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Research and scholarship

Under the terms of the Museum Act, the Museum is bound to ‘conduct, arrange for, or assist in research into matters pertaining to Australian history’. Rigorous and innovative research underpins a wide range of Museum activities and projects and the Curatorial and Research section plays akey role in fulfilling this responsibility. Staff undertake research across a range of themes relevant to the Museum, and contribute significantly to a wide variety of scholarly conferences, associations and publications. Research highlights included staff:

  • presenting papers at international conferences including the Challenging Colonial Legacies Today conference, London (Ian Coates, Jilda Andrews); the Imagining Anchorage seminar, Anchorage, United States (Michelle Hetherington); the Encountering Australia conference, Prato, Italy (Kirsten Wehner);the Realm Aquatic conference, Stanford, United States (Kirsten Wehner); the Anthropocene Slam, Madison, United States (Cameron Muir); and the International Congress on the Battles of Gallipoli’ in Canakkale, Turkey (Janda Gooding).
  • contributing papers to national conferences, including the Association of Critical Heritage Studies conference, Canberra (Martha Sear); the Australian Sports History conference, Darwin (Daniel Oakman); the Australian Association for Environmental Education conference, Hobart (George Main); the Archaeology of Portable Art symposium, Canberra (Carol Cooper); the German Anthropological Tradition in Australia conference, Canberra (David Kaus); and presenting an Australian Academy of Science masterclass, Canberra (Martha Sear and Cameron Muir)
  • representing the Museum at the AIATSIS 50 Years On conference, Canberra (Carol Cooper); and participating in the Consortium for Humanities Centers and Institutes annual meetings, Madison, United States (Kirsten Wehner)
  • publishing articles and book chapters, including papers in Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene (George Main) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (Carol Cooper)
  • presenting at the special symposium to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Andrew Sayer’s publication Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century in September 2014 (Carol Cooper), and at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Indigenous Art Course, April 2015 (Carol Cooper)
  • contributing to a range of multi-institutional scholarly projects and organisations, including the ‘Engaging objects’ ARC Linkage project (Ian Coates) and the Andrew Mellon Foundation Australia–Pacific Observatory for the Environmental Humanities (Kirsten Wehner)
  • serving on the editorial boards for the Routledge Environmental Humanities series (Kirsten Wehner)
  • co-convening the Outstations in the History of Self-Determination symposium, Canberra, in association with the ARC Linkage project, ‘Pintupi dialogues’ (Peter Thorley).

Strategic research partnerships

As well as maintaining and developing networks and relationships with researchers across Australia and internationally, the Museum maintains partnerships with key kindred bodies including Indigenous communities and organisations, major collectors, corporations and the university sector.

These include the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research; the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies; the Koorie Heritage Trust; the ACT Cultural Facilities Corporation Historic Places Advisory Committee; the Wilin Centre, Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne; the National Gallery of Victoria; the Australian Academy of Science; and the Andrew W Mellon Observatory for the Environmental Humanities, University of Sydney. At the Australian National University, strong links are maintained with the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies, the Institute of Professional Practice in Heritage and the Arts, the Australian Centre for Indigenous History, the School of History, the School of Art and the Centre for Environmental History. Museum staff hold adjunct professorships at the Australian National University and the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, which broadens our national and international reach.

Museum staff participate in a range of Australian Research Council (ARC) projects that involve working in partnership with educational institutions and community-based organisations in Australia and overseas. Current ARC projects include:

  • ‘Alive with the Dreaming! Songlines for the Western Desert’ (Margo Neale, Dr Mike Smith, Dr Libby Robin, the Australian National University and major Aboriginal partner organisations)
  • ‘The culture of weeds’ (Dr Libby Robin, Dr Cameron Muir, the Australian National University and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne)
  • ‘Return, reconcile, renew: Understanding the history, effects and opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future’ (Dr Michael Pickering, the Australian National University and Australian and international partners)
  • ‘Engaging objects: Indigenous communities, museum collections and the representation of Indigenous Histories’ (Dr Ian Coates, Dr Michael Pickering, the Australian National University and the British Museum)
  • ‘Pintupi dialogues: Reconstructing memories of art, land and community through the visual record’ (Dr Peter Thorley, Professor Fred Myers, New York University, Australian National University and Papunya Tula Artists).

Supporting the research program

Our extensive and welcoming Research Library underpins research across the institution. Established in 1984, it now holds more than 45,000 books, journals and other items that are central to the key themes of the Museum: Australian history and society since 1788, people’s interaction with the environment, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history. In addition to these main themes, the Research Library collects material covering museum studies and conservation, as well as items relating to the corporate memory of the Museum.

The Research Library is a repository for a number of unique collections. Among these are the Institute of Anatomy library collection, and the working libraries of Dr Robert Edwards, and professors David Ride, Ken Inglis, Bill Gammage and Dr Mike Smith. The Research Library provides a reference collection for Museum staff and the public (by appointment), and a special collections reading room is available for quiet research. Library staff hold special rare book viewings showcasing some of the Museum’s beautiful and rare books, the most recent viewing being ‘Bound for the Home Front’ in April 2015.

reCollections: A Journal of Museums and Collections

The Museum’s scholarly e-journal, reCollections, makes a significant contribution to the Museum’s intellectual leadership, helping bridge the gap between academic research on museums and collections, and museological practice. Published twice a year, the journal includes peer-reviewed articles,commentaries and exhibition reviews.

The Green Parrot of Botany Bay, engraving by Sydenham Edwards, 1797 was one of the Museum’s acquisitions this year.
The Green Parrot of Botany Bay, engraving by Sydenham Edwards, 1797 was one of the Museum’s acquisitions this year.