‘Going Platinum: Australian responses to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, 1952-2022′

An international online conference via Zoom

Modern Monarchy in Global Perspective Network

University of Sydney, Australia, 20-22 June 2022

The year 2022 marks the 70th anniversary, or Platinum Jubilee, of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. Since 1952 the Queen has reigned over Australia as well as several other realms beyond Britain, and to this day serves as Head of State. For many Australians, Elizabeth II is the only monarch they have ever known, with her profile, name or initials seen every day on coins, banknotes, stamps, postboxes, hospitals and government documents. Ever since her blockbuster first Australian tour in 1954, Australians have flocked to see the Queen and her family members on numerous royal visits, and many have eagerly followed her progress here and elsewhere in the press. But these visits have also drawn protest and debate over Australia’s constitutional position. Republicans have argued that the monarchy is outdated, irrelevant and unrepresentative of our modern, multicultural nation, while some Indigenous Australians have appealed to the Queen to redress their legal, constitutional and social disadvantage.

From 20-22 June 2022, the Modern Monarchy in Global Perspective network will host an international online conference examining Australian responses to the reign of Elizabeth II in the period 1952-2022. The conference seeks to recover antipodean perspectives on the British monarchy, including Indigenous perspectives. The conference will explore three streams:

1) Constitutional and political implications: What constitutional and political implications does the reign of Queen Elizabeth II have for Australia, both to date and in the future?

2) Material Culture: How do individual objects, the everyday as well as ceremonial, tell the story of Australian responses to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, 1952-2022?

3) Media and Popular Memory: How have Australian individuals and communities ‘seen’ and responded to Queen Elizabeth II, 1952-2022?

Conference presentations will take the form of EITHER:

1) 20-minute conference papers presented live on ZOOM in panels of up to three papers per panel
2) Roundtable presentation of 3-6 presenters discussing ONE element of one of the above themes

Please send a 300-word abstract of individual paper proposals (500-word for panel or roundtable proposals) along with names, contact addresses and brief biographies of all presenters to Cindy McCreery at: cindy.mccreery@sydney.edu.au by 1 December 2021.

Image: National Museum of Australia https://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/icons/piction/kaui2/index.html#/home?usr=CE&umo=23122963

Farewell to Dr. Thomas Adams

On Wednesday, September 7, 2021, Dr. Thomas Adams spoke about his role in the Street Re-Naming Commission in New Orleans in the Department of History’s “In Print and in Prospect” seminar series. The Department also bid farewell to Thomas as his resignation brought to an end six years of service at the University of Sydney.

Colleague and friend, Associate Professor Frances Clarke, took the opportunity to say a few words about Thomas’ tenure at Sydney, and his many contributions the Department.

Here is a transcript of Associate Professor Clarke’s speech:

It’s striking to think that Thomas only started work at the University of Sydney in 2014. That means that it has only been 6 years between his arrival here, and his return to the US, right before the pandemic hit. For those 6 years, he worked in both the History Department and the U.S. Studies Center. Given that Thomas worked across these two locations, you might not be aware of all he was during this short period. I’d like to spend a few moments acknowledging some of that work, because it’s a remarkable record. I’ll start with teaching.

From arrival to departure, Thomas taught 12 unique first- and second-year units:

At first year:

Lincoln to Obama

History Workshop: Chicago 1968

At second and third year:

American Social Movements

The History of Capitalism

History and Historians

African American History and life

Law and Order in American History

New Orleans: Disaster, Culture and Identity

The American Studies Capstone Seminar

Foreign Policy, Americanism and Anti-Americanism

Latin American Revolutions

Unnatural Disasters

Some of these were history courses, and others were taught through the U.S. Studies Center. They equate to 2 new units every single semester he was here—a record that is unmatched by any other academic I know. It speaks to Thomas’s breadth of interests and versatility, not to mention his willingness to step into whatever roles needed filling.

In addition to this teaching, he was helping to train our postgraduate students. In 2014, not long after his arrival, he and I ran an American Studies seminar for history graduate students. The following year, we ran a graduate seminar in Historiography and Historical Thought. Then, the next year and the one after, we taught the Finishing the Thesis seminar together. Occasionally, Thomas also ran ad hoc professionalisation seminars for our postgrad students. I watched him in these classes and got to know him well. He was ever whip-smart and inspiring. He enjoyed teaching students—and it showed.

Did Thomas ever seem a bit distracted or frazzled when you ran into him in the hallways? He had plenty on his mind. Let me note a few of the other activities that he was doing for us over those years.

For 2016 and 2017, he worked with me as the History postgraduate coordinator—back then, the largest service role in the department. But, at the same time, he held the position of the Academic Director of the USSC. This is a massive role, equivalent to being department chair, encompassing negotiating staffing contracts, helping set curriculum, and dealing with various issues related to the financing of the Center.

At the same time, he was supervisor or associate supervisor or 5 postgraduate students—most of whom have now finished or are about to do so.

Each year of his tenure here, he also gave a large public lecture. And practically every week he was on radio or TV, discussing American politics (he actually made more than 100 TV and radio appearances in the first 4 years of his work here). At the same time, he was writing for important online fora—including the New Matilda, Jacobin, ABC Online, the Huffington Post, the Australian, CommonDreams, and more.

He was, of course, engaged in academic writing as well—on a book, The Servicing of America: Work and Inequality in the Modern US; an edited collection, Remaking New Orleans: Beyond Exceptionalism and Authenticity, which came out with Duke in 2019, and a range of special issues, book chapters, and articles—15 of these published between 2014 and 2019 to be precise.

From a purely selfish perspective, one of my favourite things that Thomas did while he was here was to connect Americanists in the Southern hemisphere in a way we hadn’t been connected before. Along with Sarah Gleeson-White in the English Department, he applied for a major grant through the Faculty Collaborative Research Scheme, to create the American Cultures Workshop. They located everyone working on any aspect of America, set up a monthly seminar series, and paid to have speakers present work-in-progress. This ran (under new leadership) until the pandemic hit, and it was an unprecedented success. It was particularly helpful, I think, in providing opportunities for our postgraduate students—to give papers; to meet others in the field; to make new colleagues and friends.

Thomas is an enormous loss to the University of Sydney. I will miss Thomas because he was always interesting to talk to. He truly cared for our students. He’s a gadfly—willing to provoke the powers that be. Unsurprisingly, he inspired then. He’s an iconoclast—never just mouthing the latest theories (although he knows them all). He thinks for himself. He’s not just thoughtful, but also irreverent, funny, and warm. We swapped as many cat memes as we did teaching ideas or thoughts about history. He taught me a great deal while he was here, and although I know we’ll stay connected, it won’t be the same.

I’ll add that it is totally typical of Thomas to show up and give a brilliant paper in the immediate aftermath of a devastating hurricane, while looking like he’s doing nothing out of the ordinary. And it’s equally typical for this paper to be about the public and political function of history—on a project that drew in our students and helped them to see what difference history can make in the world beyond the University. This paper spoke more eloquently than anything else of exactly what we’re losing—a remarkable intellect, an engaged teacher, and a wonderful colleague.

The Department of History wishes Thomas all the best in his (many) future endeavours.

Second New Appointment in History

From Professor Kirsten McKenzie, Chair History Department

We are delighted to announce that Dr Roberto Chauca Tapia has accepted a continuing position in the Department of History. We hope he can take up his position in January 2022, although his exact arrival depends upon the schedule of Australia’s reopening of its international border to overseas entries.

Dr Chauca is currently a member of the Department of Anthropology, History, and Humanities at FLACSO (Faculdad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Sede Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador. He received his PhD from the University of Florida in 2015, with a dissertation titled “Science in the Jungle: Missionary Cartographic and Geographic Production of Early Modern Western Amazonia.” Before arriving at FLACSO, he taught both in Florida and at the Universidade de Brasília, in Brazil. He teaches Indigenous, colonial, and contemporary Latin America, nationalisms, histories of knowledge, and histories of science. His research focuses on the history of early modern Amazonia, Indigenous knowledge-making, cartography, Jesuit and Franciscan science, and environmental histories of the Amazon river.

In a career that has spanned several continents and multiple languages, Dr Chauca brings a range of experiences to deploy in public engagement in Indigenous histories, environment, and science. His imaginative range of teaching and research will contribute new and valuable perspectives to the History Department, and we are excited about the role he will play in the future of both History and International and Global Studies.

We look forward to welcoming Roberto to Sydney.

Many thanks


Professor Kirsten McKenzie  FAHA FRHistS
Department of History| School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry    

History on Wednesday Seminar Series

School of Philosophical and Historial Inquiry
Department of History

The University of Sydney

HoW | History on Wednesday Seminar series
Semester 2, 2021

We hope you will join us for our lastest HoW seminar series.
All seminars will be held on Zoom, commencing at 12:10pm.

Please Note: Abstracts, Zoom details and calendar invites will be sent out prior to each seminar.

25 August | Hélène Sirantoine “Serendipitous findings: about the unexpected appearance of a daughter of King Arthur in a thirteenth-century piece of Spanish hagiography”

22 September | Deirdre O’Connell “Biography in a digital age: recovering the lives of a band of black traveling performing artists in interwar Europe” 

20 October | Pamela Maddock
“Corporal punishment and disease control in the antebellum US army: the case of Captain Sykes, 1853”

1604 treaty between Henri IV of France and Ottoman sultan Ahmed I
Wednesday 3 November | Darren Smith Le monde est un logement d’etrangers: a French diplomat in the seventeenth-century Mediterranean”

You can sign up to History on Wednesday at the SOPHI event registration page. Find out more at the SOPHI Events page.The seminar series convenor is Hélène Sirantoine | Click here to email

How was it really? | History podcasts

Why not subscribe to the Department of History’s podcast series
How was it really?‘ on Soundcloud.

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DECRA Success!

Many congratulations to History Department colleagues, Dr Sophie Loy-Wilson and Dr Sophie Chao. They have both won prestigious and highly-competitive Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards by the Australian Research Council, commencing in 2022.

Sophie Loy-Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in Australian History in the Department of History at the University of Sydney where she specialises in Chinese Australian history. Her previous work includes the book, Australians in Shanghai: Race, Rights and Nation in Treaty Port China (2017)

Dr. Loy-Wilson’s DECRA Project is titled: “Chinese Business: economic and social survival in white Australia, 1870-1940.”  

This exciting project aims to uncover the social and cultural significance of Chinese economic activity in Australia. Documenting enterprises that Chinese migrants pursued, under conditions that restricted non-white immigration and labour, it seeks to offer the first national account of the strategies these migrants used to pursue collective economic interests.

The research will require work with large data sets. Court archives will also be used to investigate Chinese agricultural and remittance economies, re-centering Chinese Australians in the nation’s history. The benefits of this work will include the digitization of these records, which are expected to form a major online archive accessible to descendants of Chinese migrants, whose economic activity buttressed Australian prosperity. 

The project will reveal the full extent of the social and cultural significance of Chinese economic activity in Australia. As an additional benefit, it will underline to the 1.2 million Australians of Chinese origin that their past, present and future contributions to Australian society are acknowledged and valued.

Moreover, Dr. Loy-Wilson hopes help redress the perception of some Chinese Australians, members of a community that now numbers 1.2 million, that negative sentiment towards them has recently increased (as registered by the Lowy Institute annual opinion survey). Drawing on perspectives from the past, it will highlight the collective strategies used by migrants to successfully build communities and secure economic prosperity, particularly in regional Australia.

More information about Dr. Sophie Chao’s DECRA success can be found here, with the Sydney Institute.

Many congratulations to both Dr. Loy-Wilson and Dr. Chao!

New Appointment in History

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Dr Niro Kandasamy has accepted a continuing position in the Department of History from 1 January 2022. 

Dr. Kandasamy is currently based at the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne. She completed her prize-winning PhD in 2019 at the University of Melbourne on ‘Child Refugees in Australia and Internationalism: 1920 to the Present’. She teaches in the areas of human rights, global studies, memory, peace, and war. Her areas of research include government and the politics of Asia, migration history, disability, welfare service delivery, memory studies, gender, and the history of emotions, with a geographical focus on the Global South. 

With a career that spans both academia and the non-government sector, Dr Kandasamy brings a wealth of active outreach and community-engaged research experience to the Department, along with an impressive track record in scholarly publication. Her interdisciplinary research and teaching experience will make an outstanding contribution to our curriculum and research culture in both History and International and Global Studies.

We look forward to welcoming Niro to Sydney.

Many thanks


Professor Kirsten McKenzie  FAHA FRHistS
Department of History| School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry     

Chair of Department

 ‘How was it really?’ The Department of History on Soundcloud 

Study History in Semester 2

The University of Sydney

Travel in time and space with the Department of History in 2021
We have a range of exciting options in second semester taught by world-class experts in their fields. Find out more about today’s world by studying and understanding its past. Below are just a few of our offerings.

Semester 2 2021
HSTY2606: China’s Last Dynasty: The Great Qing
Explore a broad sweep of China’s history, from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries in HSTY2606 China’s Last Dynasty: The Great Qing with Dr David Brophy. An influential historian, public intellectual and activist, David has just published China Panic: Australia’s Alternative to Paranoia and Pandering

HSTY2647: Renaissance Italy
Wishing you could be in Florence? Let Associate Professor Nick Eckstein, internationally recognized authority on all things Renaissance, from art to plague, be your guide. Sign up for HSTY2647: Renaissance Italy and witness the extraordinary cultural flowering that occurred in Italy between the 14th and the 16th centuries.  

HSTY2652: Genocide in Historical Perspective
Dr Marco Duranti
, leading historian of human rights, teaches HSTY2652: Genocide in Historical Perspective. Why do genocides occur? Was imperialism genocidal? Is there such a thing as ‘cultural genocide’? We tackle these controversies – and much more – through a survey of the global history of genocide from the nineteenth century to the present.

HSTY2677: Australia: Politics and Nation 
Are we an ‘independent’ nation? Staying closer to home, in HSTY2677 Australia: Politics and Nation, Professor James Curran (together with Dr Ryan Cropp) take us on a journey from the colonial period to the present, raising the questions of political culture and nationalism we still wrestle with today. A leading scholar of politics and foreign relations, James is a regular public commentator and a columnist in the Australian Financial ReviewRead Professor Curran’s latest article here.)

If you are interested in these units and don’t meet the pre-requisites, you can submit an “enrolment exception request” via Sydney Student

What about a first year July Intensive to fast-track your degree?

HSTY1089: Introduction to Australian History

Australia has been called the ‘quiet continent’, but conflict has been part of its history since 1788. This unit examines the violence of convict society, frontier conflict and early battles for self-government. It maps the political struggles, contested stories and shifts in Indigenous-settler relations that accompanied the creation of a nation state after 1880, and explores the effects of war on different social groups. Finally, it charts Australia’s cultural and political transformation after 1945 into the postindustrial postcolonial society of today.

Watch this video to find out more about HSTY1089!

Find out more about the Department of History’s offerings, a major in History, degree progresssion, Honours, and much more!  Our Department guide has the most up-to-date information on units of study on offer. If you have any queries about units of study, please contact the unit coordinator or the SOPHI Office. E | sophi.enquiries@sydey.edu.au

Interested in where a Major in History can take you? Each year we run a session where students can hear from graduates from the Department to learn about making the transition from university to the job market. Check out our information session from 2020.

    The University of Sydney Keep in touch Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn YouTube Copyright © 2021

Vale Neville Meaney

By Professor James Curran

It is with great sadness that I inform you that our former colleague and friend, Neville Meaney, passed away on Sunday. He was a scholar, historian and mentor to many, including myself.  Neville was appointed to teach American history here in 1962 after doing his PhD at Duke: he retired in 2006. His contribution to the intellectual life of the university, to the department, to his field and indeed to the country is vast. 

Neville’s scholarship on Australian foreign and defence policy in particular towers above the rest – his work on the period 1901-1923 is nothing short of magisterial and his account of Australia and the First World War, published in 2010, is the best treatment of the subject. It was in many ways his magnum opus. His documentary history of Australia and the World, his work on Australia-Japanese relations and his many articles and reviews on Australia and America’s relations with the world broke new ground.  His article on ‘Britishness and Australian nationalism’ in Australian Historical Studies in April 2001 is still one of the most frequently downloaded pieces in that journal. And his courses on the American national myth, US foreign policy, Australian foreign policy and Australian political culture inspired several generations of students who went on to either academic careers or senior positions in the Australian public service, including in the Department of Foreign Affairs.  

In our introduction to an edited collection of his most important articles, Stuart Ward (who also studied under Neville) and I wrote:

“We first encountered Neville in the 1990s—a decade where Australian political history was in abatement and a new cultural history was making rapid headway. Neville was untroubled by the demise of the old diplomatic history, recognising that international relations needed anchoring in the broader political culture of the nation, and required more than a faithful account of meetings, cables and policy briefs from the archival coal face. Its value and potential were diminished if treated as a limited sub-specialization. But he was sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that the past held out themes of defining significance; that not everything was ‘contested’ or ‘unstable’, and that the study of politics and ideas remained a valuable point of entry into the national psyche. More to the point, he saw politics and international relations, not as a cul-de-sac of elite mannerisms, but as an extension of wider social, intellectual and cultural trends, particularly in democratic societies where political leaders are obliged to seek a popular mandate”

Neville was also active across all areas of academic life – as but one example in 1976 he was president of the SAUT (Sydney Association of University Teachers)  the quasi-union body that represented academics. A brilliant tennis player and accomplished pianist, he had also  – while an undergraduate at Adelaide – represented Australian Universities in Hockey. 

His devotion to his students was legendary: Neville hosted postgraduate seminars at his home once a month that were occasions of great conviviality and indeed great rigour. It was where arguments and hypotheses were advanced, tested and subjected to scrutiny – mostly after bowls of Irish stew (which he made) and incredibly good red wine from his well-stocked, and terrifically well-chosen, cellar.

He will be greatly missed.

Neville’s funeral will be held at Macquarie Park Cemetery in the Camellia chapel on Tuesday 8 June at 2pm.  I will be delivering a eulogy on his academic career at the service, and my column in the Australian Financial Review on Monday 7 June will be dedicated to his profound influence on Australian intellectual and public life.

There will be a wake at Sydney University in the Holme building from 6pm that same day, 8 June.


James Curran

Professor of Modern History

University of Sydney 

‘Not Your Average Survey: A Student-led COVID-19 Archive’

Recording Experiences of the Pandemic

Authors: Kristian Marijanovic and Bella Bauer

Earlier in December, we heard from Nyree Morrison, from the University of Sydney Archives, on the University at the time of the Spanish flu. Considering nearly 40 per cent of the city was infected at one point, it was surprising how little we know about the University’s experience. One omission that stood out was that society records mentioned next to nothing about this disease that was ravaging the population. We cannot fill this absence but we can at least compensate for it by recording our current pandemic.

We are making a small but valuable archive of student and staff experiences of COVID-19, through an online survey and some interviews. Associate Professor Frances Clarke, who gave us the idea of the project, suggested its name, ‘Not Your Average Survey’, to which we added a subtitle, ‘A Student-led COVID-19 Archive’. It gets at the aim of the project, which is to record and preserve the experiences of a small but representative sample of people at the University during this time.

Beyond basic identifying details, such as gender and faculty, we wanted to know about people’s personal experience. We worked with Frances on setting out a series of questions, optional to answer and fairly open-ended, to get as many topics covered as we could; question 11 asks, ‘How would you describe the way this pandemic has reshaped your life?’ We wanted to know how people heard about COVID-19, what their initial response was, where they got their news about it from, and, of course, how they felt they were affected, whether it be socially, emotionally, education-wise, financially, or in any other way.

There were a few common themes in the survey responses. Some people enjoyed self-isolation; others didn’t. One staff member wrote, ‘Apart from missing physical contact with colleagues, the work experience has been exactly the same as it would be in person.’ But with mental health an oft-mentioned issue, it is clear it was a mixed experience. One staff member, who works in administration and was asked about how her thinking changed about the pandemic, wrote about ‘[m]ental health and feeling less trapped at home as time has passed’.

There were a range of attitudes to online learning but people generally felt the University responded as best as it could. One FASS student felt her ‘transition into online university was pretty good’, although she found it ‘interesting watching every authority figure refer to these as “unprecedented times”, whilst generally giving very few allowances for subpar work.’ A staff member, an Educational Designer, wrote, ‘We went into the proctored exams project knowing it would almost certainly disproportionately affect students who were of lower SES, in particular those in insecure housing or without financial resources’, and this could only be mitigated.

What of restrictions in general, beyond online learning and university? The new circumstances could be frustrating. One academic spoke about how her church adjusted to restrictions. She described what she did instead of singing, during in-person services; she clapped her hands and laughed loudly, saying, ‘I do percussion with my feet, with my hands, and I hum—and I feel frustrated!’ A FASS Honours student wrote that her ‘brother has bought 7+ Louis Vuittons [with stimulus money] … I frankly am frustrated constantly because my brother, the micro biologist, ignores COVID. He’s had 5+ people sleep over before, and he’s gone out clubbing.’ On a more serious note, one staff member wrote that ‘[f]amily relations became strained as we were confined to our home.’ These, more sensitive topics are something we wanted to record but it is difficult; this staff member provided little on the subject and, understandably, did not want to be interviewed.

We felt oral histories would complement the survey responses; interviews would give more depth, more vitality, to individual respondents. About 40 staff and students said they would be willing to be interviewed but many of these eventually ruled themselves out, as we started interviewing in late October, about two months since the last sizable amount of responses were submitted. Nonetheless, we conducted 10 interviews with 10 people, which ranged from half an hour to an hour in length. Five interviewees were professional staff, three were academic staff, and two were students. Associate Professor Julia Horne helped us plan the interviews, and we had two History Beyond the Classroom students, Claudia Rosenberg and Caitlin Williams, volunteering as interviewers.

Of course, there were issues with the survey and interviews. Diversity, for one. There were only three male interviewees and five of the interviewees were professional staff. It was a similar issue with the survey responses. As of 1 November, we recorded 139 responses. 74 per cent of respondents were female, 45 per cent were affiliated with FASS, and 91 per cent of students were domestic. Zoom interviews could be problematic. They were not recorded in an archivable file format, unlike the in-person interviews, and the interview sometimes might not ‘flow’ well; it is the same issue with a Zoom classroom. There were some other issues and oversights, such as neglecting to ask respondents for their age.

It is the end of this tumultuous year. The UK and the US have just approved vaccines. With the virus under control in Sydney, it seems like there will not be another opportunity to record how people experienced self-isolation and the other things that came with this pandemic. While we only began accepting responses from late June, which was after the State Government lifted some restrictions, this is still a valuable archive. It is a small but, we feel, representative sample of the University during this time.

Kristian Marijanovic and Bella Bauer

The Ends of Empire

Do Empires End?  And what about the ‘leftover’ colonies?

What do Christmas Island, Gibraltar and Greenland have in common? Those places,  like American Samoa, the British Virgin Islands and French Polynesia, are all overseas territories of larger continental states, often far removed from the ‘mainland’ of which they are a part.  They are the remains of older colonial empires that never gained independence.  About fifty such territories spread around the world continue to be administered by Britain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.  Most are small island countries in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific, though they also include large countries such as Denmark’s Greenland in the North Atlantic and French Guiana in South America.  A few are famous – St Helena, a British territory, was Napoleon’s home in exile.  Others have been the source of disputes, from an independence movement in French New Caledonia to conflict between Britain and Argentina about sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and by Britain and Spain over ‘possession’ of Gibraltar.  Yet other territories – the Cayman Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon – are well known only to avid map-readers or travellers to exotic sites.

The Ends of Empire: The Last Colonies Revisited, by two University of Sydney academics, Robert Aldrich, Professor of European History, and John Connell, Professor of Geography, examines these fascinating spots around the globes, reflects on why decolonisation seemingly stopped before reaching these outposts, and what stakes they represent in the contemporary world.  Their new 522-page book, published by Palgrave Macmillan in London, ‘revisits’ territories first explored in two co-authored volumes they published twenty years ago: France’s Overseas Frontier (1992) and The Last Colonies (1998).  The Ends of Empire, however, is a completely new book, looking at what has changed and what has not changed in these places over the last decades and situating them in the context of the complex politics, cultural issues, economics and international relations in the twenty-first century.

The authors argue that, rather than being seen as failures of decolonisation, these overseas countries and territories represent a kind of negotiated ‘semi-sovereignty’ that, for most of their inhabitants, brings the sort of security and standard of living that would be endangered if they became independent.  Their residents, for the most part, are fully-fledged citizens of the larger nation-states to which the territories belong, and they have rights of abode there.  They are eligible for social welfare payments, they have access to better education and health care than is available to most of those who live in similar neighbouring countries, and they have increasingly gained recognition for local Indigenous and the Creole cultures.  The internet age has plugged in many remote and isolated territories to the wider world, and easier travel has made it possible for larger numbers of people to move in and out of the territories.  Because of all this, all referendums proposing independence for these territories in recent years have been defeated.

These territories are nevertheless faced with the problems of dependent economies, occasional social and ethnic discord, scandals caused by corruption and dodgy financial affairs, natural disasters and the threats of climate change, and issues surrounding irregular migrants and refugees.  Their leaders bicker continuously with metropolitan authorities about the division of power between national and local authorities and the niceties of constitutional status.  Some worry about the designs of outside powers and object to the militarisation of their territories.  There is concern about who actually ‘belongs’ in these countries, some with Indigenous people such as Polynesians, Kanaks and Inuit, and all with cosmopolitan populations created through decades or sometimes centuries of colonialism and more recent movements of people.

Australia’s Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling Islands) and Norfolk Island are three of these overseas territories.  Debates about the use of Christmas Island for detention camps for refugees and possible quarantine stations for those with coronavirus underline the fact that the Australian external territories, like those of other places, are not just international oddities with merely folkloric interest.  Their variegated histories and cultures are typical of the mixing and mingling of peoples and cultures that characterise the diverse overseas territories, from the French island of Reunion – with over a million people descended from European settlers, African slaves and Indian indentured labourers – to Pitcairn Island – a British territory of only several dozen inhabitants who trace their ancestry to the survivors of the mutiny on the Bounty and the Polynesians who ended up on the islands with the mutineers. 

This interdisciplinary study provides a new perspective on the history of decolonisation and a comprehensive analysis of a group of territories that have not become independent and whose residents, in the main, do not wish for them to do so.  It examines the way cultures have blended, political authority has been negotiated, economic structures have evolved, and even small outposts have been drawn into the currents of the contemporary world order.  It also considers other anomalies in among independent nation-states, from European micro-states that have survived for hundreds of years to countries of uncertain or unrecognised sovereignty, and from areas of new colonial expansion such as the South China Sea to places where there remain militant independence movements such as West Papua or demands by First Nations people for acknowledgement of their special position.  It highlights the legacies left by colonialism even in small islands and enclaves sometimes forgotten by outsiders.  The Ends of Empire suggests that imperial situations will probably never come to an end, but that the very existence of these semi-sovereign overseas territories mandates thinking anew about what decolonisation, nationalism and sovereignty mean in today’s world.

The Ends of Empire will be available in Australia in October 2020.  For further information, see https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9789811559044