John Buchanan

Studying History at the ANU was on the best things I have ever done in my life.

My time at ANU History Department.

I studied history at the ANU from 1978 – 1981. I did a double major – with a focus on the history of revolutions (English and American in first year, French and German in second, Russian and Chinese in third). The Honours component for these units covered Social and Political Thought from Enlightenment to Fascism. During these years we also had a Revolutions Study Coop, campaigned to introduce a History and Theory Unit for pass students (successful) and abolition of the class grading system for honours (unsuccessful).

What I have done with my History Degree.

Studying history at ANU gave me the time and support needed to grasp the key concepts and analytical skills required to make sense of the past and understand the constraints and opportunities it establishes for possible futures. In particular, it provided me with powerful skills of critical analysis for when I undertook more ‘doctrine’ based degrees in Economics and Law. I combined all these disciplines in my Ph D in Work and Organisational Studies. In the decades since I’ve filled in the gaps in my historical knowledge left in my history degree. In particular, I’ve focused on the evolution of market societies in Australia, the US, the UK, Europe, China and some South East Asian nations. This has provided the vital context for my core research concern: the evolution of the labour contract and the dynamics of workforce development in market economies.

How my history degree has helped me in my life since graduating.

Since leaving ANU I have worked in policy areas of the Australian Public Services (primarily labour market portfolios 1985 – 1991) and helped build and lead a university based applied labour market research centre (1992 – 2014). Currently I am now Head of Discipline of the Business Analytics at the University of Sydney Business School and Co-Director of the John Grill Institute of Projects, a new initiatives of the University of Sydney. The skills I learnt in my History Degree have been essential for gaining and holding all my jobs. The key ones have been:

  • Analytical humility – that is, recognition that there is always something new to learn, most certainties rarely endure.

  • Narrative coherence – that is, the ability to produce a sensible, thoughtful story based on the best available, usually highly imperfect, information.

  • Deep ability to listen and truly absorb ideas entirely foreign to my own – not necessarily to agree with them but to understand them on their own terms.

  • Ability to integrate insights from different disciplines and sources of data because of the above three qualities.

Studying History at the ANU was on the best things I have ever done in my life.

Professor John Buchanan, BA (Hons), LLB, Post Grad Dip Econ (ANU), Ph D (USyd)

(Currently Chair of Discipline, Business Analytics, University of Sydney Business School and Co-Director John Grill Institute of Projects)


John Buchanan
Bachelor of Arts (1st Class Honours) 1982

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