Hancock, Manning Clark and the Conference on Social Sciences

Melbourne-born historian Professor  (William) Keith Hancock (26 June 1898 – 13 August 1988) was, in 1923, the first Australian to gain a prestigious Fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford, a research-only College (it did not admit undergraduates) with a magnificent library specialising in the Humanities and Law. 

Notwithstanding that in the post-war years All Souls suffered from poor quality food and limited heating, Hancock considered it to be one of the most desirable environments in the world for historical research and envisaged that something not unlike it could be established in Australia. On his list of priorities for the ANU was the establishment of a faculty club, an aspiration that was later realised in University House. He hoped that Canberra would offer opportunities to the wives of academics who would also find a place in the faculty club.

At the time of the Easter Conference, he was the Chichele Professor of Economic History at Oxford and a friend of Professor Richard Mills, chair of the ANU Interim Council. Especially after publishing Australia (1930), a provocative, well-regarded book, Hancock was held in high regard as an historian who had a demonstrable interest in Australia. Always more interested in research than administration, he stressed the importance of staffing the new university with first-rate scholars. He chaired the discussions on the Social Sciences and was conscious of the inevitable overlap with the School of Pacific Studies.

In 1948 colleagues from all universities and several from the Department of Post-War Reconstruction with expertise in history, law, economics, politics, sociology and statistics gathered to discuss areas of interest which might sit comfortably under the umbrella of advanced research in the Social Sciences and to consider potential overlap with the School of Pacific Studies.

They emphasised the importance of teamwork among disciplines and universities, together with the encouragement of visiting academics from outside Australia. Some matters were of particular concern. Were strong links between the new university and government departments desirable? Was there a danger that the Commonwealth government, which provided the funding, would seek to direct what was to be researched? The participants resolved to preserve as much independence in research as possible.

Participants generally agreed to dismiss the teaching of languages as being more suitable for undergraduates but endorsed the proposal that business records be included in the archival interests of the university. Most contributions, even from the most senior academics, were little more than general comments, although historian Manning Clark was among those who suggested specific subjects for research.

Another Melbourne historian, (Charles) Manning Hope Clark (3 March 1915 – 23 May 1991) had studied at the Universities of Melbourne and Oxford before coming home to take up the position of Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Melbourne. Clark recommended the completion of Historical Records of Australia begun by Dr Frederick Watson, in addition to a history journal concentrating exclusively on Australia, and the publication of a multi-volume History of Australia. A Commonwealth-wide committee on historical research in Australia would, he suggested, deal with the standardisation of methods of reference, the prevention of duplication in research, and would play a useful role in keeping Australians informed of advances in other universities, particularly in those overseas. Clark was later to become a staff member of the ANU, working on aspects of the very projects he suggested.

Also attending was Reader in History from the University of Western Australia, Paul HAsluck - later to become Sir Paul Hasluck, a Minister in the Menzies Government and Australia's Governor-General.

Several other Conference attendees were later to occupy important posts at the ANU, among then Sir John Crawford who was later Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor, Professor Percy Partridge (Government and Public Administration) Professor Geoffrey Sawer (Law) and Professor John La Nauze (History).