Dr Anne Holloway studied a Bachelor of Arts with Honours and a Master of Arts in History at the University of Melbourne. She received her PhD from the School of Philosophy, History and International Studies (SOPHIS) at Monash University and is currently Manager of Special Collections at the Sir Louis Matheson Library, and holds a Diploma of Manuscript Studies from the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS) in Canada.
What did you study and what inspired you to pursue this path?
My research interests are diverse, but are formulated around questions to do with ethics, performance and narrative in the Middle Ages. In particular I look at the way in which didactic stories called ‘exempla’ were used to teach people correct behaviour, and the ways these stories have influenced not only the development of Enlightenment philosophy, but also twenty-first century media. Despite the rather study extensive program listed above, to be honest, my initial enrolment into the Arts degree at Melbourne was solely because I could defer it for travel and did not have the grades for anything else. After returning from travel, my main concern was simply to learn everything that I could while I had the opportunity to do so – to remedy my experience in regional schools which had left me starved for depth. However, by my third year I realised that my passion lay with History as a field. I have always loved all forms of story telling, whether these stories are fiction novels, the life of a person, or the stories around a particular event. History let me access such a hugely varied sample of stories from every walk of life, but also allowed me to continuously unravel and unpack accepted norms, to reframe and challenge the world our perceptions are based on, and the chance to create new and more complex narratives. After my honours year, I decided to take it as far as I could go and see what happened. I love all history, but I felt that the study of the Middle Ages posed some serious methodological challenges as well as providing the freedom to think about worlds that were not bound by nationalism, governance, economics and belief as we know it.
What is your current occupation?
Manager, Special Collections at Monash University.
What aspects of your role do you enjoy the most?
I am responsible for the development, management, coordination, and promotion of the Library’s Special Collections, including rare books, manuscripts, archives, and other unique material, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is of course getting to work with all of these items on a day to day basis. However my days are also incredibly varied, drawing together the diverse experiences I have had over my academic career – teaching within History, working as an academic skills adviser in the Library, and my interest in manuscript and book history. I also really enjoy working with a wide range of people who are passionate about their own experience, whether this is creating relationships with potential and current donors, working with other cultural institutions and societies, pulling together teams to curate exhibitions (physical and digital), or working together with a diverse range of units to provide materials and appropriate pedagogical practice.
Thinking back, what was a highlight of your time at university?
I love study, always have, and thus the the main highlight was getting to push my intellectual curiosity and boundary as far as I wanted to and beyond. As someone who is passionate about travel, I also appreciated the many opportunities given to me to study overseas, to conduct research and coursework in Europe and North America, to attend conferences and give papers in different parts of the world. From that I have formed some life long friendships, networks and differing perspectives.
Were there any co-curricular activities you found particularly valuable while at university?
I took the opportunity to attend seminar series outside of my field, to volunteer for editorial boards and outreach work where I could find it. From undergraduate, I made an effort to make my way to conferences and to learn to engage with them before eventually participating. As a result, I’ve found the ability to plan and organise a conference to be a skill that is irreplaceable for project management, likewise developing committee experience through running editorial groups and historical associations. Maintaining some form of employment the entire way through my academic career – from my undergraduate to my doctoral degree – was also incredibly useful as I had those particular skill sets to draw on and networks to leverage.
How do you think your humanities education has shaped you personally and professionally?
For medieval scholars, the scientia (the knowing of things, or humanities) was the most powerful tool in existence, and the most dangerous. Imbibing contrary ideas and the passion for the new could lead you down the path to sin and into temptation, but when used well the compassion developed and the rigours of logic could also pave the way for the world’s salvation. I think they were correct, and I would not be the person I am today without it.
What career advice would you give to current students or recent graduates?
Never let anyone tell you that Latin is a ‘dead language’ you will never use. As facetious as it sounds, the point remains that the analytical, argumentative and research skills gained in a humanities degree are transferable outside of a specific subject. It is very easy to learn content, but much harder to develop the problem solving and intellectual discipline required to be engaged enough for problem solving and communication. Those skills are the ones needed in a career.
Tell us about a book you read recently that truly captured your attention?
The Book of Night Women – Marlon James. Brutal and beautiful.
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