Professor Cressida Fforde

PhD (University of Southampton, UK); BA (Hons) (University of Southampton, UK)
Senior Research Fellow, Centre or Heritage and Museum Studies
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: (02) 6125 9321

Research interests

Cressida's primary area of research focus has been the history of the removal and subsequent study of Indigenous human remains by European institutions within the 'race' paradigm in the 19th century and the campaigns to secure their return. She is particularly interested in how this history illustrates mechanisms of identity representation and construction, how similar mechanisms operate today, how to identify their presence and impact, and to invoke change. 

Associated interests include the legacy of the race paradigm in deficit discourse about Aboriginal people, the nature and prevalence of such discourse, and its impact.

She is interested in the communication of information about the meaning and value of cultural heritage, particularly in relation to local communities and Indigenous cultural heritage housed in museums and other collecting institutions. She has a significant interest in public archaeology and the politics of the past.



Cressida's doctoral research investigated the history of the removal and subsequent study of Indigenous human remains by European institutions in the 19th century and the rise of the reburial movement. Completing her PhD at the University of Southampton, UK in 1998, she continued working within the repatriation field for Indigenous communities and museums in Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand and the UK, particularly in the location and identification of Ancestral Remains through archival research. Her extensive work in this area is also reflected in her publication record.

Cressida worked as a cultural heritage consultant until 2009, on a range of repatriation projects in the UK and overseas. She also worked on community projects in the UK, particularly in relation to local heritage, focussing on oral history interviews, museum exhibition, community publications, and online presentation and transmission of information.

In January 2009 she joined the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) as its Coordinator of Research Publications and Public Programs. This role included convening the 2009 and 2011 AIATSIS National Indigenous Studies Conference and a range of symposia and seminar series, as well as editing the AIATSIS journal, Australian Aboriginal Studies, and its Discussion Paper series.

From November  2011 to December 2019 she was Deputy Director at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at The Australian National University (ANU).

From January 2020 she has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies at ANU.

Researcher's projects

Projects include:

[1] Heritage and Reconciliation (DP200102850, CI1) 2020-2023

Team: Cressida Fforde, Laurajane Smith, Daryle Rigney, Peter Stone, Steve Hemming, Paul Tapsell, Greg Lehman, Lia Kent, Merata Kawharu

This project will re-conceptualise heritage from a standpoint of reconciliation. In doing so, it will generate new understandings about how heritage and its management can contribute to reconciliation processes. The project will combine Aboriginal, Maori and Western intellectual traditions in order to advance theoretical understandings of heritage and to examine its reconstructive power. It will produce models for practical implementation, including new conservation and management protocols. The project's investigation of a new approach to heritage has the potential for profound social benefit.

[2]  Profit and Loss: The commercial trade in Indigenous human remains (DP200101814, 2020-2023)

Team: Cressida Fforde, Paul Turnbull, Richi Nayak, Paul Tapsell, Michael Pickering, Mark Thomas, C Timothy McKeown, Amber Aranui, Honor Keeler, Gavan McCarthy

This projectinvestigates the global commercial trade in Indigenous human remains. It will employ a multi-disciplinary approach involving history, economic anthropology, economic history, and data science. The project will generate new knowledge about the 19th century global marketplace in Australian Indigenous human remains, and will reveal whether and how these are involved in the trade’s modern manifestations from 1950 tothe present. The project will uncover an unknown history, assist repatriation practice, provide information to helpreduce the modern trade, and contribute to truth-telling as a precondition of healing and reconciliation.

[3] Restoring Dignity: Networked knowledge for repatriation communities (LE170100017 CI1, 2018-current)

This project has continued the work of the Return, Reconcile, Renew team (see below) to build a digital archive of repatriation knowledge. For the public face of this archive see:

This project is funded through the Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure Equipment Facilities (LIEF) scheme and partner organisation cash and in-kind contributions.

[4] Return, Reconcile, Renew: understanding the history, impact and transformative opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future. (LP130100131, CI1)

This project was funded through the Australian Research Council Linkage scheme  and partner organisation cash and in-kind contributions.

Since 2013, the 'Return, Reconcile, Renew' project has illuminated over forty years of the repatriation of Indigenous human remains. It has brought together Indigenous community organisations, government, cultural institutions, and universities in Australia and overseas. It has assisted repatriation practice, undertaken new research into the removal and return of Ancestral Remains, conducted 50 interviews in the Kimberley, Torres Strait, and Ngarrindjeri country, and developed the first stage of the RRR Digital Archive of repatriation information – best conceptualised as an online repatriation encyclopaedia. The project website and public area of the digital archive will shortly go live at

Major outputs include: the team convened 8 sessions on repatriation at the 8th World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto, Japan (2016), and co-convened the day symposium ‘The Long Journey Home’ with the National Museum of Australia and the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific in May 2018. A major scholarly volume containing 56 chapters on repatriation matters from around the world is shortly to be submitted to Routledge. A book of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in repatriation will be published in 2020 by Magabala books.

The team also developed a 5 day intensive course that is an accredited ANU Master course (MUSC8019) and is also available as Professional Development. Each year it is hosted by one of the project’s Indigenous Partner Organisations on their traditional country. Participants learn from traditional owners and Indigenous and non-Indigenous repatriation expertise from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. More information available here:

Partners on the project were: The University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania, Flinders University, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), Ministry for the Arts (Department of Communication and the Arts), the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC), the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority (NRA), National Museum of Australia, University of Otago, Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA), Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council.

[5] Deficit Discourse and Indigenous Education: mapping the discursive environment, assessing impact, and changing the conversation (IN150100007, CI).

This project investigated the prevalence of deficit discourse and its influence on Indigenous education. Deficit discourse frames Indigenous identity in a narrative of negativity and deficiency. Recent work indicates that deficit discourse is active in policy, public debate, pedagogy and practice and its prevalence in Indigenous education influences student performance. By mapping the discursive environment and analysing education programs that reject the deficit model, this project assessed whether its removal improves outcomes for Indigenous students. This project provided an original approach to challenge entrenched perceptions, resulting in tangible benefits for the Australian education system and the communities that it serves.

[6] Reconciling biological and social Indigeneity in the genomic era (DP150102087, CI)

This project was completed at the end of 2018. It sought to investigate the impact of genomics on contemporary identities, including Indigeneity. Drawing on multidisciplinary expertise, te project examined biological and social influences on Indigeneity in narratives of selfpresentation and in two fields set to be impacted by genomics: ancestry testing and repatriation. The project talked with people who were interested in using genetic ancestry testing to investigate their Indigenous heritage, many of whom discovered their Indigenous ancestry later in life. It also sought the views of  Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the repatriation sector to assess the potential impact of genetic technologies on the repatriation of human remains.

Available student projects

I am interested in reading prospective PhD and MPhil student proposals on a range of topics, including: the repatriation of Indigenous Ancestral Remains and Cultural Objects; the removal of Indigenous Ancestral Remains and their subsequent use and repatriation; Museums and collecting networks; The restitution of cultural property;The nature, prevalence and impact of discourses of deficit about Indigenous Australians and the deployment of counter narratives and programs that result in discourse shift; the role of 19th century race science in the construction of identities and its legacy today; The relationship between healing, wellbeing, repatrition and reconciliation

I am particularly interested in supervising honours, masters or PhD topics on:

1. Craniology and gender

2. Craniology and disability

3. Heritage, repatriation and peace-building

4. Emotions and the theft, study, search for and return of Indigenous human remains


Current student projects

As Chair and Primary Supervisor

Win Adam: 'Archives, Nation Building, Justice and Reconciliation: building a Ngarrindjeri Natonal Archive' Phd Program

Honor Keeler: 'International Trade in Indigenous Ancestors' PhD Program

Geoff Langford: 'Good practice and settler-care of Australian frontier massacre places' PhD Program

Richard Maning. 'Discourse on Indigeneity in Australian Courts'. PhD Program

John Morseau: 'Knowledge Transfer in the Torres Strait'. PhD Program.

Joh Parker.  ‘Gentlemen Scientists: what can be learnt by examining the motivations and methodologies employed by British and Australian private collectors to accumulate Australian Indigenous human remains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?’. Phd Program.

Sally Schonfeldt. 'Voicing silent histories. Understanding the acquisition of Indigenous Australian Ancestral Remains by Swiss collections'. PhD Program.

Rachel Tropea 'Repatriation in the Torres Strait.' MPhil Program



Past student projects

As Chair and Primary Supervisor:

A/Prof Kerrie Doyle: Psychological Distress and Community Exclusion in Indigenous Communities: a convergent parallel (mixed methods) study. PhD awarded 2018.

Myles Mitchell: The Esperance Nyungars, at the frontier: Archaeological investigation of mobility, communication and identify in late-Holocene Aboriginal society, Western Australia. PhD Awarded 2017

Terri Janke: True Tracks: Indigenous cultural and intellectual property principles for putting self-determination into practice..  (note: I was chair and Primary for a period prior to the start of my maternity leave in April 2017; my role then changed to Associate Supervisor)

As Associate Supervisor:

Gary Toone: Aboriginal Cultural Heritage on Farmlands: the perceptions of farmers of the Tatiara District of South Australia. PhD Awarded 2017

Magali McDuffie: Jimbin Kaboo Yimardoowarra Marninil: Listening to Nyikina women’s voice, from the inside to the outside. PhD Awarded 2019

Sarah Morton (DPhil) (Keble College, Oxford & The Royal College of Surgeons of England, UK): The Legacies of the Repatriation of Human Remains. DPhil awarded 2018


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Updated:  19 April 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers