International Relations in Australia: Michael Lindsay, Martin Wight, and the First Department at the Australian National University

Author/s (editor/s):

James Cotton

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2010/2 (PDF, 210KB)

James Cotton, ‘International Relations in Australia: Michael Lindsay, Martin Wight, and the First Department at the Australian National University’, IR Working Paper 2010/2, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Affairs, The Australian National University, August 2010.

Although he was an original member from 1951 of the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University (ANU), Michael Lindsay’s contribution to the discipline and to the ANU is rarely acknowledged. He is probably best known from the brief account given in the official ANU history of the second appointment to the chair. The candidate in question was Martin Wight, then reader at the London School of Economics. Having accepted the position, Wight later withdrew in controversial circumstances. In the official history it is claimed that Lindsay ‘wrote to him in terms that scared him away’. In the contemporary international relations discipline, Wight, by contrast, is regarded as one of the most influential figures of his generation. For those with any awareness of this episode, Lindsay’s role as, apparently, the person responsible for this path not taken is generally regarded as negative. The account offered in the official history has obscured two important points. First, setting aside issues of personality, it can be shown that Lindsay’s correspondence with Wight and any differences they might have had were based upon a coherent view on Lindsay’s part of the discipline and also of the work that was most appropriate to the new institution. Second, the record shows that, as he was the acting head of the Department for much of the 1950s, Lindsay played a large role in establishing its character, and was indeed immensely active, despite his junior status, in fostering interest in the discipline in the ANU and the wider community. This paper shows Lindsay to have played a strong and creative role in the discipline, one which should be more remembered and celebrated today.

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