Australian studies is a broad interdisciplinary field that explores Australian history, culture, society and environment from its first settlement by Aboriginal people until the present. It plays a crucial role in developing informed and critically engaged citizenship and fosters analytical and creative engagement with Australia in its global relationships.

Through innovative, expert, critical scholarship, Australian studies fosters a strong understanding of the key events and issues that define Australian society, politics and culture today, and Australia’s place in a regional and international context. It explores the greater questions of human experience: the nature of polity, of citizen’s rights and obligations; the extent, power and limitations of shared ethical and cultural beliefs, and how these work in practice; how inclusion also works to exclude; and how the past informs the present.

Research focus

At UNSW Sydney, research in Australian studies covers fields at the core of UNSW2025’s commitment to social justice. In addition to research on the ‘Grand Challenge’ of Refugees and Migrants, we research colonialism, Indigenous studies, gender studies, the environment, media, human rights and multiculturalism.

Despite this diversity, the work of its scholars shares important and distinctive themes about the geographical, political and ideational boundaries of Australia in its transnational and colonial contexts. Much research centres on the construction of cultural, legal, social and political subjectivities by and against recent immigrants, Indigenous peoples, women, children and through the Australian environment. Some examine the institutional and cultural technologies of exclusion – like courts, local governance structures, legislation and the media. Other research focuses on sites of recovery and subordination, spanning remote Indigenous communities, voluntary organisations and post-colonial literature and film.

Staff strengths & accomplishments

Deeply committed to academic excellence, Australian studies scholars work within all Schools in UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture and Nura Gili.

Within the School of Humanities & Languages, Australian studies takes a historical perspective. Ruth Balint’s work focuses on the history of Europe's postwar Displaced Persons, practices of Australian immigration in Occupied Europe and China, and the refugee family in the second half of the 20th century. Lisa Ford’s links crime, violence and controversies about jurisdiction in 19th century settler colonies to transformations of law throughout the British Empire. John Gascoigne’s research on the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and Pacific exploration situates Australia’s 18th century history in its transnational context. Grace Karskens’ research areas include Australian colonial history, urban history, cross-cultural history and urban environmental history. Anne O’Brien’s include homelessness – including Indigenous forced migration – social policy, philanthropy, gender and religion; Zora Simic’s research focuses on identity politics in the western suburbs of Sydney, female sexuality, the past and present of Australian and other feminisms and migrants and refugees.