Howitt & Fison's Archive

Insights into Australian Aboriginal Language, Kinship and Culture


In its research dimension, the Howitt and Fison project is seeking new ways to understand and conceptualise the making of linguistic and ethnographic accounts. What is the significance of this material to the present, and prospects for the future? Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt’s deep engagement with Indigenous experts produced ground-breaking archival materials in the 19th century. In partnership with Aboriginal communities, and integrating the perspectives of anthropology, history and linguistics, we will systematically analyse their accounts of kinship, social organisation and local languages, as well as the historical encounters between settlers and Indigenous peoples. This will open up new dimensions in Australian history, anthropological theory, and Australian linguistics and bring these extraordinary records to the broadest possible community.

The Chief Investigators in this project are Assoc Prof Helen Gardner (Deakin University), Dr Patrick McConvell (Australian National University), Dr Rachel Hendery Western Sydney University), Dr Stephen Morey (La Trobe University). Partner investigators are Mary Morris (Museum Victoria), Paul Paton (VACL), Dr Kris Eira (VACL), Dr Philip Batty (Museum Victoria) and Dr Timothy Pilbrow (NTSV).

Current Research

In addition to digitising and transcribing the Howitt and Fison papers, a number of research projects are also underway.

  • Fison’s ‘Mind-world’ of Aboriginal and Pacific Island People (Helen Gardner)
  • Indigenous Songs of Victoria (Stephen Morey, Luise Hercus, Ted Ryan and Grace Koch)
  • Patterns in Meanings of Kinship Terms in Victoria (Patrick McConvel).
  • Bunjil in Howitt’s Correspondence and the Public Imagination (Philip Batty).
  • The Photography of A.W. Howitt (Mary Morris and Jason Gibson)
  • Collaborative Research on Linguistic Sources (Rachel Hendery)
  • Speech Communities and Communities of Identity (Tim Pilbrow).
Arrernte kinship diagram produced by Otto Siebert and Carl Strehlow (Museum Victoria, XM 381).
Arrernte kinship diagram produced by Otto Siebert and Carl Strehlow (Museum Victoria, XM 381).