The Annual Academy Lecture

Every year the Academy invites a Fellow to deliver the Annual Academy Lecture. Lectures presented between 1970 and 2009 were published in Proceedings. From 2010, the Academy Lecture can be found in Humanities Australia.

2015 Academy Lecture

The ethnographic echo: archaeological approaches to writing long-term histories of Indigenous spiritual beliefs and ritual practices
Professor Ian J. McNiven FAHA

There is an old saying in archaeology that if you find something that is behaviourally odd or out-of-the-ordinary then label it ritual. Yet for Australian Indigenous societies, ritual practices, especially those of a socio-religious nature, are anything but out-of-the-ordinary. Ritual practices are fundamental to the ways that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders directed their lives and related to each other, to the spiritual realm, and to the world around them. As such, understanding the nature and long-term development of past rituals and ceremonial practices provides enormous scope for archaeologists to create historical narratives that express human and spiritual agency and intentionality that resonate with Indigenous worldviews. In this paper I explore the history of Torres Strait Islander ritual practices over the past 1000 years from an ethnographically-informed archaeological perspective. This perspective takes as its starting point the materiality of ritual practices as known ethnographically through historical texts, museum objects, and contemporary Islander views. Critically, many ritual practices also involved shrines comprising objects such as shells, bones, artefacts, and stone figures that can be studied archaeologically and radiocarbon dated. Results reveal successive use of shrines expressed through constant additions of objects over hundreds of years. These chronologies not only define the temporal limits of ethnographically-known practices back in time, but also position shrines as historically dynamic and ever-emergent works-in-progress. In this sense, and somewhat ironically, the ever-changing materiality of shrines were expressions of ritual constancy and historical continuity in the socio-religious lives of Torres Strait Islanders.

Photo of Prof Ian McNivenProfessor Ian J. McNiven FAHA
Ian McNiven is Professor of Indigenous Archaeology in Monash Indigenous Centre, Monash University, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He specialises in the archaeology of Australian Indigenous coastal societies. His archaeological research is transdisciplinary and heavily informed by anthropology, history, and close working relationships with Indigenous communities. His books include Goemulgaw Lagal: Cultural and Natural Histories of the Island of Mabuyag, Torres Strait (Queensland Museum, 2015), Appropriated Pasts: Indigenous Peoples and the Colonial Culture of Archaeology (Altamira, 2005), and Constructions of Colonialism: Perspectives on Eliza Fraser's Shipwreck (Leicester, 1998).

Previous Academy Lectures

  • 2014: Emeritus Professor Lesley Johnson AM FAHA, Generosity and the Institutions of the Humanities
  • 2013: Professor Peter Hiscock FSA FAHA, Creators or Destroyers: The Burning Questions of Human Impact in Ancient Aboriginal Australia
  • 2011: Professor Joseph Lo Bianco AM FAHA, Politics, Poetics and Policy: Humanities and the New Borders
  • 2010: Emeritus Professor Graeme Clarke AO FAHA, Can the Mute Stones Speak?
  • 2009: Professor Ian Donaldson FAHA, The Idea of an Academy
  • 2008: Professor Jaynie Anderson FAHA, Spectacle in Sixteenth-Century Venice: or How Carpaccio, Giorgione and Titian represented Patrician Youth Theatre 
  • 2007: Professor Iain Davidson FAHA, Scales and Balance: Archaeology, Cultural Heritage and Sustainability 
  • 2006: Professor Michael Clyne FAHA, Multilingual Society with a Monolingual Mindset 
  • 2005: Professor Graeme Turner FAHA, Informing the Public: Is There a Place for a Critical Humanities? 
  • 2004: Professor Iain McCalman FAHA, Teddy Roosevelt’s Trophy: History and Nostalgia
  • 2003: Dr Inga Clendinnen FAHA, Backstage at the Republic of Letters
  • 2002: Professor Mark Finnane FAHA, Inquiries into Truth 
  • 2001: Professor Malcolm Gillies FAHA, Alternative Australias: Fates and Fortunes 
  • 2000: Associate Professor David Christian FAHA, 'Big History', Globalisation and Australia: Towards a More Inclusive Account of the Past 
  • 1999: The Hon. Barry Jones AO FAHA, Framing a New Australian Republic
  • 1998: Professor Margaret Clunies Ross FAHA, Ancestral Songs: Understandings of Aboriginal Song since 1788
  • 1997: Professor Rhys Jones FAHA, Australian Archaeology: A Contested Discipline
  • 1996: Professor Roger Covell FAHA, Bush and Backwoods: Myths of Musical Identity in Australia and the United States
  • 1995: David Malouf FAHA, The Uses of the Past
  • 1994: Professor D.M. Schreuder FAHA, History’s Page: The Humanities and Australia as a Post-Colonial Society
  • 1993: Professor J.R. Green FAHA, Theatre and the Greeks
  • 1992: Professor Dame Leonie Kramer AC DBE FAHA, 'Wild Words': The Condition of Language in Australia
  • 1991: Professor G.E. Schulz FAHA, Philosophers and Kings: Variations on an Old Theme
  • 1990: Professor M.M. Manion FAHA, The Humanities and the Australian Environment
  • 1989: Professor J.P. Hardy FAHA, The Humanities and the Challenge
  • 1988: Emeritus Professor S.A. Wurm FAHA, Language Atlases
  • 1987: Professor J.A. Scott FAHA, Myth in Dante and Petrarch
  • 1986: Professor G.A. Wilkes FAHA, The Role of the Critic and the Language of Criticism
  • 1985: Associate Professor K.K. Campbell FAHA, Technology and Philosophy of Work
  • 1984: Professor A.R. Stephens FAHA, The Sun State and its Shadow
  • 1983: Professor G. Blainey FAHA, The See-Saw of Pride and Disillusionment
  • 1982: Professor Wang Gungwu FAHA, The Chinese Urge to Civilise: Reflections on Change
  • 1981: Professor G.A. Wilkes FAHA, Insurgents and Survivors: The Language of a Colonial Culture
  • 1980: Professor D.J. Mulvaney FAHA, European Vision and Australia’s Heritage
  • 1979: Professor A.D. Trendall FAHA, Twenty Years of Progress in Classical Archaeology
  • 1978: Professor B.W. Smith FAHA, Art as Information: Thoughts on the Art from Captain Cook’s Voyages
  • 1977: Professor J. Golson FAHA, The Ladder of Social Evolution: Archaeology and the Bottom Rungs
  • 1976: Professor R.N. Coe FAHA, The Persecution and Assassination of Macbeth as Performed in Two Centuries of French Theatre
  • 1975: Professor J.A. Passmore FAHA, Imagination in the Arts and Science
  • 1974: Professor Wang Gungwu FAHA, The Rebel-Reformer in Modern Chinese Biography
  • 1973: Dr F.J. West FAHA, Biography as History
  • 1972: Dr Ursula Hoff FAHA, Goethe and the Dutch Interior: A Study in the Imagery of Romanticism
  • 1971: Professor H.J. Oliver FAHA, 'Cur’d and Perfect': The Problem of Shakespeare’s Text
  • 1970: Professor A.D. Hope FAHA, The Literary Influence of Academies
  • 1969: Professor J.T. Burke FAHA, Neo-Classicism and the Enlightenment: The English Phase

2015 Academy Lecture

The ethnographic echo: archaeological approaches to writing long-term histories of Indigenous spiritual beliefs and ritual practices
Professor Ian J. McNiven FAHA

11am Friday 27 November 2015

VSCC Lecture Theatre 208
Veterinary Science Conference Centre
off Regimental Drive
The University of Sydney
[See Symposium map here]

Further information on the Symposium and how to register is available on this website.

The Academy gratefully acknowledges the support of The University of Sydney.

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