Conference: Local Intermediaries in International Exploration

Keynote speakers

    Felix Driver, Professor of Human Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
    Len Collard, Professor of Indigenous Studies, University of Western Australia
    David Palmer, Senior Lecturer, Community Development, Murdoch University
    John Gascoigne, Scientia Professor of History, UNSW.

The history of exploration has often been thought of as a heroic drama in which the explorer is the principal narrator and protagonist. This two day conference will discuss exploration as a collective effort and experience involving a variety of people and social strata in various kinds of relationships. It will engage with the recent resurgence in interest in the history of exploration, by focusing on the various intermediaries, the guides, translators and hosts who assisted and facilitated European travellers in exploring different parts of the world.
While the myth of the solitary intrepid explorer has long been questioned, the notion of exploration still suggests the discovery of a wilderness. This conference aims to examine the extent to which the explored territory was in fact a peopled landscape, inhabited not only by indigenous peoples, but also often by the vanguards of Empire such as slavers, marines, merchants, sealers, whalers, and missionaries, as well as early settlers who hosted the explorers and travellers. Recent historiographical shifts mean that scholars now recognise that so called ‘lone travellers’ in fact depended on local support for food, shelter, protection, information, guidance, and emotional solace, as well as other resources.
This conference, which has a global focus, will analyse in detail the contributions of local people as intermediary figures, as interpreters and ‘native’ assistants, thus making the hidden histories of exploration more visible. Those hidden histories include not only indigenous participants but local settler populations.
Key areas being discussed at the conference are:

  The role that Indigenous people played in colonized lands as guides, advisers, trackers and translators, enabling and participating in exploration.

 The experience and agency of Indigenous peoples, including issues of choice versus coercion, as well as differences between, for instance, ‘professional’ guides versus occasional assistants, young and old, men and women.

The role of settlers, such as sealers, merchants and squatters in the construction of knowledge about Indigenous people and topography.

 The experience and changing role of intermediaries in areas in which multiple, sequential and overlapping explorations occurred, and the implications of repeat explorations in terms of the accrual of knowledge and experience.

 The interaction and interconnection between knowledge gained from intermediaries within settlements and through exploration.

Differences and similarities between maritime exploration and inland exploration, especially in the respective use and experience of intermediaries.

The role of class in constituting the myth of the solitary explorer.

Gendered analyses of exploration, for example the role of Indigenous women.

Ideas and practices of hospitality, charity, welcoming etc within settler and Indigenous societies and their influence in shaping responses to and encounters with exploration parties.

Historiographical/methodological engagements with these themes.

A program is available here and a conference flyer.
You can register here if you would like to attend.
Conference Organisers:
Dr Shino Konishi
Dr Maria Nugent
Dr Tiffany Shellam
This conference relates to our Australian Research Council Discovery projects, and is hosted by the Australian Centre for Indigenous History and supported by the ANU College for Arts and Social Sciences

Date & time

Wed 17 Jul 2013, 9am – Thu 18 Jul 2013, 5pm


Australian National University


School of History


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