War studies

Humanities research applied to contemporary challenges. UNSW Canberra has the largest concentration of military historians in Australia, and has long been a leading institution for the study of war.

Military personnel landing on a beach

What we do

Located at the Australian Defence Force Academy, we have provided education and research services to the Australian Defence Force for more than 50 years.

The War Studies Research Group brings together scholars looking to address modern defence and security challenges through applied historical research.

The Group has expertise across diverse areas within the history of conflict, including Australian and international military history, strategic policy, contemporary operations, operational analysis, the history of veterans’ care, naval history & space policy. The group works closely with industry partners within Defence, government, and academia to produce relevant and problem focused research and professional education.

The convenor of the War Studies Research Group is Dr Richard Dunley.

Research themes

The War Studies Research Group produces world-class military history for academic and popular audiences, and applied history products on contemporary challenges for the Australian Defence Force, the Department of Defence, and the Australian Government.

Our areas of specialisation include: 

Australian military history

The War Studies Research Group is the leading global centre for Australian military history. Our research is on the cutting edge of the field, combining traditional operational military history with new approaches. We have consistently generated substantial impact with public, academic and professional audiences.

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Strategy and policy

Members of the War Studies Research Group are regular contributors to the ongoing debates over defence strategy and policy within Australia. With a particular focus on drawing insight from historical experience they regularly contribute to both the academic discussion, and the wider public debate.

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Veterans history and policy

The effects of war and military service exist far beyond the battlefield; the War Studies Research Group conducts research into veterans’ experiences and government policies affecting veterans and their families from the First World War to today.

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Naval history

The War Studies Research Group is home to the only Australian based academics focused on naval history. Working closely with colleagues in the Maritime Security Research Group and the Naval Studies Centre, these scholars are uniquely well placed to conduct research into the Royal Australian Navy and Australia’s maritime context in both historical and contemporary settings.

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Space policy and history

The use of space is increasingly becoming vital to Australia’s national security, and researchers from the War Studies Group have made significant contributions to the understanding of Australia’s space policy. This has included research into the long history of involvement in civil and military space, the ways in which Australia has approached decision-making on space, and what it might aim to achieve in the future.

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Plus more

The War Studies Research Group produces much more, please visit regularly as we share more details about our studies, research and resources. 

Current activities

  • War Studies Workshop - Friday 12 July 2024

    Do you love studying history? Are you interested in doing a PhD in political, operational, social and cultural history of war? The War Studies Research Group in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at UNSW Canberra invites applications from outstanding Honours students wishing to develop their historical skills or pursue higher degree research in war studies to attend a one-day workshop in Canberra.

    Studying the conduct and cost of war as well as its aftermaths and legacies is essential for an understanding of our contemporary world. This workshop will offer students an opportunity to gain and build their understanding of historical research of war, through an introduction to the key approaches to war studies, the principal national institutions at which they as future scholars will research, and some of the leading scholars of war studies in Australia.

    This workshop is open to applicants who have completed or are currently enrolled in an Honours degree and are thinking of undertaking future study on the history of war.

    Please see form for further details and how to apply. Applications due Friday 14 June.

  • The War Studies Research Group will be hosting a seminar with the paper given by Megan Hamilton (KCL) at 16:00 on 2nd May 2024. The seminar will be held at ADFA in Seminar Room 3, Building 32 (Lecture Theatre North).

    Training the Troops: British and Commonwealth Armies in the Second World War

    The Second World War welded the British Empire into one of the widest reaching military coalitions ever seen. Indians, Canadians, and Australians trained and fought alongside Britons, New Zealanders, South Africans, and colonial forces. This ‘imperial army’ totalled at around eleven million and spanned the entirety of the globe, fighting in all major theatres of war. If Britain was to make the most of its multi-national force it had to foster a collective way of operating, and one way of doing so was by synchronizing training practices. Fortunately these efforts had four decades of development to build upon. It was no accident that the armies of the British Empire were able to be highly interoperable and cooperative in the Second World War, as this was the successful culmination of both formal and informal exchange since the South African War. 

    Based on her ongoing doctoral research, Megan will use training as a vehicle to focus on the channels of communication between the armies of the British Empire, the actors involved, and the doctrinal developments resulting from a high degree of knowledge sharing. The early years of the war saw the armies of the Commonwealth rely heavily on British military knowledge to develop their training regimes, as their own institutions were underdeveloped. However, cumulating experience in active combat encouraged doctrinal innovation, leading to the development of military knowledge in all parts of the Empire. Historians have demonstrated that ‘one of the most vexed questions of any military alliance is whether the hard-won lessons of one army can be learnt by its partner.’  However, Megan’s research aims to demonstrate how the tight bonds of an imperial alliance allowed such lessons to flow much more freely.

    About the speaker:

    Megan Hamilton, PhD Candidate, King’s College London & Imperial War Museum 

    Megan Hamilton is a second-year PhD candidate in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, under the supervision of Professors Jonathan Fennell and Niall Barr. She holds history degrees from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, those being largely focused on the Canadian experience of the World Wars. Her current research is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership with the Imperial War Museum that studies Second World War army training across the British Empire. Megan is the PGR Lead for the Sir Michael Howard Centre for the History of War and the Second World War Research Group (Europe).

  • In November 2023, four fantastic emerging scholars took part in the WSRG’s inaugural Honours Workshop: Alex Barilaro (Deakin), Sophie Constable (ANU), Josh Freeman (UNE) and Grace Gardiner (UNSW Sydney).

    Alex, Sophie, Josh and Grace spent two days in Canberra discussing their research projects and the future directions of the history of war with WSRG historians. They also had the opportunity to spend time speaking with archivists at the National Archives of Australia and looking through records related to their research, as well as taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the Australian War Memorial’s collection guided by expert curators and historians.

    The aim of the workshop is to foster emerging scholars studying the history of war and to introduce them to the wide-ranging and dynamic areas of research in this field. The next WSRG Honours Workshop is scheduled for mid-2024, please email margaret.hutchison@unsw.edu.au for more details.

  • UNSW Canberra senior lecturer and member of the War Studies Research Group, Dr Rhys Crawley, who was one of the authors of the Official History of ASIO, provided expert commentary following the ASIO Director-General’s 2024 Annual Threat Assessment. This included interviews with SBS News, ABC Newcastle (starts at 2:02:40), ABC NewsRadio, The New Daily, and an article, ‘Seventy-five years of history behind ASIO director-general’s threat assessment’ in ASPI’s The Strategist.

  • UNSW Canberra historians Dr Rhys Crawley (senior lecturer) and Ms Nicole Townsend (PhD student) have been invited to present at the Chief of Army History Conference 2023. In accordance with the conference theme, ‘In Brown and Green Waters: Australian Army Operations in the Littoral’, Dr Crawley’s applied history will focus on the lodgment and logistic lessons from Gallipoli; building on her PhD research, Ms Townsend will examine the sustainment and relief aspects of Tobruk.

  • Dr Richard Dunley presented on naval shipbuilding at the Goldrick Seminar run by the Australian Naval Institute. Dr Dunley discussed the history of Australian naval shipbuilding, highlighting some of the continuities with the current challenges and lessons learnt from previous projects. This formed part of a productive wider conversation on the contemporary issues and opportunities with representatives from Navy and industry.

  • Dr Rhys Crawley was invited to present the results of his research, and lessons from the Official History of Australian Operations in Afghanistan, at the ‘International Expert Meeting’ in Amsterdam in September 2023. 

  • At the invitation of Brigadier David McCammon, UNSW Canberra War Studies Research Group’s Dr Rhys Crawley gave the keynote address at the Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade ‘Battle of Amiens’ commemorative dinner at Townsville in August 2023. 

  • Associate Professor David Stahel published his new book Hitler’s Panzer Generals with Cambridge University Press. This pioneering study reveals a complete picture of the men conducting Hitler's war in the East, with an emphasis on the private fears and public pressures they operated under.

Professional education

A variety of professional education options are available through the War Studies Research Group.

Our researchers leverage their expertise to provide learning packages in fields such as applied military history and strategic theory for practitioners and students across all levels of the JPME continuum.

Recent projects

  • A number of our researchers have recently produced applied history case studies as part of an Australian Army Research Centre funded project seeking to contextualise the shift towards littoral manoeuvre. These case studies included an exploration of experiences of the Australian Army in East Timor in 2006 and in the South-West Pacific in the Second World War, an examination of Australian amphibious logistics in the First and Second World Wars, and an examination of the maritime strategic theory underpinning the new concepts. For more details see this flyer.

  • In March 2022, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) stood up the Defence Space Command, following trends in the United States, where the United States Space Command and United States Space Force (USSF) were created in 2019. Defence Space Command, and the Space Strategy that it launched at the same time, were a watershed moment in Australian space that marked the emergence of the domain into thinking on defence strategy and everyday business. In this, the decisions taken by the Australian Department of Defence reflect a broader expansion of Australia’s space efforts, not least in the 2018 creation of the Australian Space Agency. Nonetheless, while this has seen space enter into the national consciousness like never before, Australia is still in its early days of understanding what it wants from space as a nation.

Research funding

Dr Rhys Crawley, Netherlands Government fellowship, ‘The War in Afghanistan’, (2024-5)

Dr Margaret Hutchison, Lead Chief Investigator, Australian Army History Grants Scheme, ‘Transition’ (2022 – 2025)

Dr Margaret Hutchison, Chief Investigator, ARC Discovery Project, Veteran Suicide: Historical and Social Dimensions (2023 – 2026)

Dr Tristan Moss, Lead Chief Investigator, ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Project, ‘Australia and Space: Government policy and public imagination, 1957 – 2021’ (2021 – 2024)

Dr Tristan Moss, Chief Investigator, ARC Discovery Project, ‘A History of Sex in the Australian Defence Force (2021 – 2024)

Dr Thomas Richardson, Lead Chief Investigator, Australian Army History Grants Scheme, ‘Australian Army Counterinsurgency in South East Asia 1955-1975’ (2022 – 2025)

Our publications

    • Craig Stockings, (2023), Born of Fire and Ash: Australian operations in response to the East Timor crisis 1999–2000
    • Richard Dunley, (2023), 'Uncrewed naval vessels and the span of maritime tasks', Marine Policy, 149,
    • Tristan Moss, (2023), 'History and Australia's Space Policy', in The Foundations of Australia's Space Policy, Griffith Asia Institute, Brisbane, pp. 5 – 13
    • Richard Dunley, (2023), 'The end of the ‘lucky country’? Understanding the failure of the AUKUS policy debate', Australian Journal of International Affairs, 77, pp. 317 - 324,
    • Margaret Hutchison, (2021), '‘Old Age is Not a War Disability’: Debating Aged Care for Nurses of World War I in post-1945 Australia', Australian Historical Studies, 52, pp. 63 - 78
    • Tom Richardson, (2021) 'The Korean War', in Fighting Australia’s Cold War: The Nexus of Strategy and Operations in a Multipolar Asia, 1945–1965, ANU Press, pp. 73 – 92
    • Tom Richardson, (2021) 'The Malayan Emergency', in Fighting Australia’s Cold War The Nexus of Strategy and Operations in a Multipolar Asia, 1945–1965, ANU Press, pp. 115 - 135
    • Tristan Moss, (2021), 'Defending Australia’s land border: the Australian military in Papua New Guinea', in Fighting Australia’s Cold War: The nexus of strategy and operations in a multipolar Asia, 1945 – 1965, pp. 157 - 172,
    • Tristan Moss, (2021), 'Planning for war in Southeast Asia: the Far East Strategic Reserve, 1955 - 66', in Moss T; Dean P (ed.), Fighting Australia’s Cold War: The nexus of strategy and operations in a multipolar Asia, 1945 – 1965, pp. 95 - 114,
    • Rhys Crawley, Peter Londey & David Horner, (2019), The long search for peace: Volume 1, The official history of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and post-cold war operations: Observer missions and beyond, 1947-2006,
    • Rhys Crawley, D Baldino (ed.), 2018, Intelligence and the Function of Government, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne,
    • Rhys Crawley & John Blaxland, (2017), The Secret Cold War: The Official History of ASIO, 1975-1989

Our researchers

Head of School - Professor of History Craig Stockings
Head of School - Professor of History
Senior Lecturer in History Rhys Crawley
Senior Lecturer in History
History Discipline Coordinator -  Lecturer in History Richard Dunley
History Discipline Coordinator - Lecturer in History
Deputy Head of School (Education) Associate Professor in History David Stahel
Deputy Head of School (Education) Associate Professor in History