Dr Ebony Nilsson

Research Fellow
Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise: refugee and migration history; transnational history; social history; Australian history; intelligence and surveillance history

ORCID ID: 0000-0001-6525-5555

Email: ebony.nilsson@acu.edu.au

Location: ACU Melbourne Campus

Ebony Nilsson is a research fellow at the Centre for Refugee, Migration, and Humanitarian Studies in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. She is a social historian whose work specialises in migrant communities’ experiences of politics and surveillance during the Cold War. She is interested in how certain groups of migrants are designated as ‘threats’ and potential enemies, and the ways that migrants themselves experience and respond to such state controls and public perceptions.

Ebony completed her PhD at the University of Sydney. Her first monograph (under preparation) explores the transnational lives and experiences of Soviet ‘Displaced Persons’ who were resettled in Australia from Europe and China during the early Cold War and drew the attention of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation with their political engagement.

Ebony has published on the Sydney Russian community and is currently writing articles regarding security-based objections to migrants’ naturalisation, migrants who returned to the Soviet Union, and the surveillance of migrants in relation to the Petrov Affair. She is also developing a project on migrants designated ‘enemy aliens’ by the Australian government during the Cold War. She has lectured and coordinated courses on Australian history and intelligence history at the University of Sydney, and is part of the Australian Migration History Network’s Executive Committee.

Select publications

Journal Articles


  • Displaced Comrades: Politics and Surveillance in the Lives of Soviet Refugees in the West (Bloomsbury Academic, December 2023). 

Accolades and awards

  • Laureate’s Fellow, Australian Book Review, 2023
  • Visiting Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University, March 2023
  • Tempe Manne Travelling Scholarship, Australian Federation of Graduate Women NSW, 2019
  • John Frazer Travelling Scholarship, University of Sydney, 2019

Public engagement

  • ‘"The wilderness of mirrors": 70 years since the first James Bond book, spy stories are still blurring fact and fiction’, The Conversation, April 2023
  • ‘Forget spy balloons, the world of surveillance has tried everything from schoolchildren to trained cats’, The Conversation, February 2023
  • ‘Eastern European refugees and left-wing politics’, Australian Migration History Network Blog, 2019 

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