Woman McCalman, Janet Susan (1948 - )

5 December 1948
Richmond, Victoria, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Janet McCalman is a leader in the history profession who has made a significant contribution to Australian history, especially medical history, historical population health, social health and demography.

Born in Richmond, Victoria, on 5 December 1948 to industrial officer Laurie Brian McCalman and Hélène Ulrich, she attended Methodist Ladies College in Kew on a scholarship. She completed a BA (Hons) degree at the University of Melbourne in 1970 and went on to complete her PhD at the Australian National University in 1976.

After completing her PhD, McCalman spent several years undertaking casual office work and working as a teacher and independent scholar. From 1993 until 1997 she held an Australian Research Council Fellowship at the University of Melbourne before taking up a Senior Lectureship based in the Centre for Health and Society, split between the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences and the History and Philosophy Programs. In 2000 McCalman was appointed Reader in the History and Philosophy of Science and the Centre for Health and Society. From 2001-2003 she served as the Head of the History and Philosophy of Science and was appointed Professor in Public Health by the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences in 2003. Since 2011 she has been based at Centre for Health and Society, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

McCalman is the author of two award-winning books on the social history of Melbourne. Her first book, Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965, was published in 1984. She was awarded the 1985 Ernest Scott Prize for the best book in Australasian history 1984-1985, the Max Crawford Medal by the Australian Academy of Humanities, Victorian Premier's Award for Australian Studies and a Fellowship of Australian Writers' Local History Award for this book which was also short-listed for The Age book of the year in 1984. Continuing her work on local history, McCalman published A Hundred Years at Bank Street: A Centenary History of Ascot Vale State School 1885-1985 in 1985. In 1993 McCalman published Journeyings: the biography of a middle-class generation 1920-1990, which was accompanied by the co-authored statistical survey Journeyings survey: a statistical portrait of a middle-class generation. Journeyings enjoyed gained critical acclaim and was awarded The Age Non-fiction Book of the Year (1993) and was also short-listed for the South Australian Premier's Award 1994 and the Victorian Premier's Award for Australian Studies. In 1998 McCalman published: Sex and suffering: women's health and a women's hospital: the Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, 1856 - 1996.

In 1999 McCalman and Ruth Morley, then with the Menzies Research Institute, began the 'Life Courses in Times Past Program' at the Centre for Health and Society with an Australian Research Council funded investigation into the relationship between birth weight and adult health using the historical midwifery records of the Royal Women's Hospital Lying-In Hospital Birth Cohort, 1857-1900. This was the genesis of a methodology that is unique to the program: the combination of propsopography, or systematic mass biographies, with family reconstitution, demography and epidemiology to build cradle-to-grave population datasets, which McCalman and her colleagues have applied to other projects. The second project, the Koori Health Research Database (KHRD) was initiated by Professor Ian Anderson in 2000 and developed in partnership with the Bunjilaka Cultural Centre at Museum Victoria. The third project, 'Founders & Survivors: historical life courses in historical context, 1804-1985', is based on the Tasmanian Convict records. It has developed partnerships with researchers from universities in Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The fourth project is Dr Rebecca Kippen's ARC Future Fellowship project 'Epidemics, mortality and longevity in Tasmania, 1838-1930'.Based on a unique database of long-run linked births, deaths and marriages, this project will give a comprehensive picture of mortality and longevity in nineteenth- and early-twentieth century Tasmania.

In 1993 McCalman was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2005. She is a former member of the Australian Historical Association Advisory Committee to the National Archives of Australia and the Editorial Board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

McCalman married Al Knight, publisher and co-founder of Hyland House Publishing, on 15 December 1976. They have one son and one daughter, born in 1981 and 1985 respectively.

Additional sources: Personal communication between Susan Janet McCalman and Sharon M. Harrison.

Published Resources


  • McCalman, Janet, Sex and Suffering: Women's Health and a Women's Hospital. The Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, 1856 - 1996, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1998. Details

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details

Online Resources

See also