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Emeritus Professor John Kinder

School of Humanities

"Just do it. Follow your heart, it is the seat of reason."

Professor John Kinder has great faith in random chance, as a central component in the design of things, and coincidently first studied Italian by chance. Professor Kinder needed a fourth language in his BA at Victoria University of Wellington, to complement Latin, French and Maori. After a Masters dissertation on Dante’s Purgatory, he found himself in Milan. Four exhilarating years later, he was determined to pursue the history of the Italian language and dialects. A PhD on Italian migrants in New Zealand led to teaching posts at James Cook and Flinders before he joined UWA in bicentenary year 1988. Here, his career has been creatively circular: moving back and forwards between the language of the migrant experience, the language diversity that underlies national language ideologies, and digital humanities.

Most interesting aspect of my career

My teaching methods have been turned pretty much upside down, not by technology because that merely amplifies the human, but by the changing nature of the student body and the educational expectations with which students now emerge from their high school years. In research, I have been fascinated to see the core questions of my discipline redefined as times and people and history demand.

Most important experiences at UWA

Working in a small, high-ranked, and isolated university has been exciting. I had a strong feeling that we represent the West Coast of the continent.

Where did you think you would end up when you began your career?

I thought I would spend my career offering students the same life-changing encounter I experienced with linguistic diversity and in particular, the culture and language of Italy. I did just that until the end of second semester 2021. Today’s modern languages disciplines look very different from the ones I graduated from and I have learned to embrace change with hope.

What do you consider to be your most significant achievements?

Academically, the election to the two preeminent academies in my field, the Australian Academy of Humanities and Italy’s Accademia della Crusca: satisfying as it confirms the role of the Australian Italianist as an ambassador in both directions. Generally, to have discovered a profound unity between the intellectual and the personal, religious, emotional ‘components’ of my own history.

Where to from here?

This is time for me. I hope to continue to contribute to the intellectual life of my field, and of our city, in new ways and with new ideas. Some of these are planned, but I expect unexpected opportunities to keep coming along. I am happy to pass on the baton and to keep in touch with the next generation of scholars.

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