Encounters, Agency, and Race in Oceania

We remember Professor Greg Dening (1931–2008) through an annual memorial lecture, the text of which is published in Melbourne Historical Journal, and through an annual Greg Dening Memorial Prize, generously supported by the SHAPS Fellows and Associates Group. This year’s lecture was delivered by Professor Bronwen Douglas.

Re-reading Greg Dening’s writings provides a sharp reminder of the global significance of Pacific history in the second half of the 20th century and his centrality in it. In this talk, Professor Bronwen Douglas discusses three episodes of encounter between European voyagers and Indigenous Oceanians which show the enduring significance to her historical practice of what Greg Dening called ethnohistory or ethnographic history. An ethnohistorical method illuminates the co-formulation of ‘anthropological’ knowledge in the fertile tension between European discourses on human difference or race, travellers’ experience in Oceania, and local agency.

Professor Bronwen Douglas is an Honorary Professor in the School of Archaeology & Anthropology at the Australian National University. She taught Pacific History for 25 years at La Trobe University, was Senior Fellow in Pacific & Asian History at the Australian National University until 2012, and is now Honorary Professor in the ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences. Her research and writing initially focussed on the ethnographic history of New Caledonia and south Vanuatu but from the late 1990s has combined the ethnohistory of encounters in Oceania with the history of the human sciences and the sciences of place. She is author of Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania 1511–1850 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Across the Great Divide: Voyages in History and Anthropology (Harwood, 1998). She co-edited Collecting in the South Sea: The Voyage of Bruni d’Entrecasteaux 1791–1794 (Sidestone Press, 2018), Foreign Bodies: Oceania and the Science of Race 1750–1940 (ANU E Press, 2008), and Tattoo: Bodies, Art and Exchange in the Pacific and the West (Reaktion Books and Duke University Press, 2005).

Previous Greg Dening Memorial Lectures

2019 Nat Cutter, Fallon Mody, and Henry Reese, ‘Listening Across Boundaries’

2018 Gillian Triggs, ‘Australia’s Protection of Human Rights: Is a Charter of Rights a Solution?’

2017 Joy Damousi, ‘Out of Common Humanity’

2015 Ron Adams, ‘Talking to the Dead’

2014 Ross Gibson, ‘”Who Knows the Weather?”: The Memory of Greg Dening’

2013 Shino Konishi, Maria Nugent and Tiffany Shellam, ‘Aboriginal Australians and Boundary Crossings’ (preceded by postgraduate presentations by Jayson Cooper, Lucy Eyre, Annika Lems, Damir Mitric, and Zoe Robertson)

2012 Alexandra Walsham, ‘Landscape, Ancient Monuments and Memory in Early Modern Britain’

2011 Shane Carmody, ‘On Finding Oneself in a Library’

2010 Katerina Teaiwa, ‘Challenges to Dance! Choreographing History in Oceania’

2009 Tom Griffiths, ‘History and the Creative Imagination’

Feature image: Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington