You will see under the information about the Humanities Research Centre (HRC) on this website that it was established in 1972 as a national and international centre for excellence and a catalyst for innovative and interdisciplinary scholarship within the ANU and beyond. The HRC was the first such Centre ever established in Australia, as it happens, and over the forty-odd years of its existence it has hosted, temporarily but highly productively, many of the world’s leading humanities scholars. The Friends of the HRC represent a selection of these, if you would like a sense of the Centre’s international reputation: distinguished scholars with a past association who have offered their support and advice on the conduct of the Centre.
But, like the Advisory Board, which ensures the quality and larger relevance of the HRC’s activities, the Friends of the HRC are also committed to the Centre’s future development. For to stay relevant a centre of this kind must look beyond its past achievements to the future, recognising that its core interests, along with the role it plays in the society which indirectly but ultimately funds it, must change in line with changing social and historical exigencies. And this it does not slavishly but creatively and critically (both), responding to current ideas and current anxieties sometimes by challenging their assumptions and bringing to bear the special knowledge and understanding that are its province and its privilege.
It is likely that the HRC will always offer a version of its annual Visiting Fellowship Program, as well as a version of its program of conferences, workshops, seminars, and symposia, because the forms of intellectual sociability, even under pressure of a relentlessly modernising technology, are likely to remain similar. Equally, it seems to me, a case will always have to be made for the vital importance of the humanities and the creative arts they discuss and interpret, which is why the HRC is committed to advocacy and in constant conversation with major cultural institutions outside the academy. But changes to the humanities disciplines themselves, as well as to the function of disciplinarity, require constant accommodation, as do the changes of priority and value wrought by co-operation and conflict at home and abroad. The HRC is also committed to investigating these changes and finding solutions to the problems they throw up.
Let me welcome you to the HRC, then, and invite you to join us in engaging with the questions of meaning and value that are the special province of the humanities – but only because they are the special province of all responsive and reflective human beings.
Head of the HRC