1st Edition

Material Encounters

Edited By Bronwen Douglas, Chris Ballard Copyright 2024

    This topical and conceptually innovative book proposes new perspectives on the theme of materiality which, since the 1980s, has animated work across and within disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

    The particular focus of the chapters in this volume is the materiality of knowledge produced through embodied encounters between people, places, and things in the Pacific Islands, New Guinea, Australia, and Myanmar. The authors consider how materiality mediates the ways in which knowledge is generated or acquired in encounters and becomes expressed through things and material forms of inscription – charts and maps; journals, letters, and reports; drawings; objects; human remains; legends, cartouches, captions, labels, marginalia, and notes; and published works of all kinds. The essays further address processes whereby materialized knowledge is archived, conserved, distributed, restricted, or dispersed – through serendipity, excess, loss, silence, absence, and suppression.

    This book will be of great interest to upper-level students, researchers, and academics in History, Anthropology and Oceania Studies. The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of History and Anthropology.

    Introduction—Contact tracing: The materiality of encounters

    Bronwen Douglas and Chris Ballard

    1. Mapping the once and future strait: Place, time, and Torres Strait from the sixteenth century to the Pleistocene

    Bronwen Douglas

    2. Re-presenting encounters: The drawings of Jean Piron

    Nicola Dickson

    3. ‘With the consent of the tribe’: Marking lands on Tanna and Erromango, New Hebrides

    James L. Flexner

    4. Marginal history

    Chris Ballard

    5. Making the visual record of New Guinea: William G. Lawes’s photographic encounters

    Antje Lübcke

    6. Heads and ‘cultures’: A. C. Haddon, colonial exploration and the ‘Strickland River’ inscription

    Ricardo Roque

    7. Smoke and mirrors in Arnhem Land: What expeditions tell us about the materiality of crosscultural encounters

    Martin Thomas

    8. On the banality of paperwork and the brutality of judicial bureaucracy in Myanmar

    Nick Cheesman


    Bronwen Douglas is Honorary Professor in the College of Arts & Social Sciences at the Australian National University. Her work combines the ethnohistory of encounters in Oceania with the history of the human sciences and the sciences of place.

    Chris Ballard is a Pacific historian at the Australian National University. His work focuses on Indigenous historicities and histories and the supplementary role in these histories of repatriated archives, grounded in collaborative fieldwork with communities in West Papua, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu.