Pacific and Asian History - About us

Pacific and Asian History

History as a discipline examines the meaning of the human condition by exploring experiences, memories and reconfigurations of the past, and by examining processes of political, social, economic, cultural, intellectual and environmental change over periods ranging from the very long to the very short. The work of the Department includes academic research, publication, undergraduate teaching and postgraduate supervision on a wide range of issues related to the histories and cultures of Asia and Oceania.

Our research is marked by close attention to documentary, oral, and visual materials. We combine particular empirical interests with reflection on the nature of historical inquiry, representation and writing in history and related disciplines. Our methods include the deep reading of texts for meaning and the rigorous practice of documentary study and criticism.

The distinctiveness of the Department of Pacific and Asian History lies in our direct engagement with Asian and Pacific societies on fundamental questions of identity and meaning. By emphasizing the resonances of past and present, the work of the Division forms an essential link between the College of Asia and the Pacific and the societies that it studies. A vigorous historical research presence in the College provides a temporal perspective on current developments in the Asia and Pacific region, contributing to the deep understanding of contemporary political, social and economic processes.

The Department's research fields include imperialism, international history, colonialism and revolution; modernity, postcolonialism, and globalization; the construction and subversion of global, national, local, diasporic, and other identities (including class, gender, ethnicity and religion); the nature of borders; the character of violence; visual representation and electronic media; the articulation of history and memory in national and popular cultures; relations between majority and minority cultures and societies; the history of ideas and technologies; shifting discourses on relationships between human society and the natural environment.

The Australian National University's History discipline has consistently been rated 5 (the highest possible ranking) in the regular ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia). The discipline has been ranked 15th in the world according to the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject and ranks number one across Australian universities for the subject. We share these honours with our colleagues in the School of History, CASS, which focuses primarily on Western history (including Australia). Visit the QS Top Universities website to find out which universities have performed the best in history this year.

Our history

The CHL Department of History is the latest manifestation of a strong tradition of research and teaching in Pacific and Asian History that goes back to the early days of the Australian National University.

The Australian National University took shape first as a research-only institution and included amongst its founding research schools the Research School of Pacific Studies (RSPacS), which had the task of developing Australia's understanding of its immediate region in Asia and the Pacific. Two foundation history professors, Jim Davidson for the Pacific and C.P. Fitzgerald for the Far East, became the heads respectively of the Department of Pacific History and the Department of Far Eastern History when a departmental structure was introduced to RSPacS. Pacific History was expanded in 1973 to become the Department of Pacific and Southeast Asian History, and in 1990 the two History departments were merged into the Division of Pacific and Asian History.

Older than the Australian National University was the Canberra University College (CUC), established in 1930 as a branch of the University of Melbourne to provide undergraduate education in Canberra. The CUC amalgamated with the ANU in 1960, becoming the School of General Studies, later known as the Faculties. In 1961 the former CUC School of Oriental Languages became the Faculty of Oriental Studies (renamed the Faculty of Asian Studies in 1970). Within the Faculty, Asian History was taught and researched within the Department of Asian Civilisations, which became the Asian History Centre in 1981 and the Centre for Asian Societies and Histories in 1999. For a time, both Pacific history and Asian history were also taught within the Faculty of Arts.

In 2006, the ANU abolished the former distinction between research schools and faculties, creating a college structure combining both elements. The Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (as it was re-named in 1994) joined the Faculty of Asian Studies in the new College of Asia and the Pacific. After a major restructuring in 2009, the Faculty was merged with elements from the Research School to form the School of Culture, History and Language. The Department of Pacific and Asian History is now the largest unit within that School.

### Past PhD research - Pacific & Asian history

Further reading

  • Denoon, Donald, 'Pacific Island History at the Australian National University: The Place and the People', The Journal of Pacific History 31, no. 2 (Dec., 1996), pp. 202-214.
  • Munro, Doug, The Ivory Tower and Beyond: Participant Historians of the Pacific. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009.
  • Reid, Anthony, 'Indonesian Studies at the Australian National University: Why so late?', RIMA:Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 43, no. 1 (2009). pp. 51-74.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster