Back from the brink…

So it has been a very (very, very) long time since I’ve updated my site, which should most definitely change as of now. There is plenty to talk about and…honestly, lots of time, but let’s pretend there isn’t in fact all that much.

What’s been going on? First of all, I have a book out! It’s an edited collection, which I coedited along with Amy Bonsall and Jonathan Hay, called Talking Bodies, vol. II: Bodily Languages, Selfhood and Transgressions (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). An interdisciplinary volume, it encompasses law, medicine, literature, theatre, and more, in order to address and engage with the broad theme of ‘the body’. What are we? Are we a body, or do we inhabit a body? In either case, is the body the self or only a vessel? What meaning do we ascribe our bodies, and what meanings are inscribed upon them in the readings of others? Does this matter? (The short answer is yes. The long answer…is to be found in the book, which is available now from Palgrave Macmillan.)

A few of months ago, before covid-19 wrapped us up in tremendous uncertainties, I also turned my attention to the Australian bushfire crisis. Specifically, I wrote an explainer on Twitter as to the disaster unfolding in my country of origin, and what the federal government was and wasn’t doing about it. Surprising everyone (especially me!), this thread went vital, being retweeted by literally hundreds of thousands of people, including the author Neil Gaiman, the American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and (be still my beating, Star Trek-loving heart!) Brent Spiner (i.e. Commander Data). This led to a few other opportunities to engage in the public sphere with what the catastrophe tells us about statecraft and the responsibilities of government. I was interviewed on BBC Radio 5live; I wrote an opinion piece in The Independent; my work was translated into German and French. Above all, what I think this experience demonstrates is that expertise does have a role to play in public discourse (whatever the discussion of ‘people are sick of experts’ might suggest!) I am no expert on bushfires but, as a historian, I do have a skillset that involves thinking critically, taking disparate sources, synthesising them, and communicating them effectively. In these times more than ever, it is vital that we do not shut ourselves away in the ‘ivory towers’.

Which leads me to covid-19. I have to admit, I was taken by surprise by this. At a certain point I was one of the people who was convinced it’d all blow over, and that it was probably not much more than a particularly bad flu. Time proved me very wrong, and the ever-present fear of this pandemic, coupled with the protective measures in place, have left us all off-balance and fearful, not only for the present, but for the future. I’m still teaching but, like most of my colleagues, that teaching has moved online, presenting us further challenges in unprecedented conditions. Here, I simply want to make the point that our students must come first and that, whatever our circumstances, we should adapt as much as possible to what they need. Unfortunately, the pandemic shows us that, for many branches of academia, online learning is not a substitute for in-person classes, but there are still ways and means to present our work effectively and to encourage student engagement.

But I must admit: I cannot wait for face-to-face teaching again. Or conferences. Or coffee-shop chats with colleagues and friends. Or just coffee shops, really.

Stay safe and healthy everyone. Be well.

Say it with Pride

A little over a week ago, 34 UK-based academics signed an open letter, printed in the Sunday Times, in which they argued (among other things) that respecting the identities of trans and gender-diverse students and colleagues, including their pronouns and names, constituted an intolerable restriction on “free speech” and “academic freedom.”

This is not the sort of claim that can be left standing, for two reasons. Firstly, this constitutes nothing short of an attack on trans and gender-diverse people’s rights to be included, and to be able to live and work in a safe and welcoming environment in higher education. Secondly, the authors of this letter seem to have taken it upon themselves to speak for what they assume is a ‘silent majority’ of academics, wanting to be critical of transgender identities but too afraid to speak up. This is nonsense.

In response, I had the honour of working on an open letter in response, which turned into a manifesto of inclusiveness for LGBTQIA+ colleagues across all levels of academia. Our manifesto was then picked up by The Independent. We opened it up to be signed by higher education professionals from all over the world and at any level, as long as they have or had been employed in a capacity by a university. This is because higher education is about much more than one or two professors, and these issues are global. Human rights are universal.

At the time that The Independent printed it, our letter had been signed more than 4,000 times. At the time that I am writing this entry, it has been signed by 6,587 people. To put this in perspective: for every one person who argued that trans rights impinge on their freedom of speech, 194 of their peers disagree.

The Independent very generously gave space to the first 1,000 signatories. But it didn’t stop there. It also commissioned us to write a piece on why this is important. I am proud to share the byline on this article. There is one major point that I want to stress, to quote from the article itself:

Trans, gender-diverse, and other queer people are not problems to be theorised and hypothesised. They are living, breathing human beings. And if we are to defend academic freedom, then it is their freedom – to live and work and research and teach and learn safely in our universities, without fear of being marginalised or denied – that must be respected, treasured, and protected.

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to work on this campaign, and I would like to express my deepest thanks to my dear colleagues Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock, Dr. Andy Kesson, Dr. Matthew M. Mesley,  Dr. Sara Barker, Dr. Amy Fuller, and Dr. Matt Lodder, not to mention more than 6,500 more spread around the globe, for taking this stand. It is incumbent on all of us to make academia and the university the safe place that, for far too many of our colleagues, it is at present not. Diversity is our strength. Academia is open, and existence is non-negotiable.

The long and winding road (or track?)

Grüß Gott!

The last few months have been incredibly busy, and this has meant that even the act of updating my website has been something that has taken a backseat to preparing work for publication deadlines, preparing class plans for the new semester, and preparing grant applications for…well, grant application deadlines. There’s also the small matter of “conference season”, which seems less to be a season and more of a mode of existence.

First, to the immediate news: on Sunday, I travel north — way, way, way north — to the Universität Greifswald. There, I’m giving a guest lecture on Monday evening, with the topic being Europäischer Konstitutionalismus und europäische Kolonialisierung in South Australia Colony: Eine Agenda für künftige Forschung. Greifswald is the fourth-oldest university in Germany (founded in 1456), and it is an honour to be asked to lecture there. It is also a very long way from Passau, so I will spend most of Sunday and most of Tuesday as a guest of Deutsche Bahn. I don’t mind this, because I love travelling by train, and it will also be my first time on the Baltic.

Once I get back from Greifswald, I have a couple of weeks and then I will be off to Houston for the American Society for Legal History conference, this year held in Houston. I’m fortunate to be presenting alongside some excellent scholars of legal history, and it promises to be another adventure.

And, in the midst of all this, I am once again teaching at Uni Passau — this time an English course on argumentation, as well as a legal history course on Verfassungs- und Staatstheorie.

There are also a couple of publications that will be appearing in the not-so-distant future (at the moment looking like early in the New Year), so watch this space!

Newly published! ReConFort II by Springer

Hi everyone!

It’s been a very busy month, and it’s definitely not getting any quieter. However, it is my pleasure to announce that the ERC Advanced Grant project ReConFort (Reconsidering Constitutional Formation) has just published its second volume of research. Combining work by Dr. Marcin Byczyk (Poznań, Passau), Dr. Brecht Deseure (Passau), Dr. Frederik Dhondt (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Prof. Dr. Eirik Holmøyvik (Bergen), Dr. Giuseppe Mecca (Macerata), Prof. Dr. Thomas Olechowski (Hans Kelsen-Institut), Emer. O. Univ.-Prof. Dr. h.c. Gerald Stourzh (Vienna), and Dr. Anna Tarnowska (Nicolaus Copernicus University of Toruń), and edited by Prof. Dr. Ulrike Müßig (Passau), Reconsidering Constitutional Formation II: Decisive Constitutional Normativity — From Old Liberties to New Precedence (Cham: Springer, 2018) is now available in open access. It has been a pleasure to help put together the volume.


Hello everyone! I’m pleased to unveil my new website, which will act as a hub to keep you informed of my activities, while also giving you the opportunity to contact me for consultancy, media interviews, and so on. I will also be using the site as a platform to discuss my latest research and other developments, and to talk about conferences and opportunities that come up along the way.