Past research projects


The University of Sydney has some of the largest and richest cultural heritage collections of any university in the nation. The University’s collections comprise over 10 percent of all cultural heritage held in universities in Australia.

With collections dating from antiquity to the modern age, from every continent, including cultural, artistic, scientific, and natural materials, our collections form rich sources of reference and inspiration for students, researchers, and the general public. Taken together, these objects represent a significant portion of the wealth of knowledge embodied in the University. Our collections incorporate more than 700,000 artefacts and objects associated with and resulting from 150 years of research.

Summaries of our more recent activities can be found in the back catalogue of our MUSE magazine, exhibition catalogues, and other museum publications.

Previous projects in the Macleay Museum

Cultures of Coast and Sea: maritime environmental, cultural and ethnographic histories of north-east Australia

Led by Professor Iain McCalman with Dr Stephanie Anderson, Dr Jude Philp, Dr Michael Davis, Dr Nigel Erskine, Mr Michael Crayford and Dr Michael Davis (APDI).
A partnership between the University of Sydney, Australian National Maritime Museum, the Queensland Museum and the Silentworld Foundation.

Using new cross-disciplinary approaches and methods, this collaboration between university scholars, museum curators, and a philanthropic foundation will study the impact of maritime and marine environmental and cultural change on the peoples and habitats of the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait from the eighteenth century to the present.
Funding awarded for 4 years, 2011 – 2014.

Points of focus: historic photographs from the Pacific

Rebecca Conway, 2013 University of Sydney General Staff Travelling Scholarship.

This project is designed to extend and enhance the research, curatorship and potential reach of the exhibition, Points of focus: historic photographs from the Pacific to be staged at the Macleay Museum in 2014. The exhibition will showcase images from the Sydney University Museums Historic Photograph Collection. The grant is awarded for professional development and is being used for research visits to key European universities, museums and institutions selected for their significant collections and research excellence in historic ethnographic photographs from the Pacific. The project will examine holdings similar to those of the Macleay with particular emphasis on images that relate to the colonial history of the Pacific region and its international context, and the history, teaching and practice of anthropology. The project also seeks out curatorial excellence in exhibition development focusing on institutions that are renowned for producing high quality, innovative exhibitions, educational and community outreach programs.

Funding awarded for 3 weeks overseas travel.
Catalogue available. Points of focus: historic photographs from the Pacific.

The original field anthropologist: Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay in Oceania, 1871-1883

Led by Drs Chris Ballard, Jude Philp and Elena Govor.
A partnership with ANU.

This project restores the nineteenth century Russian anthropologist Nikolai Miklouh-Maclay to a central position in the histories of anthropology and of the European exploration of Oceania. Interviews with the source communities amongst which he lived will be used to analyse his field drawings and journals, most never previously published in English.
Funding awarded for 3 years, 2011 – 2013.

The Kaoka Speakers Revisited: the Ian Hogbin Collection. Cultural change in language and material culture

Led by Assist. Prof. Elizabeth Bonshek and Deborah Hill with Rebecca Conway, Vanessa Finney, Melanie van Olfen.
A partnership between Canberra University, University of Sydney and the Australian Museum.

This project aims to document the cultural context of the collections for both museums and the Longgu community; to establish a means to distribute knowledge about the collection to Longgu; and to research factors contributing to cultural continuity and change as manifest in language and material culture.
Funding awarded for 1 year, 2011.