Staff profile

Staff image

AsPr Helen Gardner

Position: Associate Professor Of History
role description
Faculty or Division: Faculty of Arts and Education
Department: SHSS Arts & Ed
Campus: Melbourne Burwood Campus
Phone: +61 3 92517027 +61 3 92517027



Helen Gardner began her academic career at the University of Otago, New Zealand,  in 2001. In 2002 she was appointed to Deakin University as a lecturer in World History and Pacific History.

 She is currently working with the  Institute in the Contemporary History Group where she leads research into contemporary and historical Pacific issues.  In 2012 she became the external editor of the Journal of Pacific History and is a former secretary of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies.  

Helen's most recent publication, co-authored with anthropologist Patrick McConvell, explores the conception and writing of a nineteenth century book of Australian anthropology Kamilaroi and Kurnai  (1880). Their book Southern Anthropology - a History of Fison and Howitt's Kamilaroi and Kurnai  is based on archival sources and argues for a reapprasial of Fison and Howitt's influence on global theories of human variety in the late nineteenth century.

She is also co-editing an affiliated special issue on the history of Australian anthropology to be published in Oceania in 2016.

Helen other major project is on the spread of the Boasian culture concept into the Pacific via the theological colleges, and the influence of these ideas on the decolonisation of the region. See her co-edited special issue for The Journal of Pacific History titled ' Decolonisation Melanesia' (2013).

Helen has led a number of research projects including Missions and modernity; the History of anthropology; Decolonisation in Melanesia. 

In 2015 she will present at the Waigani seminar in Papua New Guinea and undertake a research fellowship at the University of Cambridge. 

She is interested in translocal histories and is available for HDR supervision in the following areas:

History of Anthropology - nineteenth and twentieth centuries

History of Christian Mission in Oceania - nineteenth and twentieth centuries

History of Science in Oceania - nineteenth century


  • Bachelor of Arts, La Trobe University, 1994
  • Doctor of Philosophy, La Trobe University, 2001


Teaching Interests

Honours Coordinator School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Subjects and units currently teaching

The World After the War 1945-1990

Race, Science and Religion in Australasia, 1860-1920

The Decolonisation of Papua New Guinea

Knowledge areas

Pacific History - History of Christian Missions; Colonisation and Decolonisation in the Pacific - local, national and global perspectives; Church and State in the Pacific; Nation building in the Pacific Islands, historical and contemporary perspectives.

History of Anthropology: The history of anthropology in Oceania. Missionary anthropology in Oceania in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The field and the metropole in the spread of anthropological theories. The culture concept in  twentieth century Pacific history. 

Student supervision

Susan Blackwood: Jungle, desert, ice : The Royal Geographical Society Victorian Branch. PhD Awarded 2006.

Kirstie Close Barry: Fijian Methodism, Chiefs, Christ and Culture, Submitting 2013.

Amanda Lourie: History of scientific practice in 1850s and 1860s Victoria. Submitting 2014

Daniel Perri: In search of Australasia, Submitting 2015.

Conferences and seminars

2014: The Pacific History  Association Converence Taiwan

           Lorimer Fison and 'Land Tenure in Fiji'

2013: The Australian History Association Conference, Wollongong, Australia

          Theology and the Culture Concept in the Pacific 

2012: Pacific History Association Conference, Wellington, New Zealand

          Theologies of Nation in the decolonisation of the Pacific.

2010: American Anthropology Association Meeting, New Orleans, U.S.A.

          James Unaipon's kinship;

           The descent of kinship in Australia: Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt 

Related Links


Research interests

Helen's first book, 'Gathering for God: George Brown in Oceania' was published in 2006 by the University of Otago Press, and was shortlisted for the Ernest Scott History Prize in 2007.

Helen is currently working on two major research projects. The first is a book on  nineteenth century anthropology in Oceania with a particular focus on the early study of kinship in the region published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015:   Southern Anthropology - A History of Fison and Howitt's Kamilaroi and Kurnai

The second is a collaborative study on the decolonisation of Melanesia and the role of the churches in the politics of the Pacific.

Research groups

Internationalism in the Pacific: Associate Professor Fiona Paisley, Associate Professor Christopher Waters, Dr Jonathan Ritchie, Dr Geoff Gray, Dr Helen Gardner.

Decolonisation in Melanesia: Associate Professor Christopher Waters, Professor Clive Moore, Professor Judith Bennett, Dr Anne Dixon Waiko, Dr Jonathan Ritchie, Dr Helen Gardner.

Before the Field, Anthropology in Oceania: Dr Robert Kenny, Dr Martin Thomas, Dr Samuel Furphy, Dr Bronwen Douglas, Professor Jane Lydon, Associate Professor Peggy Brock. 

Research page

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