Sydney Sawyer Seminar Sessions

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The Antipodean Laboratory

Humanity, Sovereignty, and Environment in Southern Oceans and Lands, 1700-2009

Session Seven

Native Tahitian image

Critical Histories of Human Biology and ‘Hybridity’ in the Pacific
Friday 14 May, 2010
1-5pm, Holme & Sutherland Rooms, Holme Building, University of Sydney

Convenors: Warwick Anderson & Hans Pols

  • Hans Pols (University of Sydney) – Chair
  • Bronwen Douglas (Australian National University), Confronting 'Hybrids' in Oceania, 1818-1880: Field experience and the science of race in France
  • Barbara Brookes (University of Otago), 'Aristocrats of Knowledge': Maori Anthropologists and the Survival of the 'Race'
  • Warwick Anderson (University of Sydney), Harry Shapiro’s 'Miscegenation Map' of the Pacific

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the islands of the Pacific became a vast archipelago of laboratories for the study of culture contact and race mixing. In this session we will examine critically the research of various physical anthropologists, human biologists, and population experts into the form, character, and attributes of recently colonized Indigenous peoples. We discuss the fascination of these scientists with hybridity and racial destiny. Most historians of racial thought have focussed on the construction of human typologies, but here we also consider unsuccessful and often disturbing attempts to account biologically for mixed-race populations.

Session Six

Gauguin image

Sexuality in the South Seas
Friday 19 March, 2010
1-5pm, Holme & Sutherland Rooms, Holme Building, University of Sydney

Convenor: Robert Aldrich

To read a summary of the session download session six report, 19 March

  • Lee Wallace (University of Auckland), Elusive Histories: Queer Historiography and the Pacific Archive
  • Diane Losche (University of New South Wales), Biography and Anthropology: Sexual Self and Other in the Life and Work of Margaret Mead
  • Chris Brickell (University of Otago), Rearticulations: The Symbols and Encounters of New Zealand Male Homoeroticism, 1880-1940
  • Yorick Smaal (University of Queensland), 'Eliminate the "females"': The Australian army and the 'homosexual problem' in New Guinea

Ever since the first visits by European explorers, the sexual mores of the South Seas have fascinated, attracted and appalled foreigners. From seamen who believed that they had found a sexual paradise and missionaries who endeavoured to stamp out vice, through to the research of Malinowski and Mead, and on to the imagery of contemporary tourist brochures advertising the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the South Pacific has been a laboratory for the investigation of sexual behaviours, the projection of foreign fantasies and the metamorphosis of sexual cultures. This interdisciplinary session will examine the history and historiography of sexuality in Oceania and Australasia in the period of culture contact and after.

Session Five

Varieties of Empire in the Antipodes: Taking Over and Letting Go

3–5.30pm, Friday 30 October 2009
Holme and Sutherland Rooms
Holme Building, University of Sydney

This session was followed by the launch of Kirsten McKenzie’s book, A Swindler’s Progress: Nobles and Convicts in the Age of Liberty

To read a summary of the session download session five report 30 October

Convenor: Dr Kirsten McKenzie

Discussant: Angela Woollacott (Manning Clark Professor of History, Australian National University)

Emma Christopher (University of Sydney)
The non-free white men and their freed African slaves: claims to British Liberty and its realities in Australia and Sierra Leone

James Curran (University of Sydney)
The “great age of confusion”: Intellectuals and the “new nationalism” in Australia

Mark McKenna (University of Sydney)
Turning away from Britain: Manning Clark, History, Public Intellectuals and the end of Empire in Australia

Kirsten McKenzie (University of Sydney)
The Daemon Behind the Curtain: prize slaves, convict escapees and the antipodean theatres of liberty

Settler colonialism has raised profound questions about the process of imperial expansion and the limits of decolonisation. The papers in this session bookend the period from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries, dealing with such diverse commentators as public intellectuals, renegade slave traders and maverick convict escapees. They explore how northern hemisphere debates about political power, social status, national identity and ideas of freedom were worked through in southern settler colonies. Battles over the nature of citizenship were fought out on the imperial periphery in ways that would profoundly shape political rights in Europe. By the end of the twentieth century new varieties of nationalism were grappling with the problem of divesting themselves of a civic identity associated with imperial models they had helped to forge.

Session Four

Sea serpents image

The Experience of the Ocean: Transformative Voyages in the Antipodes

1–5pm, Friday, 21 August 2009
Holme and Sutherland Rooms
Holme Building, University of Sydney

To read a summary of the session download session four report 21 August

Convenors: Prof Cassandra Pybus and Dr Emma Christopher

Jeff Bolster (University of New Hampshire)
Sea Changes: Maritime Histories with the Ocean Included

Hamish Maxwell Stewart (University of Tasmania)
Shipmates unto death? The convict voyage and convict life in early 19th century Australia

Iain McCalman (University of Sydney)
A Laboratory of Islands: Charles Darwin's Pacific Project

Cindy McCreery (University of Sydney)
Loyalties and Royalty: HMS Galatea’s voyage to Australia, 1867-68

For those who made the long voyage to the Antipodes, the ocean was a transformative space. This seminar will consider the disparate experience of sailors on long-haul whaling expeditions; convicted felons exiled from family and home for the term of their natural lives; inquisitive gentlemen like Charles Darwin on a mission of scientific exploration; and Prince Alfred testing his personal boundaries during the first royal voyage to the Antipodes in 1867-8. By placing these very different perspectives alongside each other, this seminar will examine how the southern oceans were critical sites of historical change.

Session Three


Atlantic Justice in the Pacific World: Property, Rights, and Indigeniety

1–5pm, Friday, 17 July 2009
Holme & Sutherland Rooms
Holme Building, University of Sydney

To read a summary of the session download session three report 17 July

Convenors: Prof. Duncan Ivison and A/Prof. Andrew Fitzmaurice

Discussant/Chair: Duncan Ivison

Sankar Muthu (University of Chicago)
Global Connections in Enlightenment Political Thought

Jennifer Pitts (University of Chicago)
Europe, empire, and the boundaries of international law

Andrew Fitzmaurice (University of Sydney)
Sir Travers Twiss and the doctrine of territorium nullius

Download paper abstracts

It is a remarkable fact that the history of our understanding of human rights has been largely worked out by explaining the relations of conquered peoples to empires. Only the challenge of explaining the relations of subjects to states has assumed an equal importance but one that lends even greater importance to the history of empire and rights. This is because states themselves were historically imagined as empires and empires were partly created through the expansion of states. For European states, this interlinked process of expansion and debate over rights was first played out in Atlantic conquests from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries and was recorded in the works of philosophers from Francesco de Vitoria to John Locke. Indeed, by the eighteenth century it seemed that little more could be achieved in thinking about rights and empire, or human rights more generally, and these discourses reached their apex in the writings of the American and French revolutions.

As Europeans turned to the Pacific they brought with them this well-established Atlantic framework for thinking about rights. Indeed, thinking about the Pacific helped to inspire some of the most prominent Enlightenment philosophers and historians. But by the nineteenth century this whole edifice was falling apart. The understanding of what it was to have a right underwent dramatic changes. Challenges arose from several directions. Nineteenth-century positivists largely dismissed the notion of natural rights altogether, arguing that rights could only arise from sovereign power. For some, such as Henry Maine, rights were to be explained in terms of a progressive anthropology. Natural rights theorists continued to assert their own claims while adapting to these competing discourses. The implications of each of these developments were profound and often devastating for colonised peoples. It is clear that this rise of positivism, nationalism and progressive anthropology in the understanding of rights was linked to the expansion of European imperial powers in the Pacific. Maine's ideas, for example, were directly linked to Charles Darwin's. Philosophical positivism was inspired at least in part by scientific empiricism nurtured in turn by Pacific exploration. But historians have yet fully to understand the nature of these links. Nor do we appreciate their implications for the diverse understandings of rights which we inherited from the nineteenth- and twentieth-century empires. The aim of this seminar will be to examine the role of the Pacific in the transformation of our understanding of rights.

Session Two


The Impact of the Antipodes on Ecological Thought: Landscape, Evolution, and Sustainability

1-5pm, Friday, 8 May 2009
Macleay Museum, University of Sydney

To read a summary of the session download session two report 8 May

Convenor: Prof. Iain McCalman


Julia Horne (University of Sydney)
Peter Denney (University of Sydney)
Martin Thomas (University of Sydney)
Richard Waterhouse (University of Sydney)

Since at least the late seventeenth century - long before the field of ecology was officially named by the German evolutionist Ernst Haeckel in 1866 - policies and theories about mankind's relationship to nature were framed in Europe under the Linnaean term of 'the natural economy'. From the late eighteenth century, such debates rose in concert with, and were stimulated by, the growth of modern British science, empire and trade in the new world. Within the southern hemisphere, the discovery by Europeans of new landforms, species, mineral resources, and indigenous cultures prompted intense and continuing debate about natural economies on both sides of the world. A succession of explorers, scientists, traders, writers, painters, anthropologists, missionaries, government administrators and colonial settlers argued about whether and how these newly-discovered natural resources should be viewed, exploited, managed, protected or conserved. Distinctive local and international ecological challenges have been thrown up by the fragility of Pacific island ecosystems, by the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef, by Australia's devastating species losses due to wildfires and drought, by the deforestation of large parts of South East Asia and New Guinea, and by the rapidity of the erosion of the Antarctic ice-cap under the impact of ozone layer destruction and climate change. We will explore these and related issues through papers on comparative art, aesthetics and landscape; on the rise of Darwinian evolutionary ecological theory in two hemispheres; and on European scientific and Indigenous Aboriginal conceptions of nature and of environmental management in the twenty and twenty-first centuries.

Session One

Dance Brumi Island

The Impact of the Antipodes on Anthropological Thought: Histories of Human Order

1–5pm, Friday, 27 March 2009
Holme & Sutherland Rooms
Holme Building, University of Sydney

To read a summary of the session download session one report 27 March

Convenor: Dr Jude Philp

Elena Govor (Australian National University)
Shino Konishi (Australian National University)
Ron Day (Murray Island Community Council )
Helen Gardner (Deakin University)
Jude Philp (University of Sydney)

This session investigates the impact of the antipodes on anthropological thought through centring discussion on the disparate and extraordinarily diverse peoples of the Pacific region. The aim of many 18th-century European expeditions to the Pacific was to glean information about natural phenomena (geology, astronomy, cartography etc). The mediators of this information were the peoples indigenous to the many islands and lands spread across the Pacific Ocean. Rather than a laboratory of clinical and predetermined materials, the antipodean 'laboratory' was often treated as a marketplace where negotiation for access to resources necessarily involved the gathering of cultural knowledge, names, languages and cultural products. These chance purchases and notes were the beginnings of anthropological thought here. The workshop is organised into two sections. One focussing on the impact and use of this information in European centres and one focussing on the gift of cultural knowledge to the travellers by Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Ocean's landmasses.