Bronwen Phyllis Douglas

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Bronwen Phyllis Douglas     


Bronwen Douglas is a leader in the history profession, who has made a significant contribution to anthropological history and the history of science, in particular the history of the global concept of race and its manifestations in Oceania, the history of Melanesian Christianities, the intersections of Christianity, gender, and community in postcolonial Melanesia, and the colonial histories of New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

Born Bronwen Phyllis Craig on 8 July 1946 in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, she was the daughter of Joseph Campbell Craig (1893-1955), a guard in the South Australian railways. Her mother, Jean Naughton Craig (née Sorrell) (1910-2000), was widowed when her husband died suddenly in 1955 and raised her daughter alone. A pioneer in the public health system, Jean Craig supported her daughter financially through her work as a health inspector.

Douglas attended St Albans CEGS (1950-1952), Woodville Primary School (1953-1957), Adelaide Technical High School (1958-1961) and Woodville High School (1962) in South Australia. She won several scholarships which provided free university education but little in the way of stipend. Like many of her generation, she took a bonded Teachers' College Studentship which combined secondary teacher training with a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Adelaide. She graduated in 1967 with a BA (Hons) with First-Class Honours in History from the University of Adelaide and a Diploma of Teaching from the Adelaide Teachers' College. Following her graduation, Douglas tutored in the History Department at the University of Adelaide from January to August 1967, which enabled her to break and subsequently repay her bond with the SA Education Department. In August 1967 she left for Canberra, taking up a PhD scholarship in Pacific History at the Australian National University, where she was supervised by Dorothy Shineberg. In 1973 Douglas was awarded her PhD for her thesis A history of culture contact in north-eastern New Caledonia, 1774-1870.

In 1971 Douglas took up an appointment as a Senior Tutor in History at La Trobe University, Victoria. She was appointed Lecturer in History in 1972, gained tenure in 1973 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1979. Douglas taught at La Trobe University during the great days of the Melbourne 'ethnographic history' school of which she was an enthusiastic member. She was a Humanities Research Centre Fellow at the ANU in 1996 and left La Trobe University at the end of that year, having been appointed a Fellow in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the ANU. In 2000 Douglas was promoted to Senior Fellow. Following her retirement in December 2012, she took up an appointment as an Adjunct Senior Fellow in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. She supervised 13 successful PhD students during her career and advised numerous doctoral candidates after her retirement when she continued to mentor younger colleagues and students.

Douglas has held a number of fellowships: Visiting Fellow, Comparative Austronesian Project, Department of Anthropology, ANU (1991); Visiting Professor, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (1995 and 2007); Humanities Research Centre Fellow, ANU (1996); Caird Fellow, National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom (2001); Harold White Fellow, National Library of Australia (2010). In 2006 Douglas and Chris Ballard were awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant for their project European Naturalists and the Constitution of Human Difference in Oceania: Crosscultural Encounters and the Science of Race, 1768-1888. In 2010, Douglas began a joint ARC Discovery Project with Claude Blanckaert on Naming Oceania: geography, raciology and local knowledge in the "fifth part of the world", 1511-1920 (2010-2012).

During the early years of her career, teaching and parental responsibilities limited Douglas' research output, although she did publish a seminal article on Pacific leadership and original perspectives on fighting and religious encounters in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. During the later years, after her appointment to a research position in 1996, Douglas was able to dedicate more time to writing. She published Across the Great Divide: Journeys in History and Anthropology (1998), as well as several edited journal collections and many articles and book chapters. Her monograph Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania 1511-1850 is in press. Douglas is also the editor of: Tattoo: Bodies, Art and Exchange in the Pacific and Europe, with Anna Cole and Nicholas Thomas (2004); and Foreign Bodies: Oceania and the Science of Race 1750-1940, with Chris Ballard (2008). She is a Member of the Pacific History Association (1970-) and is the editor-elect of the Journal of Pacific History.

She married Charles Douglas in 1967; they have two daughters, Kirsty (1973-) and Allie (1977-) and one granddaughter, Jean (2012-).



Sources for this article include:
  • Australian Women's Register

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