians and revisit one of the more controversial aspects of Whitlam’s foreign policy—the handling of Australia’s relationship with the United States. In doing so, this research project seeks to explain why US-Australian relations incurred significant tensions during Whitlam years.

Nida Denson and Julie Park - Expanding student success: The effects of financial aid on development and diversity-related outcomes

Nida Denson and Julie ParkNida Denson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at the University of Western Sydney. Julie J. Park is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, College Park.

A plethora of studies examine the role of financial aid in undergraduate education. However, with the exception of a few, the majority of these studies focus on how financial aid affects the outcomes of enrolment, graduation, persistence, and retention. While these outcomes are absolutely critical and worthy of close examination, the need still exists for research that examines how financial aid is potentially related to student success outcomes beyond graduation rates. Their project aims to examine the relationship between institutional-level financial aid and variety of developmental and diversity outcomes.

Chris Dixon - Black Americans and the Pacific War: African-American encounters with the South Pacific, 1941-45

Chris DixonChris Dixon is an Associate Professor of History, and Associate Dean (Research Higher Degrees), in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Queensland. His first books dealt with social reform and African American history during the nineteenth century, and in more recent years he has turned his attention to the social and cultural dimensions of the Pacific and Vietnam Wars. His forthcoming book Hollywood’s South Seas and the Pacific War: Searching for Dorothy Lamour (co-authored with Sean Brawley) is scheduled for publication in August 2012.

In providing the first detailed examination of Black Americans during the Pacific War, his current project will advance our understandings of African-American history, and deepen our understanding of the relationship between the United States’ role as an international power during the twentieth century, and the racial ideologies and practices that continued to characterize American life during the mid-twentieth century. For African Americans who served in the Pacific War, these were pressing issues, not just because questions of “race” were fundamental to the causes and conduct of that conflict, but also because the areas and peoples being fought over were sites of continuing colonial injustices and racial inequalities. After analyzing Black Americans’ preconceptions of South Pacific, the project will examine African Americans’ wartime experiences, exploring the interplay between national identity, a racially segregated military culture, and the possibilities of transnational racial advancement, as Black Americans contemplated their own oppression, and that of the colonized peoples of the Pacific. The project will thus throw new light on issues of racial and national identity in a region of continuing significance to the United States and Australia.

Mirko Guaralda, Gillian Lawson and Evonne Miller - Sense of home, sense of place: A morpho-typological comparative study of Florida and Queensland

Mirko Guaralda, Gillian Lawson and Evonne MillerDr Mirko Guaralda is Lecturer in Architecture at the Queensland University of Technology. His research interests include urban morphology, building typologies and placemaking. He has an interest in colonial urbanism and more generally in regional architecture.

Dr Gillian Lawson is Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at QUT; her research interests include water sensitive landscape design in coastal, river and lake front developments, cross-cultural social interactions in urban spaces, sustainable design and planning in rural/urban neighborhoods.

Dr Evonne Miller is Associate Professor and research leader in the School of Design at QUT. She is an environmental psychologist and she is working on the interrelationships between people, their built, technical and natural environments. Her research focuses on the complex real-world social change challenges facing society today – climate change, sustainability and population ageing.

Florida and South East Queensland both have significant migration rates creating diverse needs for places at a local level. A study of regionalisation of urban identity is needed to predict the behaviour of new migrants and their relationship with urban morphology, local culture and design in the built environment. This research will study how place-making influences the adaptability of communities to change. Findings will clarify the relationship between diverse American and Australian urban cultures in the face of moving from one place to another. Identifying such social patterns will inform strategies to address migration issues in both regions. This research will be conducted within the Centre of Subtropical Design at the Queensland University of Technology.

Michael Halliwell - Words to music: Contemporary American operatic adaptation of seminal American literary works

Michael Halliwell

Associate Professor Michael Halliwell has pursued a dual career as opera singer and scholar in operatic studies.

This project investigates why contemporary American composers over the last 50 years have turned to canonical literary sources for inspiration. It examines the process of adaptation itself through the analysis of operas ranging from Robert Ward’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1961) to Jake Heggie’s version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (2010). It will identify fundamental qualities which can be successfully transposed from literature into opera focusing on the processes and outcomes of contemporary American operatic adaptation. Central is the analysis of the different levels and stages of this creative process culminating in the performance

Bruce Isaacs - Cinematic spectacle: Effects, technology and the American high concept film

Bruce IsaacsBruce Isaacs is a lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Sydney. He has published widely on film history and theory, with a particular interest in the deployment of aesthetic systems in classical and post-classical cinema. His most recent work, The Orientation of Future Cinema: Technology, Aesthetics, Spectacle (Continuum Press), is due for publication in November 2012.

This project seeks to reorient the study of American High Concept cinema within the discipline of Film Studies. I will engage High Concept as a cinema of ‘image effect’ – a cinema founded on the special effect, produced within the American studio system from 1975 (with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws) to the contemporary era of American digital production. The project will emphasise the unique contribution of the American studio system to contemporary film aesthetics, global production and distribution, and an increasingly global film culture. The project will demonstrate that the American cinema of effects production is equally the most profound and pervasive cinema of affect in the history of the cinematic medium.

Martijn Konings - The rise of the Federal Reserve

Martijn Konings

Martijn Konings is a lecturer in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney specialising in American and global finance.

The aim of this project is to advance a new explanation for the rise of the Federal Reserve to a pivotal position in both the American and global political economy. Whereas existing perspectives view the prominence of central banks as reflecting the growth of market‐driven constraints on states, this project adopts an institution‐based approach that investigates the power of the Federal Reserve in terms of the emergence of a complex infrastructure of relationships, norms, and policy channels. It will map the ways in which the Federal Reserve is connected to other institutional actors, analyze what policy instruments such alliances have made available, and pursue the implications for processes of political‐economic restructuring.

Greg Marston - The high cost of credit for low income earners: A comparative study of US and Australian policy responses to the rapid growth of the fringe lending industry

Greg MarstonDr Greg Marston is Professor of Social Policy in the School of Public Health and Social Work at the Queensland University of Technology. His recent research focuses on the relationship between debt and poverty in the context of post-industrial welfare state changes.

The overall aim of this project is to examine the effectiveness of policies that seek to protect low-income citizens from the predatory practices of the fringe financial sector. Increasingly, mainstream banks in Australia and the US are constraining access to credit, leaving many people with little alternative but to turn to the ‘fringe economy’, which can be defined as corporate and business practices that have a predatory relationship with the poor by charging excessive interest rates or fees for goods or services. The largest sector of this economy is pay-day lenders, which are businesses built on providing short term financial loans at high cost (with annualized interest rates in the order of 600 to 1000 per cent). This industry is rapidly growing in Australia and yet little is known about its operations and its impact on low-income households. In Australia, estimates are that the industry has grown by over 400% in the past decade. In the US, there are now more pay-day lending outlets than Starbucks and McDonalds combined. This research funding will allow me to compare and contrast Australian and US policy and regulations specifically pertaining to the growth of the fringe economy in order to identify differences and similarities between the two countries to provide policy directions on how the sector can be effectively regulated into the future. To understand the differences first hand I will be travelling to the US to interview key stakeholders from industry, the government and consumer groups. The report from the comparative study will be used to inform contemporary policy debates in Australia.

Julia Martinez - The traffic in women and children in the Philippines during the American occupation

Julia Martinez

Dr Julia Martinez works at the School of History and Politics at the University of Wollongong, researching labour migration and ethnic relations. Her particular interests are the study of Asian workers and the Chinese diaspora in the Asia-Pacific.

This project explores the history of the traffic in women and children in the Philippines, in terms of immigration into Manila and emigration of local women. It will map the extent to which such a trade existed during the period of American rule and will explore the politics of narratives of abolition produced by US officials. According to a League of Nations 1933 report there was a clandestine trade, dominated by Chinese and Japanese women, brought into ports such as Singapore and Hong Kong for the purposes of prostitution. This project aims to situate the Philippines within this regional historical network.

Timothy J. Minchin - Fighting for workers: A history of the AFL-CIO, 1955-2012

Timothy MinchinTimothy Minchin is Professor of North American History at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

In this project Timothy Minchin is writing the first book-length history of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the biggest union federation in the United States. The AFL-CIO is currently a federation of 57 national and international unions with a total membership of 12.2 million. As such, it remains one of the largest public organisations in the US, and its voice is regularly heard in the national media. It also has considerable political power. This project will examine the AFL-CIO's history from its foundation in 1955 through to the 2012 presidential election, an election that the AFL-CIO is heavily involved in. The project is structured around the central theme of union decline, as the percentage of American workers who belonged to unions fell from 35 percent when the AFL-CIO was founded in 1955 to 20 percent in 1983. Currently, just 12 percent of workers in the US belong to unions. Many of the reasons for this fall in union membership, such as the growth of the service sector, the decline of manufacturing, and the rise of conservative political parties, have affected other industrialised economies, including Australia, and this project will reflect on this and have an innovative international dimension.

Micheal Ondaatje - Black conservatism in civil rights America

Michael OndaatjeMichael L. Ondaatje is Senior Lecturer and Head of History at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He is the author of Black Conservative Intellectuals in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).

This project will provide the first-book length study of the relationship between black conservatism and the black freedom movement in civil rights America. Traditionally, scholarship on civil rights has presented black politics as a liberal or radical affair, with little consideration of how the ideas and activities of black conservatives shaped the twentieth century struggle for racial equality. Emphasizing economic self-help, racial autonomy and the value of two-party competition, some African Americans steadfastly maintained that conservatism was better equipped to resolve the myriad problems confronting the black community. Over the years, these men and women worked hard to realize their vision of black uplift through conservative organisations and institutions. Resisting the temptation to view African American politics and conservatism as irreconcilable, this study will throw new light on the diversity and complexity of the black freedom struggle, as well as the history of American conservatism. In doing so, it will also propose a new paradigm for understanding how these two histories interacted during a crucial period in the nation's past.

Nicole Sully - Dangerous Moderns: Elizabeth Gordon, McCarthyism and the Criticism of Modern Architecture

Dr Nicole Sully is a Lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Queensland, and a member of the ATCH Research Centre.

This project will consider the writings of the American architectural critic and editor, Elizabeth Gordon (1906-2000). As editor of the popular, and widely read journal House Beautiful between 1941 and 1966, Gordon was enormously influential in shaping the tastes and opinions of the American public, and particularly women, during key years coinciding with the emergence of American Architectural Modernism.

To date Gordon’s work has only been examined, in a limited capacity, by feminist scholars who have largely overlooked the McCarthyist and nationalistic agendas of her criticisms. This project seeks to reposition the import of Gordon’s work by considering her role in informing public debate and influencing the reception and uptake of Modern Architecture in America.

Ariadne Vromen and Michael Xenos - Civil networking in comparative perspective: Young people, civic engagement and social media in Australia and the USA

Ariadne Vromen and Michael XenosSocial media have become a significant force in the social lives of young people. The extent to which sites like Facebook and Twitter affect political and civic engagement, however, is only beginning to be understood. Initial research suggests that there is potential for social media to offset existing stratification and inequality in political engagement, but work in this area has struggled to properly conceptualize and measure critical factors believed to be at the heart of these dynamics. This project will use qualitative research to help identify new conceptual tools and understanding that can advance research in this field. A central aim of this project is to bring scholarly understanding of new civic norms and how they relate to digital media up to par with our existing understanding of relationships between civic duty, traditional media consumption, and political participation. We seek to conduct exploratory research aimed at the following research questions: What motivates online social and political engagement among young people? And, how is this engagement mediated by political culture, norms, and institutional contexts that may differ between the US and Australia?

Jingdong Yuan - Sizing up the dragon: US engagement of China's military

Jingdong YuanOne of the weakest—albeit the most crucial—links in US relations with China is the engagement of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In contrast to the significant progress made in bilateral ties over the past three decades where Washington’s engagement policy has clearly shown substantive results in encouraging China to be a more responsible stake holder in the international system, the one area that has yet to make any breakthrough, is America’s lacklustre record in developing stable military-to-military ties with the PLA. This research project examines the rationale, expectations, and programs of US defence engagement with China since the end of the Cold War, and assesses the progress, promises, and pitfalls of the most important aspects of US-China bilateral relationships. The project involves extensive archival research on US engagement of China’s military over the past three decades by sifting through official documents, media coverage, and scholarly analyses, and interviews with US defense officials, scholars and analysts responsible for and involved in bilateral military contacts, including Track-II strategic nuclear dialogues.

Heather Zeppel - Carbon mitigation and offsetting by US ecotourism operators

Heather ZeppelHeather Zeppel is an Associate Professor and Mid Career Research Fellow in the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development at the University of Southern Queensland.

Climate change and carbon emissions from travel are key issues for the global tourism industry. This project examines the adoption of carbon mitigation and offsetting measures by US tourism operators that are members of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). It reviews carbon reduction methods adopted by US ecotourism operators along with environmental and business motives for mitigation and offsetting. The results will assist US and Australian tourism agencies in recommending effective low carbon programs that deliver environmental, social and marketing benefits for tourism operators and destinations.

Zuduo Zheng and Xin Ye - Who killed New York City's congestion pricing? An international comparison analysis and its implication to Australia

Zuduo Zheng and Xin YeZuduo Zheng is a lecturer and an Early Career Academic at the Civil Engineering and Built Environment School of the Queensland University of Technology. Xin Ye is an assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Department at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Despite the deteriorating traffic congestion in New York City and congestion pricing’s important roles in achieving the goals of congestion reduction, cleaner air and increased funding for mass transit improvements, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal in 2007 failed. Nevertheless, this provides an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to understand obstacles and acceptance of road pricing and similar sustainability-oriented initiatives in the US. Through a comprehensive literature review, longitudinal analysis, and international comparison, this research will scrutinize factors contributing to NYC’s failed congestion pricing attempt, and make recommendations for implementing congestion pricing in big Australian cities by leveraging NYC’s experience.

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