The Museum has legislative responsibility to undertake and support research. 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’. The Research Centre, now integrated into the Curatorial and Research section, plays a key role in fulfilling this responsibility by actively carrying out scholarly research across a range of activities and themes relevant to the Museum. Research highlights included:
- co-convening an international workshop held at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York (Dr Kirsten Wehner, Dr Libby Robin and Dr Jenny Newell (AMNH))
- staff presenting papers at international conferences on issues as diverse as climate change and environmental history at the Museums, Collections and Climate Change conference, New York; repatriation at the Postcolonial Justice Conference, held at the University of Potsdam, Germany; and celebrity at the Celebrity Studies Conference, London
- representing the Museum at the UNESCO Memory of the World Conference in China, in May 2014
- significant staff involvement with the Museums Australia conference in Launceston, Tasmania, in May 2014, with staff presenting papers and chairing sessions
- presenting at the Velocity conference, Adelaide (Dr Daniel Oakman)
- contributing to the Ngintaka exhibition at the South Australian Museum (Margo Neale and Tessa Keenan) and the associated book (Dr Mike Smith and Dr Libby Robin)
- publication of books written or edited by Research Centre fellows: The Future of Nature and Edges of Environmental History: Honouring Jane Carruthers (edited by Dr Libby Robin), The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress (by Dr Cameron Muir) and The History of Canberra (by Dr Nicholas Brown)
- running a successful seminar program delivered by staff and local and international speakers
- hosting three staff research fellows, two who worked intensively on aspects of the Museum’s collection related to aviation and Springfield station, and another who developed a paper on the fame and notoriety of Joseph Banks
- support of independent researchers through the Research Centre’s ‘Associate’ program.
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 (AIATSIS); the Koorie Heritage Trust; the ACT Cultural Facilities Corporation Historic Places Advisory Committee; the Gallery of Australian Design, Canberra; the Wilin Centre, Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne; the Australian Academy of Science; and the Carnegie Mellon Observatory in the Environmental Humanities, Pennsylvania. At the Australian National University, strong links are maintained with the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies, the Institute of Professional Practice and Heritage and the Arts, the National 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, broadening 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, 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).
Supporting the research program
Our extensive and welcoming Library is part of the Research Centre and underpins research across the institution. Established in 1984, it now holds more than 45,000 books, journals and other items 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 Library collects material covering museum studies and conservation, as well as items relating to the corporate memory of the Museum. The Library is a repository for a number of unique collections including the working libraries of Dr Robert Edwards, and Professors David Ride, Ken Inglis, Bill Gammage and Dr Mike Smith. The Library provides a reference collection for Museum staff and the public, and a special collections reading room is available for use. Library staff hold special ‘open days’ when some of the Museum’s beautiful rare books are displayed, the most recent being ‘Fabrics and fashion’ in May 2014.
reCollections: A Journal of Museums and Collections
Now in its ninth year of publication, the Museum’s scholarly e-journal, reCollections, makes a significant contribution to the Museum’s intellectual leadership. Peer-reviewed articles, commentaries and exhibition reviews are published twice a year and facilitate critical reflection on museological practice in Australia and internationally. The most recent issue has incorporated the capability for readers to comment on articles and reviews, and to share an article via Facebook or Twitter.
“[I liked] having an expert with an intimate knowledge of the subject share his/her insights with others. Receiving an insight into how and why the paintings are more than just marks on a surface.”
Audience member, Old Masters lecture series