Morgan Southwick: alumni profile

Morgan Southwick CCGS alumni

Following her love of history has taken Morgan to some of the best learning institutions in the world - the University of Oxford and Harvard – and opened the door to a unique, culturally rich and meaningful career working with holocaust survivors and Anti-Slavery Australia.

What has been your path since graduating in 2009?

After graduating I took a year to travel before returning home to start university. I started with a communications degree but quickly realised that it was not for me and transferred to an advanced Arts degree to study history and philosophy. The benefit of this degree was that I was able to skip first-year subjects and do my honours in the third year which I completed in history in 2014.

I moved to the UK to complete a master’s in British and European history at the University of Oxford before returning home to embark on my PhD at the University of Sydney. For the doctorate, I wrote about the history of the abolition of the Danish slave trade in the year 1792. My research allowed me ample opportunity to work in the archives, meet remarkable individuals and travel, including a six-month stint as a visiting fellow at Harvard in 2018. 

In 2019, I was offered a position at the Sydney Jewish Museum to teach Holocaust and Human Rights History. When I finished my doctorate in 2020, I moved to full-time work at the museum coordinating a project to create three-dimensional, interactive biographies (imagine life-size holograms that respond to your questions). This opportunity afforded me the unique privilege of working closely with Holocaust survivors each of whom I interviewed over the course of a week, posing close to a thousand questions. My time at the museum drew to an end just before I gave birth to my daughter, Eve and after working as a full-time mother for nine months, I began a new role at Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA). ASA is a specialist legal practice, research and policy centre committed to the abolition of modern slavery in Australia. I stepped into a role coordinating the Justice for All project which sought the establishment of a national compensation scheme for survivors of modern slavery to ensure proper access to effective remedies.  

Finally, I have recently been offered a position as a strategy advisor for the Human Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office which I intend to begin in the coming months. 

What has led you to the position you hold today?

I have never been one to look too far ahead and instead followed those opportunities that have been in front of me. This led me down a slightly less conventional vocational path but one that I have derived great pleasure and meaning from. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their own love of history. Little did I know that pursuing history more formally would create so many interesting opportunities for me. It has been a valuable lesson in following what interests me rather than what I think is more commonly accepted as the appropriate path. This privilege and mantra of pursuing that which is meaningful to me has invariably meant I have performed better, been more open to sharing ideas and continued to care about improving. All of this has helped open new doorways that I had not imagined possible when I was at school. 

Morgan Southwick at Oxford University
 Left: submitting her master’s thesis at the Examination School, Oxford. Right: Outside the Harvard Faculty club during my time as visiting fellow.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Though I have just waxed lyrical about following one’s passion, coming to terms with this was not always that straightforward. Before I had even finished school, I felt a certain pressure to pursue something vocational at university that reflected the mark I received in my HSC. When I switched to an Arts degree, I felt a constant need to justify ‘just’ doing arts. Whenever I told someone, I studied history and philosophy I was often met with ‘what will you use that for?’ Fortunately, these questions never came from my own parents and my mother and partner were particularly wonderful at encouraging my choices which meant I persisted in my pursuits. Still, it was not until I began to study overseas that I came to completely comprehend the benefit of having been trained to think critically, analytically and creatively. Here, studying the arts was not seen as a fallback but as a strength. 

What has been your most rewarding work achievement?

I recently visited the Reverberations exhibition at the Sydney Jewish Museum where I was able to see how the interviews I conducted had been curated. Life-size clips of Australian survivors appeared on the screens responding to various questions on topics such as justice, forgiveness, faith, and family. There were also three interactive biographies that I was able to speak to. It was very moving to watch and hear these responses and recall the moment I had asked them the question in real life. This was especially true as some of the survivors have passed since filming. The experience served as a profound reminder of the friendships I had made with these incredible people who had lived such extraordinary lives. There is, in my view, no greater privilege than listening to someone speak about something that they are truly passionate about and I will be forever grateful for playing a small role in keeping the legacy of these people and their dedication to human rights alive. 

What is your proudest moment from post-school life?

Nothing makes me prouder than my little family. Watching my daughter grow and change each day brings me immeasurable joy. 

What trait has been most vital in helping you succeed?

I think my general enthusiasm and positivity have been most important in my journey. It has often meant eagerly taking on new roles that may have been somewhat out of my comfort zone but have challenged me for the better and allowed me to foster new skills.  

Morgan Southwick CCGS alumni
Nine months pregnant interviewing Holocaust survivor Olga Horak for the Dimensions in Testimony project at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

What inspired you to choose Germany to travel and live in during your gap year?

I always knew I wanted to take a year off when I finished school. It is such a unique time to be able to travel and challenge yourself in new ways. From a young age, I had been interested in languages. My mother is Danish, so I grew up bilingual. At school and for the HSC I studied Indonesian and took up beginners German through the Open High School. I knew I did not want to go to an English-speaking country and wanted to be close to family in Denmark so settled in Germany where I could become more fluent in the language and travel around Europe. Learning German ended up being hugely advantageous to my later research as many of my sources were in German.  

Outside of history, what are you passionate about?

I have probably cast myself as a bit of a bookworm when really, I am more an earthworm. I adore gardening. There is nothing I enjoy more than nurturing plants and watching them grow. Indeed, I think there is nothing more humbling than planting a tree and realising you will never live to see it fully grown. 

What CCGS experience or achievement most prepared you for where you are today?

Attending CCGS was an absolute privilege. I had such a wonderful year group and incredibly supportive teachers who managed to balance encouraging academic pursuits without applying the type of pressure that can quickly lead to anxiety. I am incredibly grateful that I can look back at that time with such joy both in my learning and wellbeing - something that I think the school was particularly good at fostering. 

What advice would you give to your high school self?

I would tell myself to continue to enjoy school, eat before exams, take time to get to know those not in my immediate friendship group and that the memories I create outside of study are those which I would cherish, so don’t take it all too seriously.