Publishing historical archaeology

By Prof. Martin Gibbs

Cover of Port Essigton: The Historical Archaeology of a North Australian Nineteenth-Century Military Outpost by Jim Allen. Studies in Australasian Historical Archaeology 1. There is a watercolour showing a wooden tower with a flag and and shield  on the right in the lower part of the cover.

The Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) was founded in 1970 to promote the newly created field of historical archaeology within Australia. At the core of this fascinating cross-disciplinary collaboration between archaeologists, historians and historical geographers lies the desire to understand the early colonial period of Australia including cross-cultural contacts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups, picking up on similar developments in the USA, Britain and elsewhere.

By 1983 ASHA had started its own journal and released a number of special studies and occasional papers. However, by the early 2000s the society saw a need for a more professional outlet for both the academic theses being produced and the high-quality consultancy research. At this time some of the international publishers saw Australian content as “too parochial” or wanted a focus on the theoretical rather than substantive aspects, while many of the established Australian publishers of academic monographs were only interested in Indigenous archaeology.

At this point ASHA decided on starting a new series, “Studies in Australasian Historical Archaeology”, to make this research and the associated data available to the public and researchers. Sydney University Press was approached to ensure a high-quality product and in 2008 the first volume released was a revised version of Prof. Jim Allen’s seminal thesis on Port Essington, the first Australian PhD in historical archaeology (1969), which included many of the themes of colonisation, contact and adaptation which still drive the field today.

Cover of Recovering Convict Lives: A Historical Archaeology of the Port Arthur Penitentiary by Richard Tuffin, David Roe, Sylvana Szydzik, E. Jeanne Harris, and Ashley Matic. The cover shows a paid of once black lace-up shoes agains a grey background.

The first seven volumes of the series have been very successful and well regarded, based on PhDs, major consultancies and other research projects. The oldest five of these are now available Open Access as a free PDF download via the Sydney University Press website.

The “traditional” monograph series will continue to fulfil its original role of data-rich studies available. However, ASHA and SUP have been working hard on the next evolution, and in November 2021 we will release the eighth volume in the series, on the recent excavation of the Port Arthur convict penitentiary. This volume will be the first to be written, illustrated and produced with the informed public much more in mind, moving ASHA towards its other long-range goal of reaching out to the community and showing them some of the wonderful discoveries and insights being made by Australian historical archaeology.


Martin Gibbs is Professor of Australian Archaeology at the University of New England, Armidale and co-editor of the Studies in Australasian Historical Archaeology series. His key research areas are in the historical and maritime archaeologies of the Australia-Pacific region.