From Ormond Papers to Oxford – Martha Swift receives the Commonwealth Scholarship
Martha Swift (2014) has always had a passion for literature. From school through to University, where she studied a Bachelor of Arts while living at Ormond, and now Oxford, where she is completing her PhD as a Commonwealth Scholar, Martha has a particular fascination with world literature, and how the discipline touches so many areas of study and thought.
‘Different ideas of world literature have been around for a while, but the field has had a resurgence in the last few decades,’ Martha says.
‘We usually study literatures from national traditions, meaning we study texts from different countries in quite a siloed way, unless we’re studying translations. World literature challenges this practice – different approaches look at the circulation of texts around the world or at the presence of global themes within texts. Within that, I look at changing concepts of nation and worldliness.’
It’s a complex area of study, but one which Martha has put years of work, study and extra-curricular activities into. Upon finishing school, Martha moved from Sydney to Melbourne to study English and History at the University of Melbourne and took up a place at Ormond.
‘At Ormond I was super involved in a lot of cultural endeavours,’ she says. ‘I ran Ormond Papers in my second year as well as the Visual Arts society, which meant that I also sat on Brack. Those were really formative roles for me, and community building through creative expression is definitely something I’ve taken on to other student spaces, publications and literacy programs’
‘Living at College really was such a unique experience. It’s intense – given all my extracurriculars, my study and work, I was probably operating at maximum capacity most of the time – but I loved that aspect. It also felt like a safe environment in which to try new things, which is so valuable.’
Reflecting on her time at Ormond, Martha says it allowed her to try out different passions early and ultimately pushed her towards experiences which helped to get her where she is today.
‘It really gave me a strong foundation to pursue a whole plethora of career paths. It really got me working on my leadership skills and thinking about how to bring my academic interests, hobbies, and aspirations together as a coherent whole.’
After finishing her Honours year, Martha took a job at Monitor Deloitte as a strategy consultant. She’s the first to admit that it wasn’t originally part of the plan but found the work in their education practice to be particularly valuable.
‘At Deloitte, I consulted on federal policy for international education, and did a lot of work for dual-sector tertiary providers who deliver both TAFE and Higher Education. Australia’s ongoing discussion about skills-oriented curricula in Higher Ed was always front of mind in these projects, which helped me solidify my own ideas about the role of Humanities education here and abroad,’ she says.
While at Deloitte, Martha also spent time working as the Program Manager at the Shanghai International Literary Festival, which culminated in six weeks spent in Shanghai.
‘The experience working in education strategy and at the Literary Festival were big parts of my application for the Commonwealth Scholarship. I imagine the Festival was especially important in demonstrating an application of literature outside of research and outside the usual English-language university setting; it was like the confluence of my academic and professional training,’ she says.
Martha commenced her PhD has a Commonwealth Scholar in January 2021, after first completing a Master in World Literatures in English at the University of Oxford. Martha’s doctoral research is investigating theories of ‘world’ in world literature and the breakdown of nationalist teleologies in contemporary global novels.
‘The Commonwealth Scholarships are all about funding research that will contribute to sustainable development and excellence in education. Since 2015, they’ve been focussed on the Sustainable Development Goals,’ she says.
‘My research mainly falls between Goals 4 and 10, which deal with quality education and reduced inequalities, as well as Goal 13 on climate action. I’m particularly interested in contemporary novels that reject the twentieth-century connection between novels and national identity and aim to offer a definition of worldliness which better accounts for the mobility, hybridity and interconnectedness of our globalised world.’
Only at the beginning of her doctoral journey, Martha’s research remains the focus for now, with plans to continue in academia. In the future, she hopes to bring the transnational perspective of her work to Humanities research and institutional strategies more broadly
‘I’d like to figure out a way to make my work less siloed and more integrated with other disciplines,’ she says. ‘Talking about the meaning of ‘world’ can be really high theory, but it does have some practical implications for how we narrate what the world is.’
‘It can change the way people experience and interact with each other and their surroundings, which is an urgent discussion happening in the context of climate change, for example. If we can narrate the planet better, people will learn to live in it – and with it – better.’
We’d love to hear from any other alumni who have been recipients of the Commonwealth Scholarship, or other similar scholarships. Get in touch at email@example.com