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  • ANZAMEMS (Inc.):Notes Towards a Pre-history
  • Conal Condren

In keeping with the urban myths that electricians' houses are dangerously wired, builders' homes in need of repair and that archivists can never find their personal papers, one would expect that an organization devoted to past cultures would have almost no reliable or systematically archived evidence of its own history. With this in mind, I have put down the following notes of my involvement, over many years, with what would become ANZAMEMS. This then, is a hybrid, part recollection, stimulated by the documents I have, and part schematic history based on information additionally provided by Constant Mews, Glenn Burgess, Wilf Prest, J. O. Ward, Michael Bennett and Sybil Jack, all of whom have pulled me back from egregious error or signs of senility. The association with its variously mutating groups and societies and dazzling trail of acronyms has meant much to me, fostering and changing my own areas of work and helping to make me many good friends. The recent loss of two of them, Professors Louis Green (Monash) and Trish Crawford (UWA), adds a certain poignancy to the enterprise. So at the risk of self-indulgence, I hope this will stimulate further documented recollection and the gathering of materials for an archive and administrative history. For no history of the humanities in Australia and New Zealand will be adequate without an account of ANZAMEMS and the remarkably vibrant intellectual community it serves. The Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.), or ANZAMEMS, is an amalgamation of an established association, ANZAMRS (the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Renaissance Studies) with an informal group that lacked written rules and certain membership. Originally, this was the Australasian Historians of Early Modern Europe, sporting an acronym like a discreet cough (AHEME). No sooner had we got used to clearing our throats than it became the Australasian Historians of Medieval and Early Modern Europe (AHMEME). The two groups had developed very much in tandem and the marriage between AHMEME and ANZAMRS established ANZAMEMS (Inc.) in 1996. [End Page 1]

When I came to Australia in 1970, ANZAMRS was, if small, already formally established. A medieval studies conference had been held, I understand, at the Australian National University in 1959 and ANZAMRS (usually called 'Anzamisses') stemmed from that, being founded in 1967 largely through the energies of a significant scholar of medieval French (in particular of medieval manuscripts in Australian libraries), Keith Val Sinclair (1926–1999). He became its first Secretary and Sybil Jack its Treasurer. The inaugural conference was in 1969. The initial brief was to hold public lectures, symposia and seminars and to encourage local university groups.1 I was shortly to meet one of its founding members, and a future President, Audrey Meaney (Anglo-Saxon, Macquarie University). I knew nothing about it at first, being in politics rather than literature or history, and being at UNSW, 'Kensington Kindy' as it was patronizingly dubbed by Gwyn Jones at Sydney. But J. O. Ward (JOW) in the History Department at Sydney, being told of my interests in Marsilius of Padua by the also recently arrived Pat Collinson (whom I'd met at dinner with Owen Harries), invited me to give a lecture.2 So, in addition to Pat, I met the right people to put me in touch with ANZAMRS and the Sydney Medieval and Renaissance Group, with the James Bondish acronym of SMRG. Founded in 1968, SMRG was effectively a chapter of the infant ANZAMRS. It provided me with the first of my long-term friendships in the Australasian Medieval/Early Modern scholarly community – JOW, Rod Thompson and Sybil Jack. With eight specialists spanning the Medieval and Early Modern, Sydney History was unusually strong and diverse, especially given the relative size of the University. It was complemented by several working in Medieval and Renaissance English literature and language. The English Department was the last bastion of Leavisite orthodoxy, as I discovered when I gave a paper dismissing the very idea of a Great Tradition of English literature. A lively Italian Department under Professor Freddy May fostered serious interests in Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch. There was, then...


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