Professor Penny Edmonds



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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, University of Melbourne. Her research is distinguished by over two decades of creative and interdisciplinary work in the areas of British empire and colonialism, Indigenous and settler histories, reconciliation, humanitarianism, transnational and comparative Australian and Pacific-region histories across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and North America, performance, gender, and museums.


Settler Colonialism and (Re)conciliation: Frontier Violence, Affective Performances, and Imaginative Refoundings  (Palgrave UK Cambridge Imperial and Postcolonial Series, 2016) 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 was shortlisted for the University of Melbourne’s esteemed 2017 Ernest Scott Prize for best book in Australian and New Zealand colonial history.

Part exposé and part archive, this book is not afraid to explore the tensions between the enduring promise of reconciliation as a route towards cultural rapprochement and its intractable limits as a mode of postcolonial justice ... Edmonds’ deft analysis of performance as fundamental to the negotiation process reveals an emerging trans-indigenous movement geared to change not only how we think about reconciliation, but also, and more importantly, how we go about doing it.’ - Professor Helen Gilbert, Centre for International Theatre and Performance Research, Royal Holloway, University of London.

[In this] searching and deeply researched meditation on the 'performative life of reconciliation and its discontents in settler societies' … [Edmonds] is very much aware of the emotional and moral questions raised by frontier violence and reflecting on their contemporary resonances … This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the transformative potential (and limitations) of reconciliation movements internationally … Few scholars writing on reconciliation have managed to express the dilemmas and tensions inherent to the process as succinctly as Penny Edmonds.' - Professor of History Mark McKenna, University Of Sydney, Journal of Australian Studies, 42:3.



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

Frontiers were not confined to the bush, backwoods, or borderlands. Towns and cities at the farthest reaches of empire were crucial to the settler colonial project. Yet the experiences of Indigenous peoples in these urban frontiers have been overshadowed by triumphant narratives of progress. Inspired by the spatial turn and critical race studies Urbanizing Frontiers examines the comparative politics of race, space, gender and segregation, and the often violent biopolitics of settler colonialism in Canada and Australia. It explores the lives of Indigenous peoples and settlers in two Pacific Rim cities – Victoria, British Columbia, and Melbourne, Australia. Built on Indigenous lands and overtaken by gold rushes, these cities emerged between 1835 and 1871 in significantly different locations, yet both became cross-cultural and segregated sites of empire. This innovative study traces how these spaces, and the bodies in them, were transformed, sometimes in violent ways, creating new spaces and new polities. ‘Highly commended’ for First History Book, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2010. 

‘Taking as her case studies Victoria on Canada’s west coast and Melbourne, Australia, Edmonds makes a compelling case for the ways in which urban and Indigenous histories are deeply entwined … the urban stories she tells are rich, complex, and densely critical ... Urbanizing Frontiers is an outstanding contribution to the nascent literature on urban colonialism and indigenous peoples.’ – Professor Coll Thrush, University of British Columbia, Pacific Historical Review, 2011

‘An excellent work of comparative colonial history ... the casual reader of British Columbian or Australian history as well as the academic of urban studies, policy, urban geography, colonial, gender and race history should consider reading this book.'  Professor Omeasoo Butt, University of Saskatchewan, Canadian Journal of History / Annales canadiennes d'histoire, Vol. XLVlI, Autumn/automne 2012

‘Urbanizing Frontiers is a fine example of comparative colonial history. This sort of history requires research in multiple locations often separated by vast distances, engagement with the historiographical contours of at least two countries, and a conceptual language to bridge them. ...[it shows] rich and compelling evidence and insightful analysis with reference to postcolonial, feminist and spatial theory.... Urbanizing Frontiers is a sophisticated monograph, carefully crafted and impressive in scope. It deserves a wide readership in Indigenous studies, colonial history, urban history and historical geography, while also making an important and timely contribution to both Australian and Canadian history.' – Professor Frances Steel, University of Otago, Aboriginal History, Vol 35, 2011

Edited Collections:

Intimacies of Violence in the Settler Colony: Economies of Dispossession around the Pacific Rim, co-edited collection with Amanda Nettelbeck, (Palgrave UK, 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.



Special Issues:

'Uncanny Objects in the Anthropocene' (co-edited with H.Stark and K.Schlunke) Australian Humanities Review, special issue 63 (2018), 

This issue 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. 

'Empire, humanitarianism and violence in the colonies', eds. P. Edmonds and A. Johnston, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 17.1  (2016)

There is now a burgeoning scholarship at the intersection of new imperialism and the history of humanitarianism. Scholars have not only pointed to the continuing need to historicise humanitarian developments, but, importantly, argued for more consideration of humanitarian developments outside of Europe. The diverse forms of imperial humanitarian history, and their entanglements with violence in colonised regions such as Australia, New Zealand, North America, India and the Pacific, demand attention. This special collection takes up this challenge to consider the diverse and contested relationship between humanitarianism and violence in the Anglophone colonies, and the experiences and impact of humanitarians from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries who sought to ameliorate various forms of colonial violence, advocate for non-violence and/or engage in anticolonial and humanitarian activities. Interrogated here too are the ways that humanitarians, protectors and others could simultaneously be implicated in or oversee various forms of violence; indeed, the refutation of outright conflict or brutality could sometimes lead to other forms of harm and organised coercion of colonised, unfree and convicted peoples alike.

Research Biography

Australian Research Council funded grants:

2022 LE230100079 Time Layered Cultural Map of Australia: Advanced Techniques and Big Data $472,543. Emeritus Prof Hugh Craig (Lead – University of Newcastle), Prof Paul Arthur; Prof Penny Edmonds, Prof Ning Gu; Prof Rosalind Smith; Prof Andrew May, Prof H. Maxwell-Stewart, Prof Martin Gibbs, Prof Catharine Coleborne, Emeritus Prof Lyndall Ryan, A/ ProfBill Palmer, Dr Julie Nichols; A/Prof Tully Barnett; Dr Julieanne Lamond.

2021- 2024 ARC SRI ''Slow' Digitisation, Community Heritage and the Objects of Martindale Hall.' SR200200900. $277,224.  Lead CI Prof Penny Edmonds, CI A/Prof Jane Haggis, CI A/Prof Tully Barnett, CI Prof. Heather Burke, CI Prof. CI Prof, Claire Smith, Dr Ania Kotarba (all Flinders University), Emeritus Prof 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.

2016 - 2021 ARC Discovery Project, ‘Intimacy and Violence on the Anglo Pacific Rim 1830-1930’. DP 150100914. $500,037. Lead CI L. Ryan L, CI A.Nettlebeck A, CI P.Edmonds P, CI V. Haskins, CI A. Johnston, PI A.Wanhalla

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.

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

• 2012-2017 ARC Future Fellowship FT110100572 ‘Reform in the Antipodes: Quaker Humanitarians, Imperial Journeys and Early Histories of Human Rights’. Lead CI Penny Edmonds. This project 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 Pro. 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.  

2008–2011 ARC Linkage Project 'Conciliation Narratives and the Historical Imagination in British Pacific Rim Settler Societies'. LP0776803. CIs K. Darian Smith, J.Evans, P. Edmonds, A.Smith.  This project deepens Australian understandings of the negotiated forms of conciliation that occurred between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in the colonial period to present. By comparing these with conciliation events in New Zealand and British Columbia, the Australian experience is positioned within the global context of the Pacific Rim. The project's innovative approach unites historical and legal research with material culture of extraordinary heritage significance held by three major national collecting institutions (partner organisations) and others. Among the outcomes are scholarly publications, international symposia, publicly assessable web-based and educational materials, a travelling exhibition, and professional training.

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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