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Scholarship and research

The Museum seeks to ensure that the development of its collections, exhibition, publications and other activities all reflect the highest quality of research and scholarship.

Research and scholarship policy, November 2004

As specified in its Act, the Museum conducts and disseminates research about Australian history, consistent with the core thematic areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, Australia's history and society since British settlement in 1788, and the interaction of people with the environment.

The Museum also undertakes research related to the care and preservation of collection objects. Such projects are often collaborative ventures with other academic and cultural institutions.

Other collaborative research projects focus on museological areas such as audience needs, evaluation, outreach and learning in museums.

During the year, the Museum undertook a number of initiatives to enhance its scholarship and research. The Research and scholarship policy was revised and a new strategic plan for research and scholarship was adopted. Under the policy, the Museum determined that the Museum's collections, their nature as historical evidence, and their role in creating understandings of the past would continue to be the principal focus of the research and scholarship. This focus includes:

  • the collections, understood as objects which are in some way evidence about the past or the historical experience
  • the people, communities, ideas and events that comprise historical experience and that are documented and represented by the collections
  • practices of interpretation and visitor experience, such as exhibitions, public programs and conservation activities, through which the collections are used to create understandings of Australian history and society.

To continue to build in-house capacity for research, the Museum also inaugurated a staff research scholarship scheme and a mentoring program to assist staff to write for publication.

Australian Research Council grants

The Museum is currently an industry partner in a number of research projects funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The Museum continued its partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian National University on the joint project 'The human elements: A cultural history of Australian weather'. This explores the experience of weather in Australia from the 1880s to the 1980s. The National Museum of Australia Press publication, A Change in the Weather, released in April 2005, was one of the products of this project.

In May 2005, the Museum embarked on a research project relating to migration. 'Migration memories' is a three-year ARC Linkage project between the Museum and the Australian National University's Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. It is an interdisciplinary study examining the ways migration histories, ranging from 1788 to the present, can be represented in different museum settings. Project personnel will work closely with community participants in three locations recording their family stories of migration. It is expected that the stories and supporting objects will be developed into displays in three regional locations and that the local exhibitions will be brought together as a temporary exhibition at the Museum in 2007.

The two conservation-related ARC Linkage grant projects - 'Bronze Age textiles from Dong Song coffins in Vietnam' and 'Studies in the degradation of dyes and pigments in ink on paper, in photographic media and on painted surfaces' - progressed on schedule into their second years of activity. Three Museum conservators joined Australian National University and Vietnamese archaeologists in the Red River Delta in December 2004, where they successfully excavated a Dong Song coffin and burial shroud. The conservators will be returning to Vietnam in late 2005 to undertake treatment of the shroud and conduct a conservation workshop.

Another major research project continued with the Museum's partnership with the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and the University of Tasmania. The project, 'Activating and maintaining community participation in natural and cultural resources', delivered a number of outputs this year, including:

  • 'Committing to place: Murray-Darling Basin' outreach project - this project researched how information and communication technologies can increase community engagement with environmental and cultural heritage issues. It featured a number of online activities, including Basin Bytes, in which people in Wentworth, Goolwa and Toowoomba created their own interpretations of their relationship with the environment in photographs and text. These were published on the Museum's website.
  • Pass the Salt, another online project, focused on the issue of salinity in the Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, district. The resulting website featured oral history, photographs and objects that were subsequently acquired for the Museum's collection.

Other ARC Linkage grant projects included:

  • 'Collaborating for Indigenous rights: A 50-year retrospective exploring the history of black and white Australian activism 1957-1972'
  • 'Australian Indigenous collectors and collections'
  • 'Increasing visitor frequency: An approach to understanding and forecasting how cultural-attraction visitors respond to various incentives to increase visitation rates'
  • 'Anthropological perspectives on ethnographic collecting by Australian colonial administrators in Papua New Guinea and their contribution to museum collections'
  • 'Managing the volunteer workforce: Flexible structures and strategies to integrate volunteers and paid workers'
  • 'Aliens and others: Representing citizenship and internships in Australia during World War II'
  • 'Copyright and cultural institutions: Digitising collections in public museums, galleries and libraries'.

In addition to ARC Linkage projects, Museum staff were involved in several ARC Discovery grant projects. These were:

  • 'Unsettling history: Australian Indigenous modes of historical practice'
  • 'Art and human rights in the Asia-Pacific: The limits of tolerance in the 21st century'
  • 'Asia's first people: The role of east Asia in human evolution during the past half million years'.

Details of ARC grant projects are given in Appendix 7.

Other research projects

During the year, an environmental art project featuring the key desert archaeological site of Puritjarra rock shelter was completed with the launch of the book Strata: Deserts Past, Present and Future by Mandy Martin, Libby Robin and Mike Smith. The project, funded by Land and Water Australia, also featured an exhibition of associated artworks at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs.

Museum archaeologist Dr Mike Smith also collaborated with Dr June Ross (University of New England) on archaeological excavations at two rock shelters at Glen Thirsty in central Australia. Both sites are radiocarbon dated to the last millennium and contribute to understanding recent prehistoric changes in Aboriginal settlement in the Lake Amadeus basin.

A number of important audience research projects were launched during the year, with most results due in the next financial year. Significant visitor research partnerships also underway include:

  • a disability study, in association with the Australian Museum in Sydney. This is expected to report on the experiences of different disability groups in both Canberra and Sydney and include an access checklist of value to all museums
  • a study of factors which promote repeat visitation in different venues, in partnership with the University of Technology, Sydney, the Powerhouse Museum, Museum Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National Maritime Museum and the University of New South Wales
  • research into museum learning as experienced by adolescent school visitors, in partnership with the University of Technology, Sydney, the Australian Museum, Museum Victoria and Sovereign Hill.

Museum staff continued to publish widely in their fields, through National Museum of Australia Press and other publishers. For details on National Museum of Australia Press publications, see Publishing. For a full list of staff professional activities and publications see Appendix 8.