Dr Maria Nugent

BA, ANU; MA, Sydney University; Grad Dip (Adult Education) UTS; PhD University of Technology, Sydney
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 61 2 61252445

Areas of expertise

  • Australian History (Excl. Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History) 210303
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History 210301

Research interests

Australian Aboriginal History, public history, historical memory and oral history, material history and museum collections, and cross-cultural history and encounters.

Researcher's projects

Mobilising Aboriginal Objects: Indigenous History in International Museums (DP200102212)

This project aims to rebuild knowledge about exceptional, but poorly-documented, objects from the coastal Sydney region (c. 1770-1920s) currently in British and European museums. These objects have not been systematically identified nor easily accessible. The project proposes a major innovation: to bring objects back to Country for community-led analysis and interpretation in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team including historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, scientists and curators. The project will develop a model for pursuing locally grounded collaborative research and engagement with international museum and collections. 

Remembering Dispossession: Interpreting Aboriginal Historical Narratives (FT100100073)

This project grapples with the challenge to produce Australian historical studies that have Aboriginal people's own interpretations and moral reasonings at their core. The notion of 'remembering dispossession' is offered as a means for exploring the ways in which Aboriginal people have used historical storytelling and other modes of remembrance to make sense of their experience, and of themselves and others, under radically altered condition. The project entails fresh critical engagement with 'dispossession' as a key theme and concept in Australian history.

The relational museum and its objects (LP150100423)

This an ARC Linkage project involving the ANU, the National Museum of Australia, the British Museum. and Wagga Wagga City Council. The research team includes Professor Howard Morphy (ANU), Dr Maria Nugent (ANU), Robyn McKenzie (ANU), Dr Lissant Bolton (BM), Dr Gaye Sculthorpe (BM), Dr Ian Coates (NMA) and Dr Mathew Trinca (NMA).

Reconnecting Indigenous Australian communities with ethnographic collections is central to contemporary museum practice. Yet, the historical dispersal of objects across museums, nationally and internationally, makes relationship and reconnection a challenge to communities and museums alike. This partnership between the ANU, the NMA and British Museum, in collaboration Indigenous communities and regional museums in the UK and Australia, aims to develop and pilot approaches that facilitate Indigenous people’s access to and engagements with distributed collections and objects. By doing so, the project seeks to contribute to new theory around the ‘relational museum’, and new modelling of museum practice and museum development in Australia. 

How Meston's Wild Australia Show Shaped Australian Aboriginal History (LP160100415)

This is an ARC Linkage project involving UQ, ANU, Queensland Museum, State Library of NSW, and Museum Victoria. The research team includes Professor Paul Memmott (UQ), Dr Maria Nugent (ANU), Dr Timothy O'Rourke (UQ), Lindy Allen (MV), Chantalle Knowles (QM) and Richard Neville (SLNSW) and Michael Aird and Jonathan Richards.

Archibald Meston’s ‘Wild Australia Show’ (1892-93), staged by a diverse company of Aboriginal people for metropolitan audiences, provides the focus for an interdisciplinary study of performance, photography, collections and race relations in colonial Australia. Using extensive archival and visual records, and in partnership with key cultural institutions and Aboriginal communities, we will provide an authoritative and original interpretation of the Show that situates it within local, national and transnational contexts. Significantly, it will illuminate Indigenous people’s agency as performers as well as chart changing ideas about race at a critical juncture in Australian history. 

'The Queen Gave Us The Land': Aboriginal people's histories and memories of Queen Victoria (DP110100230)

Queen Victoria is a potent figure in Aboriginal people's histories and memories. This project examines Aboriginal people's interactions with and interpretations of her as a means by which to chart their changing understandings about such matters as sovereignty and the authority and morality of the British Crown. By examining both interactions (i.e. petitioning) and interpretations (i.e. narratives), a key aim is to explore and theorise the relationship between historical experience and historical remembrance. An edited collection Mistress of Everything: Queen Victoria in Indigenous Worlds (Manchester University Press) was published in 2016 and co-edited with Professor Sarah Carter, University of Alberta. 

Exploring the Middle Ground: New Histories of Cross-Cultural Encounters in Australian Maritime and Land Exploration (DP110100931)

This is a collaborative research project with Dr Shino Konishi (UWA) and Dr Tiffany Shellam (Deakin University).

The study proposes the concept of the middle ground to describe and represent the nature of cross-cultural encounters and relations within the history of Australian maritime and land exploration. Through as series of detailed cross-cultural historical studies of key exploration expeditions, the study seeks to re-establish the critical importance of exploration as a 'site' in which relations between Indigenous people and others developed, including in ways that were influential in shaping later race relations within the context of occupation and settlement. In this way, the concept of the middle ground is also presented as a means by which to unsettle Australian history's conventional periodisation into pre-settlement and settlement phases. Two edited collections, Indigenous Intermediaries: New Perspectives on Exploration Archives (2015) and Brokers and Boundaries: Colonial Exploration in Indigenous Territory (2016) have been published by ANU Press.

Engaging Objects: Indigenous communities, museum collections and the representation of Indigenous histories (LP110100623)

This an ARC Linkage project involving the ANU, the National Museum of Australia and the British Museum. The research team includes Professor Howard Morphy (ANU), Dr Maria Nugent (ANU), Dr John Carty (ANU), Dr Lissant Bolton (BM), Dr Ian Coates (NMA) and Dr Michael Pickering (NMA).

This partnership between ANU, the National Museum of Australia and the British Museum, in collaboration with Indigenous research participants and communities, centres on the research process leading up to a major exhibition of the British Museum's Australian Indigenous collections, and the post-exhibition impacts. it analyses historical and representational issues evoked in researching and creating the exhibition. It will result in new understandings of foundational Australian Indigenous collections and their historical and contemporary significance for scholars, Indigenous peoples and museums. It will contribute to the development of new museological paradigms about the display of Indigenous collections. The project contributed to two major exhibitions - Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation at the British Museum, and Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum at the National Museum of Australia. 




Current student projects

Shannyn Palmer, (Un)making Angas Downs: A spatial history of an Australian pastoral station 1930-1980 [supervisor] (awarded)

Maria Haenga-Collins The impact of Closed Stranger Adoption on Maori adopted into Pakeha families and their Maori families of origin 1955-1985 [supervisor] (awarded)

William Scates Frances, Managing Interests, Managing Dissonance: Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Contact History [supervisor]

Priya Vaughan, Aboriginal Art Making in New South Wales [panel member] (awarded)

Shauna Bostock-Smith, From Colonisation to My Generation - The Lived Experience of an Aboriginal Family Group Over Several Generations [panel member] (awarded)

Fiona Firth, The New Settler Tribes of the Bega Valley [panel member] (awarded)

Robert Paton, Trade and communication and the flow of knowledge within and between some Indigenous communiteis and important sites across the central/northern NT [panel member]

Annemarie McLaren, When the Strangers came to Stay, 1788-1834, [panel member] (awarded)

Jessica Urwin, Chain Reactions: Nuclear colonialism in South Australia [panel member] 











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Updated:  23 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers