Blandowski expedition goes back to Germany

The quest to explore and reclaim the legacy of German zoologist German zoologist Wilhelm (William) Blandowski is heading back to Europe.

The intrepid Prussian scientist, who landed in Adelaide in 1849, created some of the first European impressions of the animals, botany and Indigenous culture of southern Australia.

His work forms part of what needs to be more fully documented to expand on Australia’s heritage and cultural awareness, says Flinders PhD candidate art historian Kim Littler, one of the latest recipients of funding under the Australia-Germany Joint Research Cooperation Scheme.

The two-year research grant will support completion of her thesis, entitled ‘Repositioning the archive: from Colonial Past to Indigenous Present, William Blandowski in Australia 1849-1859’.

Over a decade, Blandowski’s scientific research – including the eight month Blandowski Expedition along the Murray-Darling as curator for the Victorian Museum – carefully and accurately documented native fauna and flora including some birdlife and fish species for the first time.

Along the way, Ms Littler says he took a keen interest in recording the lifestyle and language of many Aboriginal communities.

wilhelm-blandowski-birds-of-australia“Blandowski was quite outspoken, even against the British colonial Establishment,” she says. “But he conscientiously collected a wide range of specimens, artefacts and scientific evidence that has become very important to our nation’s history and anthropological records.”

However apart from his published work, most of Blandowski’s records went back to Germany with him in 1859.

“Two of his archives have only just been found, and we hope to find even more in the archives of the museum in Berlin and elsewhere.”

The thesis project will be supported by PhD supervisor Professor Peter Monteath and co-supervisor Associate Professor Matt Fitzpatrick, both from the School of History and International Relations, and Professor Anja Schwarz from the University of Potsdam.

As well, two doctoral students from the University of Potsdam will undertake research visits to Flinders University.

Ms Littler is undertaking a cotutelle doctoral program with Flinders and the University of Potsdam and also works as an archive assistant at the SA Museum and collection assistant at the Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Monteath and Associate Professor Fitzpatrick have extensively studied and published on German colonial influence in Australia and other countries. They will both support some of the latest project in Germany.

Professor Monteath says Germans made an enormous contribution to the development of anthropological knowledge about Australia from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s but their legacies have largely been ignored.

While much of the diverse body of writings and data has not been translated into English, some of the artefacts remain in little known corners of German museums and other repositories.

Associate Professor Fitzpatrick says the research will also increase understanding of German history “by examining the global transfer of knowledge and its impact on German understandings of the non-European world”.

The Australia-Germany Joint Research Cooperation Scheme is a joint initiative of Universities Australia and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD, or Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst), Germany’s national agency for the support of international academic cooperation.

Associate Professor Fitzpatrick won the US Chester Penn Higby Prize last year. His most recent book was 2015’s Purging the Empire: Mass Expulsions in Germany 1871-1914 (with Oxford University Press).

Professor Monteath and Flinders lecturer Dr Valerie Munt were shortlisted in this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History for their biography of the ‘radical’ anthropologist Fred Rose who was based for many years at the University of Humbolt in East Berlin. The book it called Red Professor: The Cold War Life of Fred Rose (Wakefield Press, 2015).

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and Australian universities have contributed $1.27 million and $1.24 respectively to the 2017-2018 round.

Combined with last year’s round, the scheme has so far attracted more than $6 million in grants for Australian researchers collaborating with their German counterparts.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said Germany is consistently ranked as the third most important country in terms of research collaboration for Australian universities.

“Germany is a world leader in innovation and research. Today’s funding announcement will mean Australia can build even stronger ties with a country that is known as a research powerhouse and build our own research capacity in return,” Ms Robinson said.

The Australia-Germany Joint Research Co-operation Scheme is open to all Australian researchers at participating universities and has a specific focus on early career researchers.

Each project team receives up to $25,000 for travel and living expenses to support their research work in Germany. Applications will open in April 2017 for projects funded in the 2018 and 2019 rounds.

The full list of successful projects can be found:

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