Profile - the Australian University where you can study Eurovision as a subject
In 2015 Professor Alison Lewis and Professor John Hajek made headlines in Australia and abroad for introducing a world-first University subject dedicated to Eurovision.
University of Melbourne is also an institution with a high reputation. According to the Times Higher Education World University rankings, it is no.1 in Australia and no.32 in the world
Alison and John (below) tweet from the @eurovisions_uom account and we asked them a few questions about this amazing subject.
So first of all… tell us about your Eurovision story.... How did you become a big enough fan to run a subject on it?
We both teach languages at the University of Melbourne—I (Alison) teaches German and I (John) teach Italian—and we’ve been using Eurovision in class for years. I (Alison) have been a fan since I was student in Germany when Nicole won in 1983. I was really influenced by the peace movement around the time when they threatened to deploy nuclear missiles on German soil. Being a folk guitarist, I was into Nicole although she was a bit too daggy for my tastes, and I was more into New German Wave. John grew up in a migrant family in Melbourne’s west for whom ESC was a once a year chance to see people with the same funny names and languages – when English and Anglo culture otherwise totally dominated the TV.
The Eurovision subject at the University of Melbourne itself, how did it become about, how do you convince people to take it this seriously?
In 2012/13 we began looking for a new first year subject for European Studies with broad appeal and hit on the idea of basing it on Eurovision. It was successfully introduced in 2015. That way we got to cover more countries than just those taught by the School—Germany/Austria, France, Spain, Italy and Russia—while delving into a host of topics from nationalism, European integration, linguistic diversity, sexuality and gender. Being such academic swots, we were taken entirely seriously when we put up the subject. Especially since Australia has become a regular participant in Eurovision we feel the University has really come on board with it.
We know there’s a great deal of academic work out there on Eurovision but is there anywhere else in the world offering a course like this?
Yes there are a handful of courses like this around the world now. A couple of other Australian universities now offer similar ones.
What do you cover in the course, what are the main themes?
We look at the role of Eurovision in presenting images of the nation over the history of the contest and how important ESC is for national identity and sub-national identity. Because it is a European contest we also examine the various ways countries pitch themselves as belonging to Europe, and in what way this is expressed. We are especially interested in how the ESC has become a major pathway to joining the European Union with countries who want to reinvent themselves either in relation to the past or to Europe, the West and its values. We have a special focus on the use of language in the contest as well as on sexuality and gender.
How familiar are some of the students with the contest before starting the subject?
Many are fans – but not everyone is. For the latter group it’s a journey of discovery.
Do you see changes in the way they view Eurovision after completing the course?
Yes definitely – they have no idea how much one can learn and understand about European politics, history and culture through the lens of the ESC.
So many people reading this would love to do the course, have you ever considered making a version that's open and publicly available?
Ah, we have been asked this many times already. We might well pursue it if interest in Eurovision grows in Australia. Perhaps if Australia wins in 2019, this might be an opportune moment!