Skip navigation
The Australian National University

Patricia O'Brien

Position: Australian Research Council Future Fellow

School or Centre: Australian Centre for Indigenous History


Phone: 61250157

Location: HC Coombes Building, Room 2119

Website: My profile website


Bachelor of Art Hons (University of Sydney)

PhD (Univeristy of Sydney)


Areas of expertise:

  • Pacific History (Excl. New Zealand And Maori)
  • Maori History
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History
  • Australian History (Excl. Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History)
  • British History


Patricia O'Brien is a cultural historian of colonialism, race relations and indigenous histories within a broad arc of imperialism. 

Patricia was the visiting Associate Professor in the Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies and the Department of History in the Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University Washington DC from 2001 to 2013. In 2011 she was the Jay I. Kislak Fellow in American Studies at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, Washington DC. In 2012 Patricia was JD Stout Fellow in New Zealand Studies at Victoria University Wellington, where she began researching New Zealand’s Mandate over Western Samoa, focusing particularly upon the nationalist leader Ta’isi O.F. Nelson.

Patricia O'Brien was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship at the Australian National University in 2013 for my project 'Colonialism, Violence and Resistance in the interwar Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Samoa and beyond'. 

Research Interests

Patricia O'Brien's research interests include indigenous resistance, colonial violence, power, gender and race. Patricia's work is primarily focused on Australia and the Pacific but extends further afield. Her current ARC Future Fellowship project is concerned with the interwar colonial period, and the histories of League of Nations Mandated Territories within a long view of imperial histories from around the world. The impact of World War One on Pacific imperialism and reforged nationalisms in Australia and New Zealand after this event are some of the focal points of this study, as is the shifting landscape of ideas about race, gender and violence in this age of 'protective' colonialism. Patricia explores the impact of these changed circumstances and ideas on indigenous peoples, especially in Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Samoa in a number of ways; first through a biography of the Samoan nationalist leader Ta'isi O. F. Nelson.


‘From Sudan to Samoa: Imperial Legacies, Cultures and New Zealand’s Rule over the Mandated Territory of Western Samoa’, New Zealand’s Empire, Katie Pickles and Catharine Coleborne eds. (Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2015).

O'Brien, P 2014, 'Ta'isi O.F. Nelson and Sir Maui Pomare Samoans and Maori Reunited', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 26-49.

O'Brien, P 2014, 'Gender', in David Armitage and Alison Bashford (ed.), Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People, Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, England.

O'Brien, P 2012, 'Reactions to Australian Colonial Violence in New Guinea: The 1926 Nakanai Massacre in a Global Context', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 191-209.

O'Brien, P 2012, 'The Politics of Race, Nation, Empire, and the Intimate: Recent Explorations', Journal of Women's History, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 214-223.

O'Brien, P & Vaughn, B 2011, 'Centre-Periphery Relations & Borders in Western New Guinea', in James Clad, Sean M. McDonald and Bruce Vaughn (ed.), The Borderlands of Southeast Asia: Geopolitics, Terrorism, and Globalization, National Defense University Press, Washington DC, pp. 211-235.

O'Brien, P 2010, 'The Politics of Mines and Indigenous Rights: A Case Study of the Grasberg Mine in Indonesia's Papua Province', Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, vol. xi, no. 1, pp. 47-56.

O'Brien, P 2009, 'Remaking Australia's Colonial Culture?: White Australia and its Papuan Frontier 1901-1940', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 96-112.

The Pacific Muse: Exotic Femininity and the Colonial Pacific (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006)

With Bruce Vaughn, 'Centre-Periphery Relations & Borders in Western New Guinea' in Borderlands of Southeast Asia (Washington: National Defense University Press, 2011).

'Think of Me as a Woman: Queen Pomare of Tahiti and Anglo- French Imperial Contest in the 1840s Pacific, Gender and History, Vol. 18 No. 1 April 2006: 108-129.

'Post-Colonial Women’s Historical Writing' in Companion to Women’s Historical Writing, gen. ed. Mary Spongberg (London: Palgrave Macmillan. 2005)

'The Gaze of the Ghosts: European Images of Aboriginal Women in New South Wales and Port Phillip 1800-1860' in J. Kociumbas ed. Maps, Dreams, History: Race and Representation in Australia, (Sydney: Braxus Publishing. 1998) pp. 313-400

Projects and Grants

Colonialism, Violence and Resistance in the Interwar Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Samoa and Beyond (Primary Investigator)

Updated: 5 July 2016/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher