Nation's highest humanities honour for Deakin historian

Research news
01 September 2020

From his NSW Premier’s “Book of the Year” award in 2019, to the 2020 Crawford Medal in August, Dr Billy Griffiths has taken Australia by storm with his research and writing on cultural heritage, Indigenous history, political history, archaeology and seascapes.

A multi-award-winning writer and historian, Dr Griffiths is a lecturer in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies within Deakin’s School of Humanities and Social Science and a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute (ADI). He is the first Deakin researcher to receive the Max Crawford Medal , which was introduced by the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992, in memory of historian Emeritus Professor R. M. (Max) Crawford OBE FAHA (1906–91).

The medal is Australia’s most prestigious award for achievement and promise in the humanities, and is awarded to an Australian-based early-career scholar whose research and publications “make an exceptional contribution to the understanding of their discipline by the general public”.

Dr Griffiths’ book “Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia” was published in early 2018 and has since won a plethora of awards. The book “investigates a twin revolution: the reassertion of Aboriginal identity in the second half of the twentieth century, and the uncovering of the traces of ancient Australia”.

“As an Australian, I want to better understand how this land has been used for millennia,” Dr Griffiths said. “This is the great revelation that has emerged over the last half century or so. The Australian landscape is as much cultural as it is natural.”

The Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute, Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri, said Dr Griffiths’ achievements since joining the Institute “epitomise the vision, aspirations and trajectory of ADI’s humanities and social science research agenda”.

“His ground-breaking examination of Australia’s Indigenous history and ancient cultures not only taps into a deeply significant part of Australia’s civilizational identity, but also makes an excellent contribution to our contemporary understandings of many issues pertaining to our approaches to reconciliation and constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australia,” Professor Mansouri said.

In its selection of Dr Griffiths as 2020 Max Crawford medallist, the Australian Academy of the Humanities praised Dr Griffiths’ outstanding “ability to bridge the disciplines of history, literature and archaeology, and the imaginative considerations he gives to the intersections of the sciences and the humanities through his work”.

Dr Griffiths said his research explores the work of the past three generations of humanities scholars and the “immense contributions they have made to understanding and imagining Australian society, culture and history.

“This award takes on a particular significance at such a challenging time for the humanities. Arts, culture and scholarship have never been more vital to our society,” he said.

Dr Griffiths joined the Alfred Deakin Institute in 2017 and “Deep Time Dreaming” is his second book, which took six years to write.

“My first book is about foreign affairs and the origins of the Australia China diplomatic relationship. It’s very much a political history about Gough Whitlam’s interactions with Australia, America and China,” he said.

“As I was finishing the manuscript, I started joining archaeological excavations, initially as the camp cook, and that was my passport into those sites and a much larger understanding of Australian history.

“That experience also illuminated the cultural and political concerns of our hosts, the Mirarr, and how they were using the insights that emerged from the excavations in their own campaigns against uranium mining. The deep past can play a powerful role in the political present.”

Photograph of Dr Billy Griffiths by Mette Kortelainen

  • Read about Billy Griffiths’ Max Crawford medal here.
  • Read about Billy Griffiths’ 2019 ‘NSW Book of the Year’ award here
  • Read the full list of awards for “Deep Time Dreaming.
  • Learn more about Dr Billy Griffiths.
  • Follow Billy Griffiths on Twitter: @billy_griffiths

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Dr Billy Griffiths, photograph by Mette Kortelainen

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Dr Billy Griffiths, photograph by Mette Kortelainen

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