Professor Penny Edmonds



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Research Expertise

Professor Penny Edmonds has qualifications in history and heritage studies, including a BAppSc in Heritage Studies, Univeristy of Canberra, a Postgraduate Diploma (History) and a PhD (History) from the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies from the University of Melbourne. Her research is distinguished by over two decades of creative and interdisciplinary work in the areas of empire and colonialism, humanitarianism and early histories of human rights, transnational Australian and Pacific-region histories, Indigenous and settler histories, performance, gender, and museums and critical heritage. 

'Rediscovering our colonial histories can help us deal with the entwined themes of pressing urgency for our postcolonial settler societies today: reconciliation and human rights,' she explains.    


Penny's 2016 monograph Settler Colonialism and (Re)conciliation: Frontier Violence, Affective Performances, and Imaginative Refoundings examines the performative life of reconciliation and its discontents in settler societies. Taking case studies from the Pacific settler nations USA, Australia, and Aotearoa New Zealand the book traces reconciliation's past and present in settler states, a contested political process which is especially salient where formal decolonisation cannot occur. 

The study explores the affective refoundings of the settler state and reimaginings of its alternatives and, in particular, the way the past is creatively reworked and mobilized in the name of social transformation within a new global paradigm of reconciliation and the 'age of apology'. In search of a new emancipatory politics, it takes particular account of Indigenous-led refutations or reworkings of consensus politics in public culture that directly confront the ongoing structural legacy of colonial violence. Settler Colonialism and (Re)Conciliation (Palgrave UK) was shortlisted for the University of Melbourne’s esteemed 2017 Ernest Scott Prize for best book in Australian and New Zealand colonial history.

She is also author of Urbanizing Frontiers: Indigenous Peoples and Settlers in 19th-Century Pacific Rim Cities (University of British Columbia Press, 2010).

Edited Collections:

Penny's recent co-edited collection (with Amanda Nettelbeck) is  Intimacies of Violence in the Settler Colony: Economies of Dispossession around the Pacific Rim (Palgrave, Cambridge Imperial and Postcolonial Series, 2018).


Other co-edited volumes include the landmark Making Settler Colonial Space: Perspectives on Race, Place and Identity (Palgrave, 2010) with Tracey Banivanua-Mar; and Conciliation on Colonial Frontiers: Conflict, Performance and Commemoration in Australia and the Pacific Rim (Routledge Series in Cultural History, 2015) with Kate Darian-Smith.


Other recent publications: 'Uncanny Objects in the Anthropocene'  (co-editor) Australian Humanities Review, special issue 63 (2018), a collection brings together things which are dead and/or alive, human and/or nonhuman, sensate and/or insensate, fantastical and/or historical, natural and/or cultural, spectacular and/or mundane. These objects are here re-enlivened in order to expose alternative ways of knowing the past, understanding this anthropocentric present, and imagining the role of humans in shaping environmental futures. In this way, the collection interrogates present and future problems—species mass-extinction, climate change, anthropogenic environmental impact—in relation to how the past is re-imagined, interpreted, commemorated, subverted and displayed.

Selected grants:

Penny's Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (2012-2016) ‘Reform in the Antipodes: Quaker Humanitarians, Imperial Journeys and Early Histories of Human Rights’ FT110100572 examines the early histories of colonialism and human rights in the Antipodes, tracing three key Quaker journeys of investigation to Australia, South Africa and the Pacific in the 19th century. The project seeks to resituate important Australian and antipodean histories back into the larger, global story of human rights.Located at the intersection of British humanitarianism, antislavery thought, transcolonial travel, and addressing the salient and political questions of convictism, slavery and the expropriation of Indigenous peoples in the colonies, this rich study is conducted with international collaborators Prof. Zoe Laidlaw, then at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Prof. Elizabeth Elbourne, Mc Gill University, Canada. This project was awarded two Elite PhD scholarships.  

ARC Discovery Projects - current

2016- 2020  ‘Intimacy and Violence on the Anglo Pacific Rim 1830-1930’  

CI Ryan L; CI Nettlebeck A; CI Edmonds P; CI Haskins V; Wanhalla A, CI Johnston, Australian Research Council Discovery Project  150100914 ($500,037).

Violence and Intimacy were critically intertwined at all stages of the settler colonial encounter, and together they were fundamental to the shaping of modern settler societies.  Yet we know surprisingly little of how they were connected.  This project seeks to interrogate and extend understandings of the nexus between violence and intimacy, and its centrality to the formation of settler colonial economies that were deeply dependent on the everyday proximity of Indigenous and settler workers on the Anglo Pacific Rim 1830-1930.

2021- 2024 ‘Slow’ digitisation, community heritage and the objects of Martindale Hall (SR200200900)

$277,224-  CI A/Prof. Jane Haggis, CI  Dr Tully Barnett, CI Prof.Heather Burke, CI Prof. Penelope Edmonds, CI Prof,Claire Smith, Dr Ania Kotarba Dr. Natalie Harkin (All Flinders), Emeritus Professor Margaret Allen (University of Adelaide), and Ngadjuri Elders Heritage and Land Care Council incorporated

This project will focus on a more sustainable model for the digital preservation of historically significant objects, stories and places at Martindale Hall and elsewhere in the Clare Valley. We expect to develop a new method that embeds digitisation in historical and cultural knowledge and assists organisations to make better decisions about when and how to digitise. The long term benefits include improved public access to significant cultural heritage assets, return on investment for local history organisations, and protection of heritage by the many communities that care for them.

Research Biography

Grants include:

• 2012–2017 ‘Reform in the Antipodes: Quaker Humanitarians, Imperial Journeys and Early Histories of Human Rights’. Lead CI P. Edmonds. ARC Future Fellowship

• 2015–2019 ‘Intimacy and Violence on the Anglo Pacific Rim 1830–1930’. CIs L. Ryan; A. Nettlebeck; P. Edmonds; V. Haskins; A. Wanhalla; A. Johnston. ARC Discovery Project 150100914

• 2014–2018 ‘Treating Criminals from Shore to Ship: Public Health, Humanitarianism and Convict Transportation’. CIs H. J. Maxwell-Stewart; P. Edmonds; Thomas Steve. ARC Linkage Project 140100623 

• 2008–2011 'Conciliation Narratives and the Historical Imagination’. CIs K. Darian
Smith; P. Edmonds. ARC Linkage Project 

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Melbourne, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies


Award Date: 1 Mar 2006

University of Melbourne, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, (with Hons Thesis).


Award Date: 1 Jan 2000

Bachelor of Science, Degree of Bachelor of App. Science in Conservation of Cultural Material (Heritage Conservation) National Centre for Cultural Heritage Science Studies, University of Canberra.


Award Date: 1 Jan 1990

External positions

Board of Trustees , Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery


Australian Research Council (ARC) Impact and Engagement, Humanities and Creative Arts panel


Editor, Australian Historical Studies journal (Taylor and Francis)


Associate Investigator, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions


Australian Research Council (ARC) College of Experts, Humanities and Creative Arts panel


Editor, Settler Colonial Studies journal (Taylor and Francis)


Andrew W. Mellon Advanced Fellowship in Heritage Conservation, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Affiliate, Purai Global Indigenous History Centre, University of Newcastle

Honorary Associate , The Indigenous Cultures Department, Museum Victoria, Melbourne


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