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Research and scholarship

Research and scholarship underpin all exhibitions and programs and are critical to the Museum achieving its PBS outcome. Under its Act, the Museum is mandated to conduct and disseminate research about Australian history, relating to its core thematic areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, Australia's history and society since 1788, and the interaction of people with the environment.

Sustaining research and scholarship activity is one of the Museum's key strategic priorities, outlined in the Strategic Plan 2004–07. During the year, the Museum established the Centre for Historical Research. The centre subsumes the former Research and Development section, and incorporates the Museum's Library.

The centre comprises a head and senior research fellow (Dr Peter Stanley, who commenced work in February), several senior research fellows, research fellows, curatorial staff on attachment, visiting fellows and associates, and interns from the Museums and Collections program jointly coordinated by The Australian National University and the Museum.

The centre's senior research fellows include the Museum's Dr Mike Smith and two scholars from The Australian National University, Dr Libby Robin and Dr Nicholas Brown, who share a position on a six-month rotation. Margo Neale, presently working as the Director's Principal Advisor, Indigenous Matters, will join the centre when her commitments to a major exhibition project permit.

The Museum continued its Visiting Fellowships program this year, bringing researchers and writers into the Museum to interact with staff and the collection. In 2006–07 the Museum welcomed four visiting fellows: historian Dr Maria Nugent, who worked on Captain Cook studies, novelist Frank Moorhouse as a writer-in- residence, Dr Jenny Newell on exchange from the British Museum and Dr Susan Cochrane of the University of Queensland. A Director's Fellowship was created which will enable the Museum to attract notable researchers across its fields of research, such as historian David Day, Professor of Australian Studies, Centre for Pacific and American Studies at the University of Tokyo, who will join the Museum in late 2007.

Other visitors included Calogero Santoro, Professor of Archaeology, Departamento de Arqueología y Museología, Universidad de Tarapacá, Arica, northern Chile and Director of the Centro de Investigaciones del Hombre en el Desierto (Centre for Research into Man in the Desert); 2006 visiting fellow Julian Holland; and historian Dr Glen McLaren.

In partnership with the Australian Academy of Science, the Museum also sponsored a student essay prize for the best university research essay on the history of Australian science or Australian environmental history. The 2007 prize was awarded to Dr Coral Dow for her essay 'A "Sportsman's Paradise": The effects of hunting on the avifauna of the Gippsland Lakes'. Because of the high standard of entries, many of the essays are to be published in the international journal Environment and History as a special issue on Australian environmental history, under the guest editorship of Dr Libby Robin and Dr Mike Smith.

Dr Peter Stanley, Dr Mike Smith and Dr Libby Robin, of the Centre for Historical Research, hold key editorial positions with the Museum's scholarly journal, reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia. See Publishing.

It's academic

Individual images (from left to right): Dr Peter Stanley, Dr Mike Smith holding his Rhys Jones Medal and Dr Libby Robin.
Dr Peter Stanley, Head of the Museum's Research Centre; Dr Mike Smith with his Rhys Jones Medal for 'Outstanding contribution to Australian Archaeology'; Dr Libby Robin, at the launch of her book, How a Continent Created a Nation.

Research centre in action

Soon after commencing at the Museum, the Head of the Centre for Historical Research, Dr Peter Stanley, completed a manuscript entitled 'Invading Australia' (to be published by Penguin), and started research for future books on the lives of Great War survivors, on the bushman–writer Bill Harney and on the material history of early twentieth-century Australia. Dr Stanley was also appointed an adjunct professor in The Australian National University's History program, which builds on similar appointments of other staff, Dr Mike Smith and Margo Neale. In June, Dr Stanley delivered the keynote address to the University of South Australia's annual Writings on War symposium.

Senior research fellow Dr Mike Smith began a collaborative research project on the 'Archaeology of Australia's deserts and drylands: Reconstructing the human history of arid Australia'. This project deals with the deep human history of one of Australia's most distinctive habitats, and allows the Museum to play a strategic and leadership role in promoting archaeological research in Australia. During the year, Dr Smith was awarded the Rhys Jones Medal for 'Outstanding Contributions to Australian Archaeology' by the Australian Archaeological Association. He was also elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (London).

Senior research fellow Dr Libby Robin is using her training in the history of science to consider the relationship between the Australian environment and society's identity and expectations. She is also working on the relationship between these ideas and globalisation, including a global project to contribute to the Integrated History and future Of People on Earth (IHOPE) project. Dr Robin published her book How a Continent Created a Nation in February.

Strategic partnerships

The Museum's relationship with The Australian National University was also strengthened by the signing of a memorandum of understanding covering collaboration on a range of scholarly and public programs, a relationship which the establishment of the Centre for Historical Research has enhanced. Agreement has been reached in principle with the Menzies Centre in London, as a key link in the Museum's engagement with the international Australian studies network. Further scholarly collaborations with Australian and overseas bodies are being investigated.

Australian Research Council grants

The Museum also undertakes research related to the care and preservation of the collection. 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.

The Museum was an industry partner in 12 research projects funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) in 2006–07, including:

  • 'Bronze Age textiles from Dong Son coffins in Vietnam'
  • 'Studies in the degradation of dyes and pigments in ink on paper, in photographic media and on painted surfaces'
  • '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'
  • 'New literacy, new audiences: A model for Australian content generation and multiplatform publishing 2005–2007'
  • 'The Australian Dictionary of Biography online'
  • 'Indigenous participation in the Australian colonial economy'
  • 'Migration memories: An analysis of representations of Australian migration histories'
  • 'Cultural collections, creators and copyright: Museums, galleries, libraries and archives and Australia's digital heritage'.

Further details on these projects are in Appendix 7. The centre will review the viability of further ARC linkage proposals in the coming financial year with a view to deciding whether to continue them as a means of enhancing its scholarly productivity.

Museum staff were also 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'.

For details on National Museum of Australia Press publications, see the Publishing section. For a full list of staff professional activities and research and scholarly outputs, see Appendix 8.

Library resources

The Museum's Library acts as a research service and information resource for Museum staff. It currently holds more than 40,000 books, journals and audiovisual materials predominantly concerning museum studies and conservation, Indigenous Australians, Australian history and the Australian environment. In April 2007 the Library became part of the new Centre for Historical Research.

In June 2006 the Library launched a new internal portal to give staff and on-site users easy desktop access to an expanding suite of electronic research tools. Notable additions this year included SCOPUS, a citation (and full text) database, and RefWorks, a citation management tool. At present the Library portal is being prepared for an external launch via the Museum's website.

Staff also made steady progress on the cataloguing of new special collections donated by Dr Robert Edwards and Dr David Ride. In addition, work continued indexing the personal papers of Dr Robert Edwards and archiving the Sir Colin MacKenzie collection papers, which originally came from the Institute of Anatomy.

The Library is open to the public between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm, Tuesday to Friday, and is used frequently by students and researchers.