Prof Bronwen Douglas


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Past student projects

Reading the Pacific with S. Percy Smith

German naturalists, physical anthropology, and encounters in New Guinea

The Spectre of Revolt: Mastering Violence in New Caledonia

Politics, History and Collective Memory among the Churches of Christ in Northern Vanuatu

Cultures, Christians and Colonial Subjects: George Brown's Representations of Islanders from Samoa and the Bismarck Archipelago


Researcher's projects

'Knowing New Guinea, Mapping New Guinea, 60,000BP-The Present', 2021-

'Race, Place, Genome: "The Polynesians" in deep historical perspective, 1756-Now', 2017-

'Naming Oceania: geography, raciology and local knowledge in the "fifth part of the world", 1511-1920', ARC Discovery Project, 2010-17

'Artefacts of Encounter: Cross-cultural exchange on early European voyages into Polynesia (1765-1840) and sociocultural transformation', ESRC (UK) project, 2010-12, University of Cambridge

'European Naturalists and the Constitution of Human Difference in Oceania: Crosscultural encounters and the science of race, 1768-1888', ARC Discovery Project, 2006-10

'Tatau/Tattoo: Embodied art and cultural exchange c. 1760-c. 2000', Getty Grant Program project, 2002-4, Goldsmiths University, London

Current student projects




BA (Hons) (Adelaide), PhD (ANU)


For nearly two decades, my major research interest has been the history of the global concept of race and its particular manifestations in Oceania (conceived broadly to include Australia and Island Southeast Asia as well as the Pacific Islands). My monograph Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania 1511-1850 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) examines the interplay of metropolitan ideas, regional experience and Indigenous agency in European descriptions, representations and classifications of people encountered in Oceania. I recently concluded an ARC Discovery project on 'Naming Oceania: geography, raciology and local knowledge in the "fifth part of the world", 1511-1920'. This research correlates the conception, naming and partition of a space with the naming, division and (eventual) racial classification of people within it. By tracing knowledge about places and their inhabitants to actual encounters, I investigate the co-dependence of local and metropolitan modes of knowing, naming and acting. This approach throws new light on the complicity of racial geography and anthropology in 19th- and early 20th-century imperial competition and colonisation. I was co-editor of the Journal of Pacific History and am co-editor of Palgrave Studies in Pacific History.

Career highlights

Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University (1971-96); Fellow/Senior Fellow, The Australian National University (1997-2012); Visiting Fellow, Comparative Austronesian Project, ANU (1991); Visiting Professor, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (1995 and 2007); Humanities Research Centre Fellow, ANU (1996); Caird Fellow, National Maritime Museum, UK (2001); Harold White Fellow, National Library of Australia (2010); winner, Journal of Historical Geography Prize for best article published in 2014; elected fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities (2020).

Research interests

The history of the idea of race, globally and in the context of encounters in Oceania, and in modern genomic studies; the history of archaeology, anthropology, and collecting in Oceania; the history of Melanesian Christianities; the colonial histories of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. My major theoretical and methodical concerns are the identification of traces of local agency and the power of place in colonial or élite representations of actual encounters, including visual or digital images, maps, vocabularies, and object collections.

Expertise Areas

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History
  • Pacific History (excl. New Zealand and Maori)
  • History and Philosophy of Science (incl. Non-historical Philosophy of Science)


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