Dr Ruth Morgan

BA, BEc, PhD (University of Western Australia); Graduate Certificate of Academic Practice (Monash)
Associate Professor
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Historical Studies 2103
  • Australian History (Excl. Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History) 210303

Research interests

  • Environmental History
  • History of Science
  • Climate History
  • Water History
  • Environmental Humanities


Director of the ANU Centre for Environmental History, Ruth is an environmental historian and historian of science with a particular focus on Australia, the British Empire, and the Indian Ocean world, living and working on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples.

Her research has been generously supported by the Australian Research Council, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment & Society.

Ruth is Vice President of the International Consortium of Environmental History Organizations, and Treasurer of the International Water History Association.

She was previously based at Monash University (2012-2020), and completed her doctoral studies at the University of Western Australia.


Researcher's projects

Australindia: Environment, Empire, and the Future of British India and the Australian Colonies, 1857-1914

During the long nineteenth century, British India and the Australian colonies served as important laboratories for environmental ideas and practices that could be transferred across the Indian Ocean. This project analyses the trajectory of this environmental traffic to reassess the development of colonial understandings of the Australian environment, particularly its climates and waters, and the interventions and aspirations that these understandings produced. Examining colonial Australia in terms of these imperial webs of environmental connections will broaden perspectives on Australian history and illuminate the ways in which the Australian environment continues to bear the legacies of empire. This research is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2016, 18-19). This research is also funded by the Australian Historical Association, a KCL Australian Bicentennial Fellowship, and a Carl Friedrich von Siemens Research Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Rachel Carson Center, LMU, Munich.

Water and the Making of Urban Australia since 1900

With Andrea Gaynor, Lionel Frost, Jenny Gregory, Martin Shanahan and Peter Spearritt, I am working to produce new understandings of both the historical drivers of today’s urban water systems, and how these systems have impacted on human and ecological welfare. This will be achieved through the first integrated and comparative historical study of the provision, use and cultures of water in Australia’s five largest cities from 1900 to the present. Such historical knowledge is critical at a time when the water systems of Australia’s largest cities are under growing pressure from environmental change and population growth. Project findings will inform the development of policies and practices that produce sustainable, equitable urban water systems. This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (2018-20), and the focus of a forthcoming co-authored book to be published by Cambridge University Press in mid-2022.

The Anthropocene in the Antipodes

Focusing particularly on Australia and New Zealand, this project reviews the concept of the Anthropocene through the environmental histories and histories of science of the Southern Hemisphere. Bringing together the diverse ecological and human histories of this vast region highlights the strikingly different ways that the Global South and Global North have contributed to and experienced planetary change. Until the 1970s, the southern hemisphere remained largely absent from scientific considerations of the planetary impacts of human activity. Although the International Geophysical Year had been a boon for Antarctic exploration, the Pacific and Indian Oceans remained ‘embarrassingly unknown’ south of the equator nearly a decade later. This project has two parts: 1) the study of the processes of imperialism and capitalism in the Indo-Pacific from the eighteenth century; 2) an examination of the the role of Australian climatologists and meteorologists in advancing the state of knowledge about the causes and mechanisms of climatic change and variability in the Southern Hemisphere.

Water Cultures of the Murray-Darling Basin

With Lesley Head, Katie Holmes and Sue Jackson, this project aims to study the origin and development of influential ideas about the value of water and rivers in the southern reaches of the Murray-Darling Basin. We contend that cultural and historical analyses are essential to understanding this river system's role in Australian social and cultural life, the antecedent conditions of current water conflicts, and the formation of prevailing approaches to land and water management. This research is generously funded by an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative grant and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.



Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  14 April 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers