Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism Blogging (5) Postera Crescam Laude

Well, yes, again, it's Tuesday. But better late than never.

I'm thinking of writing something this year on the various coats of arms of Australian universities, as a kind of medievalism through form and structure, if not imagery as such. Heraldry is alive and well in the life of institutions; and students and staff at Melbourne and other such places work daily under its signs and symbols but it's not often considered as a version of medievalism. There are some great examples of Australian universities using heraldry to signal their allegiances or affiliations. Sydney, for example, combines the arms of Oxford and Cambridge in its coat of arms, while Macquarie University cites Chaucer's clerk in its motto: "and gladly teche".

The University of Melbourne's coat of arms is a blue field with a figure of Victory (presumably for Victoria, the state; and Victoria the queen [the university started teaching in 1854], surrounded by the four stars of the Southern Cross, with the motto postera crescam laude. This used to be translated as "later I shall grow by praise", but in recent years the standard translation has become "We shall grow in the esteem of future generations."

I used to know a bit about how to blazon, but this one defeated me. However, I found it in A.C. Fox-Davies' A Complete Guide to Heraldry, and it's fantastically elaborate, given that the shield shape is not divided or quartered:
Azure, a figure intended to represent Victory, robed and attired proper, the dexter hand extended holding a wreath of laurel or, between four stars of eight points, two in pale and two in fess argent
The azure is of course the blue background or field; the or and argent name the gold and silver of heraldic colours. In pale and in fess refer to the vertical and horizontal axes across the shield where the stars of the Southern Cross appear.

Here are two images: the first, a sculpture on the east side of the Union building (note the gothic arch made of cream brick):

Second, a rather lurid painting in the Council Chamber (click to enlarge):

The previous vice-chancellor's growth strategy was called "Earning Esteem", and when the new VC appeared at Melbourne, he gave a lovely disquisition to Academic Board in this very chamber on the Horatian ode from which the motto comes, and eventually launched the current strategy, "Growing Esteem", from which the very controversial "Melbourne model" emerged.

I'm actually in favour of the intellectual and academic program of the model (broader undergraduate degrees; deferring specialisation into law and medicine, for example, into graduate programs), though the process of change and reform has been immensely difficult.

Recently, I had occasion (ahem) to give my card to Somerset Herald, who was in Australia on a lecture tour; and then in the second lecture he gave, he held up my card and observed that the University had now altered its shield substantially, by repositioning the stars to the left side of the shield, and actually adding a fifth star, for a more naturalist image of the Southern Cross. Of course, as he said, the University can do what it likes, but this new shield, shown below, is not the coat of arms as it was granted to the University by the College of Arms, and as it is registered there.


Such radical change (to curriculum, as well as coat of arms) naturally needs an advertising campaign. There have been a series of expensive television and media advertisements. Here's a link to a news item produced by the university, which features a tiny grab from the "dreamlarge" campaign. "Dreamlarge", as an advertising logo, has displaced the coat of arms, to some degree, while the university also wants to hold on to its traditional appeal.

You'll see in this video an awful banner, saying "The Evolution Starts Here", which for two years I could see out my office windows (just above the right ear of the man speaking). It's now been replaced, I'm glad to say, with the much less problematic "Welcome"; but this very insistent signage is everywhere.




It's easy to tell the difference between a coat of arms, a Latin motto, and an advertising slogan. But when a (medievalist) coat of arms is modernised, at what point does it become a logo?

1 comment:

crapcyclelanes said...

Yep, the implementation of the Melb Model has rather like Kevin Rudd's term - a lot of promises, but little thought about how to deliver them. And why, exactly, have we done away with joint degrees, when they were popular? Since 2005 I don't know sometimes how the academics and professional staff have survived.

Then in 2010, we lost some central functions done by the uni like HR support, making things worse for people on the ground. I teach 5.1 subjects, have 8 PhD students, 3 honours, and run a large Masters program 3 days a week. Obviously this is unusual (and probably short term) but it is all due to trying to do more with less.