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Peter Stanley


Name: Dr Peter Stanley

Former Title: Head, Research Centre, National Museum of Australia from xx to xx

Qualifications: BA (ANU, 1977); Litt. B. (ANU, 1984); PhD (ANU, 1993)

Expertise: Australian military social history up to 1945; nineteenth century medical history; British India; museums and collections; bushfire history

Current projects:

  • Black Saturday at Steels Creek – a book about how fire affects an Australian community
  • Australia and the Great War – part of a multi-author and multi-volume re-examination of the First World War, to be completed as part of the war’s centenary
  • Lost Boys of Anzac – a new examination of the 25 April 1915 landing on Gallipoli
  • The Material Histories project
  • Co-editorial responsibility for reCollections, the National Museum’s journal of museums and collections

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Peter Stanley - staff presentations and papers

Dr Peter Stanley

Dr Peter Stanley is a military social historian and was formerly head of the Centre for Historical Research from xx to xx.

Note: This profile has not been updated since xx.

He writes about people in extreme situations, usually in war, but also in natural disasters – his current book is about the Black Saturday bush fire of 2009.

Current research

Dr Peter Stanley is involved in several projects dealing with Australians in war and peace, in books he is writing both as a member of the staff of the National Museum of Australia and as an independent scholar. He is a member of the editorial board of the Museum’s on-line journal of museums and collections, reCollections, and has published articles and reviews in it.

As an adjunct Professor at the Australian National University and a Visiting Associate Professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy Peter supervises post-graduate candidates and examines theses in universities in Australia and overseas, as well as advising academic colleagues, publishers and filmmakers.

As part of the Bushfire Project, being conducted in association with the Centre for Environmental History at Australian National University and independent film-maker Moira Fahy, Peter is completing a book: Black Saturday at Steels Creek: fire and an Australian community. The project will produce a community history of Steels Creek (co-written by Prof. Tom Griffiths and Dr Christine Hansen) and a film exploring the fire’s effects on three families in Steels Creek. Black Saturday at Steels Creek will trace how fire came to Steels Creek 7 February 2009 and how the community responded to its effects.

As the most prolific historian currently writing about Australia and the Great War, Peter’s recent books include Men of Mont St Quentin (2008), Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force (2010) and Digger Smith and Australia's Great War (2010). He is involved in several projects relating to the approaching centenary of the Great War, 2014-18. He is:

  • writing part of a multi-author history of Australia in the war in association with colleagues at the Australian Defence Force Academy – his volume, one of a series to appear in 2014-15, deals with the experience and aftermath of the war in Australia
  • involved in the ‘Anzac Day at Home and Abroad' project, a large ARC-funded project, headed by Prof. Bruce Scates of Monash University
  • advising and presenting various historical television series, including Charles Bean’s Great War (360 Degree Films) and In Their Footsteps (Shine).
  • co-writing a chapter on Australia and the Great War (with Prof. Stephen Garton of Sydney University) in the forthcoming Cambridge University Press history of Australia series
  • writing a book (Lost Boys of Anzac) re-examining the first hours of the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915
  • advancing the Centre’s ‘material histories’ project – examining the value of material culture to historical understanding as part of the Centre’s place in a museum
  • supervising theses on Australian prisoners of war on the Western Front (Aaron Pegrum, ANU)
  • appearing frequently in the electronic and print media as an expert commentator on military history and history generally


Peter has been a professional public historian for over thirty years. He worked at the Australian War Memorial from 1980 to 2007, becoming its Principal Historian. Peter became the inaugural head of the Museum’s Research Centre (formerly Centre for Historical Research) in 2007. He has contributed to and curated exhibitions (including Gallipoli, Soldiers of the Queen, the South African War gallery and the Second World War gallery), has appeared often in the media and has published over 20 books (mainly in the field of Australian military social history but including British imperial and medical history, and books for children, including a novel Simpson’s Donkey).

Through his work at the Australian War Memorial Peter has contributed to the revival in interest in Australian military history and he continues to offer challenging historical interpretations through his work. His 1997 Tarakan: and Australian Tragedy contested the view that the 1945 campaigns were ‘unnecessary’. For Fear of Pain presented a revisionist view of the surgery of the early nineteenth century. His 2008 book Invading Australia criticised the ‘Battle for Australia’ interpretation and re-affirmed the validity of conventional historiography on whether Japan planned to invade Australia in 1942. His A Stout Pair of Boots (2008) was the first book written in Australia on battlefield research. Men of Mont St Quentin offered a novel study of a battle and its aftermath by focusing on the experience of one 12-man platoon. 

Peter Stanley looking through his book Digger Smith
Peter Stanley looking through his book Digger Smith. Photo: George Serras.

Publication highlights

Best books

White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India, 1825-75, Christopher Hurst & Co., London/ New York University Press, 1998

For Fear of Pain: British Surgery 1790-1850, Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam, in association with the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, 2003 (new edition, 2006)

Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942, Viking Penguin, Melbourne, 2008

Men of Mont St Quentin: Between Victory and Death, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2009

Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Murdoch Books/Pier 9, Sydney, 2010

Digger Smith and Australia’s Great War, Murdoch Books, Pier 9, Sydney, 2011

Commando to Colditz: Micky Burn’s Journey to the Far Side of Tears, Murdoch Books/Pier 9, Sydney, 2009

Best chapters or articles

'Sniffing the ground: Australians and Borneo - 1945, 1994', Journal of the Australian War Memorial, October 1994

'Diversity of visitors, diversity of interpretation: the Australian War Memorial's Second World War gallery', in Darryl McIntyre and Kirsten Wehner (eds), National Museums Negotiating Histories, Canberra, 2001

‘Working machines and “Broken Britain”: Goodwood Revival and the historical politics of re-enactment’, reCollections, 2010

‘Dramatic myth; dull truth: Invasion by Japan in 1942’, in Craig Stockings, (ed.), Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, New South, Sydney, 2010

‘He was black, he was a White man, and a dinkum Aussie’: race and empire in revisiting the Anzac Legend’, in Santanu Das, Race and Empire in the Great War, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011

View a complete list of Dr Peter Stanley's publications

pdf  Download Peter Stanley's publishing history (241kb)

Peter Stanley's publication covers.

Professional commitments

Peter Stanley is an adjunct Professor at the Australian National University and a Visiting Associate Professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He is co-convenor of the Canberra Great War Study Group, and is on the editorial board of reCollections, the federal working party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the judging panels of various prizes.


Joint winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History, 2011 for his book Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny and Murder and the Australian Imperial Force.