ARC Linkage grant to explore Australia’s place in maritime history

A new research project will use the oceans as an archive, exploring the shipwrecks, art and artefacts that lie beneath Australia’s waters.

Researchers from ACU’s Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences were part of an interdisciplinary team that secured a grant of almost $800,000 through the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme.

The grants promote national and international partnerships between researchers and industry.

ACU’s Professor Susan Broomhall is one of four chief investigators on the project, Mobilising Dutch East India Company collections for new global stories, led by the University of Western Australia.

The team also involves ACU scholars Associate Professor Shino Konishi, Dr Kristie Flannery and Dr Killian Quigley.

ACU experts will work with industry partners to examine objects and archival material related to the Dutch East India Company, including the Australian National Maritime Museum, British Museum, Rijksmuseum and the national archives of the Netherlands.

The project is designed to enrich the value of collections around the world, providing new narratives for museums and helping attract domestic and international visitors.

Professor Broomhall said the project would use collections in Australia and abroad to explore Australia’s place in global maritime history and early encounters between Europeans, Asians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Our team of expert museum, gallery, library, archive and university researchers will work with a range of evidence of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, or United East India Company) in Australian and international collections, including shipwrecks, artefacts, maps, letters, diaries and human remains,” she said.

“It will allow us to examine Australia’s place in global networks involving Europe, Asia and Africa. Equally, the project will enable our European counterparts to better interpret VOC’s legacies at home and abroad.”

Professor Broomhall is one of the world’s leading experts on the Dutch East India Company. Her work examines the emotional and gender culture of the Company and its impacts on international relations. She is currently completing a monograph for Amsterdam University Press on Gender and the Dutch East India Company.

Yawuru historian Associate Professor Shino Konishi specialises in early encounters between Indigenous peoples and European explorers, including the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh, who visited Australia in 1696-7.

“I’m looking forward to building on this research and working with others in the team to explore other Dutch expeditions, particularly their assumptions about, and interactions with, Aboriginal people in northern Australia,” she said.

“This project is also an opportunity to investigate how Aboriginal communities perceive and interpret this early history of Europeans in Australia, before the British.”

Dr Killian Quigley said the project had the potential to produce innovative new work on the legacies of the Dutch East India Company.

“We can better network Australian collections with international ones to produce new data,” he said.

“Better still, we have the chance to reorient our understanding of the VOC and its physical remains by bringing innovative questions and framings informed by the environmental humanities and the oceanic humanities.”

Dr Kristie Flannery said she was excited to use shipwrecks and objects recovered from the sea floor to understand the past.

“I'm a historian who does 'history from below,' looking at how ordinary people experienced globalization and European imperial expansion in the Pacific and maritime Asia,” she said.

“I work with traditional archives to write about the past. On this project, I’m looking forward to collaborating with Australia's leading maritime archaeologists and working with the ocean as an archive.”

The funding announcement is a significant outcome for the humanities and social sciences in Australia, according to ACU Dean of Arts and Director of the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Joy Damousi.

“The Institute was established in 2019, but we already have a strong track record of securing grants and a commitment towards working collaboratively with industry partners,” she said.

“This reflects IHSS’s mission to undertake cutting-edge research that helps us tackle the complex issues facing contemporary society.

“We have to understand the past to comprehend the present and equip ourselves for the future."

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