Research projects

The School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry has some of the leading scholars in the world in Archaeology, Classics and Ancient History, Gender and Cultural Studies, History and Philosophy. Below are just some of our SOPHI academic staff.

Lesley Beaumont


Thom van Dooren

van Dooren

Elspeth Probyn


Dalia Nassar










Ruth Barcan




Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont

Lesley Beaumont

Department of Archaeology

Lesley Beaumont specialises in the archaeology of the ancient Greek world. Areas of particular interest include the material culture of Athens, Ionia and Andros and the iconography and social history of ancient Greek childhood. She co-directs archaeological fieldwork at the Early Iron Age settlement site of Zagora on Andros, which is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant, and previously co-directed archaeological investigations in the Sanctuary of Apollo at Kato Phana on Chios. She is author of Childhood in Ancient Athens: Iconography and Social History (Routledge 2012), and is currently under contract to Routledge to co-edit a major new handbook on Children in Antiquity: Perspectives and Experiences of Childhood in the Ancient Mediterranean. Lesley supervises Honours and postgraduate students working in the field of Classical Archaeology.

Associate Professor Thom van Dooren

Thom van Dooren

Department of Gender and Cultural Studies
ARC Future Fellow (2017-2021)

Extinction Stories: Inhabiting Landscapes of Loss

In this period of mass species extinction, this multi-sited project explores the cultural, political, and ethical dimensions of biodiversity loss in the Pacific region. Grounded in "field philosophical" work, the project brings ethnographic research into dialogue with philosophy, cultural studies, and the natural sciences to explore people's consequential entanglements with threatened species and places. How does extinction shape the contours of local lives and landscapes? How does it impact on livelihoods, cultural practices, modes of understanding and meaning-making? How are contemporary and historical patterns of extinction caught up with other, often ongoing, forms of violence and dispossession? What does it mean to inhabit these landscapes of loss - perhaps as sites of possibility and transformation?

At the heart of this project is an interest in story(telling), in the diverse ways in which people make sense of extinction, its consequences and entanglements. Alongside conventional academic writing this project aims to cultivate broader social dialogue on extinction in its diverse and always unequal cultural forms through public-facing writing, documentaries, and a digital exhibition. In addition, the project seeks to contribute to local people's capacities to tell their own stories on their own terms through the creation of a multimedia living-archive of extinction stories from around the region.

Prof Elspeth Probyn

Elspeth Probyn

Sustainable Fish: a material analysis of cultures of consumption & production.

This project responds to the challenge of how to produce and consume fish in a sustainable way. What is needed is analysis that can unite what are currently disparate and competing models of what ‘fish’ are and what they can and should ‘be’ in the future. Scientific and ecological models insist that numbers, quality and eco-sustainability are what matter; local fishing communities value economic viability, traditional practice-based knowledge, and ways of life; consumers operate in budget-defined regimes of commodified ‘taste’ and ‘choice’. Each of these spheres brings to the table radically different models of what ‘fish’ represent and what they ‘do’ in deeply implicated, mutually dependent, networks of inter-relation. No research to date has enabled a way to bring these varying models together in a larger coherent model, such that the sciences of marine life and eco-sustainability arguments can be brought to the cultures of the everyday practice of producers and consumers (Pauly, 2009; Pauly & Watson, 2009; Palsson, 2013). This project undertakes an ambitious, multilevel analysis designed to bring together for the first time radically competing and often antithetical models and practices of ‘fish’ as they move from sea to table, laboratory to policy, farm to food. This study uses the theoretical frames and methods of cutting-edge cultural and social research to understand the specifically cultural aspects of securing the sustainable consumption and production of fish. Cultural and social research is a vital and underutilized adjunct to the research currently being conducted in marine and environmental science, medicine and public health.

Elspeth Probyn profile
Department of Gender and Cultural Studies

Dr Dalia Nassar
Dalia Nassar

Department of Philosophy

My research areas are classical German philosophy and environmental philosophy. My ARC-DECRA project concerns the idea of nature in the writings of key thinkers from the period 1780-185: Kant, Herder, Goethe, Schelling and Alexander von Humboldt. My first aim is to trace the various strands of or approaches to natural philosophy in Germany after Kant, approaches which were direct responses to specific problems in Kant's Critique of Judgment (1780). The project thus seeks to provide a new context by which to read these key thinkers, shedding important light on their methodological (rather than purely doctrinal) differences. In addition to providing a historical and systematic reconstruction of their views, I aim to assess the contemporary critiques leveled against them by contemporary environmental philosophers, and discuss the relevance of romantic and idealist thought for environmental philosophy.

Professor Margaret Miller

Professor Margaret Miller

Department of Archaeology

My main research interests relate to the archaeology of ancient Greece, notably the material evidence for social life and thought in the tenth through fourth centuries BC. Research foci pertain to relations between the Greek world and the ancient near east, settlement archaeology, and tracking social attitudes through the vehicle of the representational arts.

Cultural Relations within and beyond the Persian Empire. A number of recent publications explore the complex web of cultural interaction in Western Turkey in the Persian period (6th- 4th c. BC) as visible from the material record. This area of research emerged from an original focus on relations between Athens and the Persian Empire, as West Anatolia was to some extent a “buffer zone” between the two.

Representational arts and social attitude. A current book project studies the varied representation of “Persians” in Greek, especially Attic, arts, against the background of what can be restored of the social reality. Over the roughly two hundred years of intense contact, social attitudes and receptivity to the idea of Persia changed dramatically, so that the project involves issues of exchange, reception and perception between ancient cultures. A separate research strand explores representations of mythological figures to track shifting attitudes in sixth and fifth century Athens regarding Athenian identity, shaped through hardening lines of separation.

Settlement archaeology. As co-director of the Zagora Archaeological Project I am engaged in a three-year ARC-funded fieldwork campaign to investigate a site of the 9th-8th centuries BC: Zagora on the west coast of the Cycladic island of Andros. The initial vitality of the settlement followed by its abandonment after just a few generations makes it a useful vehicle to address issues of settlement sustainability and societal change in this important transitional period.

Margaret Miller profile
Department of Archaeology

Professor Chris Hilliard

Chris Hilliard

Department of History

I work on what might be called ‘literary history from below’: I am interested in the ways literary ideas and practices are taken up and transformed in popular intellectual life, and in intellectual networks and institutions. My first book, To Exercise Our Talents: The Democratization of Writing in Britain (Harvard, 2006), examined how people from backgrounds not traditionally conducive to literary careers sought to become writers, and the different things that literature and creativity meant to them. I’m now working on ‘Leavisite’ modes of literary and cultural criticism in universities, training colleges, schools, and British culture more generally. I welcome research students in modern British history, and especially those interested in working at the intersections between historical and literary studies.

Professor Warwick Anderson

Professorial Research Fellow
Department of History
and Centre for Values, Ethics
and the Law in Medicine

Kuru Project

Warwick Anderson Kuru project image 1

This project examines D. Carleton Gajdusek's investigations of the disease of kuru, conducted among the Fore people of New Guinea (1950s-1960s), in order to explore the material cultures of modern science, focusing on the circulation of goods in global biomedical science. Supported by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, this is a multi-sited historical study designed principally to describe and explain transactions involving local inhabitants, anthropologists and biomedical scientists, exchanges clustered around contested kuru material, principally brains, blood and corpses. The goal is to outline some of the basic features of the material cultures of late colonial, postwar scientific exchange, and to see how these material cultures structured and transformed the identities of transactors. The transaction of kuru material will also help us to think more generally about the creation of value and the circulation of goods in global science. This is essentially a historical study that addresses issues usually in the province of anthropology or sociology: it describes how scientific identities are fashioned in collection and exchange; it advances the analysis of the material cultures of late-twentieth century science; it explores new ways of describing the increasing global circulation of goods in science, and the creation of value in international scientific transactions; and it brings the Asia-Pacific region into focus in science and technology studies as an important, but previously much neglected, location of scientific production and exchange. In 2008, the Johns Hopkins University Press will publish The Collectors of Lost Souls: Kuru, Moral Peril, and the Creation of Value in Science.

Warwick Anderson Kuru project image 2

Race Mixing History

Warwick Anderson will use his ARC grant to examine the character and scope of a transnational network of research on race mixing, or miscegenation, in the twentieth century. His project reveals a global scientific debate on racial segregation, assimilation, and absorption, led by U.S.-based biologists, physical anthropologists and sociologists. Between 1910 and 1940, scientists conducted more than twenty major scientific investigations of the effects of miscegenation in Australasia, the Pacific, North America, Southeast Asia, South Africa and the Maghreb. This project concentrates largely on the extensive and influential series of studies of race mixing organized through the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, one of the major pre-World War II sites for the training of physical anthropologists. But it moves beyond these Harvard anthropologists to place their work in relation to other frontier studies of human biology in Australasia, the Pacific and elsewhere, tracing an emerging “miscegenation map” of the new world. Including these extensive studies of race mixing in the history of ideas about human difference will add to our knowledge of the decline of race in science before World War II. It will also, for the first time, provide a critical history of how biological scientists struggled (and ultimately failed) to understand how to classify and assess the racial characteristics of children of mixed descent.

Race and Ethnicity in the Global South (REGS)

Supported by Prof Anderson's ARC Laureate Fellowship, the historical research program of Race and Ethnicity in the Global South will investigate how biological and anthropological sciences shaped what it meant to be human in the southern hemisphere during the 20th century-from skull measuring to early genomics. This comparative study reveals active and influential debates over racial difference conducted by scientists and anthropologists within the southern hemisphere, often distinct from those occurring in the North Atlantic. It brings southern settler societies together into the global picture of 20th-century race science. It situates Australian racial thought in relation to the conceptions of humanity prevalent in our region. And it shows how the legacy of this science continues to shape our understanding of human difference.

Dr Julia Kindt

Julia Kindt

Department of Classics and Ancient History

Julia Kindt's areas of expertise include ancient Greek history, ancient Greek religion, oracles and divination, and ancient anthropology. She is currently co-investigator on two ARC grants on "Plato's Myth Voice" and "The Function of Images in Magical Papyri". She is also a member of the Inspired Voices Research Cluster (IVRC). Her book Rethinking Greek Religion will be published with Cambridge University Press later this year.

She is supervising honours and postgraduate students in her areas of expertise, in particular on ancient Greek religion, historiography, and ancient anthropology.

Professor Glenda Sluga

Glenda Sluga

Department of History

I have published widely on the cultural history of international relations, internationalism, the history of European nationalisms, sovereignty, identity, immigration and gender history.

My current research projects all relate to modern international history, since the early nineteenth century. In 2013, I was awarded a five-year Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship for 'Inventing the International – the origins of globalisation', which will focus on the resonance of economic ideas in the conceptualization of international politics and internationalism since the end of the Napoleonic wars, until the end of the Cold War. My most recent book is Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism, which provides an overview of the social, cultural and intellectual history of internationalism as a liberal project. Overall, I am interested in how the international arena becomes important to politics in the modern world, from the early nineteenth century, and more specifically the role that women play in that arena. This interest shapes my newest project on nationalism and cosmopolitanism at the Congress of Vienna. I am also editing a collection of essays on Histories of Internationalism (CUP, forthcoming); a volume on Women, Diplomacy, and International Politics (Routledge, forthcoming); and special journal issues on 'Provincializing Europe' , and 'Global Liberalisms'. Overall my work brings together a number of historiographies that have conventionally remained detached, but when looked at as intersecting histories reveal new and exciting perspectives on the ways in which international politics has operated in the past, and the significance of that past to our own world. These historiographies include: International relations, peacemaking, feminism, transnationalism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and nationalism. I am keen to supervise students in any of these areas of historical research.

Professor Alison Betts

Alison Betts

Department of Archaeology

My key research interests lie within the ancient Near East and Central Asia. Within this broad framework I have focused on a wide variety of more specialized areas of study, mostly stimulated by my archaeological fieldwork

The Middle East
At the core of my long term research into the prehistory of North Arabia is the nature of relationships between the settled and the nomadic peoples of the region. I have recently published a monograph, The Later Prehistory of the Badia, that studies in detail the shift from hunting and gathering to nomadic pastoralism in the steppe, a development that led to the desert-sown dichotomy which has lasted up to the present day. My current project is a study of the communal hunt in the Middle East, to be published in 2014.

Central Asia
My work at the ancient royal city of Akchakhan-kala in Uzbekistan in collaboration with the Karakalpak Academy of Sciences is supported by an ARC Discovery grant. Here the land once known as ancient Chorasmia developed as an early civilization under the influence of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The site is remarkable for its magnificent mud brick architecture and for its unique murals, including a series of individual portraits of crowned figures with golden jewellery and the earliest known texts in the Chorasmian language. The site is also important for the insights it offers us into the history of one of the world’s great religions, Zoroastrianism. I am currently working on a major study of the nature of Kingship and nomad-state relations in Chorasmia.

Under the auspices of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, I and Dr Peter Jia are engaged on a long term project in Xinjiang, exploring the impact of the prehistoric Eurasian peoples on the rise of the Chinese state. We are looking at the introduction of wheat into China from the west and the nature of cultural exchange between Eurasia and Xinjiang in the Bronze Age. Dr Jia and I are currently working on a Monograph for the Cambridge World Archaeology series entitled The Archaeology of Western China in the Bronze Age.

The overarching themes in my work that link these disparate areas of research is the exploration of the critical roles played by mobile and nomadic peoples in the development of ancient and modern society.

Dr Caroline West

Caroline West

Department of Philosophy

My research deals with topics across a range of areas of philosophy (metaphysics, ethics and political philosophy, philosophy and psychology of wellbeing) that I think are often connected in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.

Much of my recent research has focused on the philosophical problem of personal identity (what makes a person now one and the same person as someone in the past?), as part of an ARC-funded project on 'Personal Identity, Consciousness and Agency'. I am especially interested in the connections between views about the nature of personal identity and issues in ethics and political philosophy: such as the nature of autonomy or self-determination; when it is appropriate to hold people
morally or legally responsible for past actions; and how self-concern differs from moral concern.

I also work on freedom of speech; and am currently writing a book on Happiness, under contract with Routledge. I am especially interested in the connections between philosophical views about the nature and value of happiness and recent scientific work on the topic.

I am currently supervising a number of honours and postgraduate students in these areas; and welcome enquiries from prospective students interested in working in these areas.

Dr Nicholas J.J. Smith

Nicholas J.J. Smith

I have worked on a range of different philosophical problems. Most of my research can be unified under the guiding idea of trying to make progress in philosophy by developing and applying formal tools and techniques, from areas such as logic and probability theory. Topics that I work on include time travel (Is there any logical incoherence in the idea of visiting the past? — I think not); truth and the Liar paradox (What is truth? What lessons are to be drawn from consideration of the famous Liar sentence 'This very sentence is not true'?); vagueness (How can we give a rigorous account of the logic and semantics of vague terms such as 'tall' and 'bald' — terms which allow us to make statements which are apparently fully
meaningful, and yet neither true nor false?); and the history of logic (Frege is often seen as the inventor of modern logic — so why do some of his views about what is essential to logic seem so odd to us today?). I am always keen to supervise honours and postgraduate students in any area of logic, philosophy of language, or metaphysics.

Associate Professor Ruth Barcan

Ruth Barcan

Cultural Pedagogies of Sustainability
This project, conducted in conjunction with the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies and the Sydney Environment Institute, examines sustainability education in three Sydney-based contexts: local council environment and lifestyle programs; advocacy and not-for-profit organisations; and commercial operations with an environmental education/outreach program (e.g. resource recovery sites).

It emerges out of the recognition that environmentalism is no longer the province only of radical politics. Over recent decades, in response to a widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics and the perceived failure or inadequacy of global and national environmental initiatives, environmental action has transformed, diversified and emerged in new contexts, forming what Schlosberg and Coles call "a pluralistic mosaic" (2016: 161). Environmental theorists argue that "remaking the world really is a commonplace desire" (Loftus 2012: ix) and the more optimistic among them see households as "crucial sites for experimentation with what kind of 'common world' we wish to create and inhabit" (Hawkins 2011: 72). For this reason, environmental scholarship has begun to turn its attention to "small acts of environmental stewardship" that can be embedded in, and enabled by, "common, often mundane routines of everyday life" (Maniates 2012: 121) and to the affects - hope, excitement, pleasure - that are crucial to the success of this remaking.

My project focuses on a number of ways in which "ordinary people" are enlisted into pro-environmental behaviour, and explores the role of different kinds of institutions in this process. It aims to be a study of new forms of environmental activity, drawing on an expansive idea of pedagogy as teaching and learning in a cultural sense, beyond formal classrooms.

Ruth Barcan profile
Department of Gender and Cultural Studies

Professor Peter Wilson

Peter Wilson

William Ritchie Professor of Classics
Chair of the Department of Classics and Ancient History

My research spans widely over Greek literature and culture, from Homer to the Hellenistic period.

Currently I have two major programmes of study – the sociology of Greek music and the history of the Classical theatre. In the first I have moved the analysis of Greek music away from its traditional narrow focus on reconstruction and theory towards a more integrated approach that seeks to understand music in a Greek sense – as a deeply social and performative phenomenon to which poetry, religion, the creation of the past and questions of social, ethnic and political identity are all central.

My second and main research endeavour is writing a new History of the Classical Theatre (c. 500 – 300 BC). With Eric Csapo, I am the co-director of a large-scale and long-term project, currently funded by the Australian Research Council and drawing on extensive consultative collaboration with a large international network of scholars. This aims to produce a new history of the Classical Greek theatre that provides a proper understanding of its social and economic, as well as its strictly performative, dimensions.

It proceeds by a dual approach. The first is a complete overhaul of the documentary evidence for the operation of the Classical theatre – all the relevant inscriptions, literary texts and material remains – something that has not been attempted for the best part of a century. This involves the creation of large corpora of the available evidence; the collection of new and neglected items; editing and autopsy examination where necessary; detailed analysis of each, and translation into English of all the text-based documents. We have had specialised software developed by colleagues in Italy ( for the optimum presentation of this extensive material. The second major avenue in this project is the writing, on the basis of this full re-assessment of the documentary evidence, of a diachronic history of the Classical dramatic festivals, their institutions and operation, their personnel and practices.

I am happy to supervise students wishing to work on most aspects of the Greek theatre and performance culture.

Professor Meaghan Morris

Meaghan Morris

I work broadly on history in popular culture, especially action genres, and on popular thinking about social and historical change. My research often focuses on rhetorics of place, locality and nation as well as gender in colonial and transnational conditions, including in the development of Cultural Studies as an institutional project in the Asia-Pacific region. My current work involves three major projects: 1) a study of transnational action cinema in general and martial arts cinemas in particular in relation to popular practices of historical imagination; 2) a critical biography of the Australian travel writer and novelist, Ernestine Hill (1899-1972); 3) reflection on the contribution of aesthetic knowledge to Cultural Studies as a discipline that is now strongly grounded in the study of everyday life. I am interested in the issues facing English-language traditions of textual and rhetorical study in what is increasingly a multi-linguistic as well as interdisciplinary field of international scholarship. After twelve years as Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, I have had ample opportunity to confront these issues in practice, and I continue to do so now as Chair of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society.