Honorary Professor Paul Turnbull

Honorary Professor

School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences


Research Interests

  • The historical Dimensions of Resilience to Extreme Weather
    my interest is employing ethno-historical and anthropological modes of inquiry to determine what commonalities and differences in resilience to extreme weather events differentiate indigenous and non-indigenous residents of North Queensland. I am particularly concerned to understand the influence of factors such as memories of familial experiences, senses of place and local history on individual behavior and communal action before, during and after extreme weather events. I particularly want to know whether, and if so how, differently enculturated ways of knowing and ontological assumptions about the biophysical environment of the North Queensland wet tropics region influence the preparedness and ability of its residents to recover from cyclones and floods.
  • The Procurement and Scientific Uses of Australian and Other Indigenous Bodies
    My research investigates biomedical and anthropological research on Aboriginal Australian bodily remains and its salience in the conceptual history of European evolutionary science. I am particularly interested in answering the following questions: • What morphological and other evolutionary peculiarities did scientists active between 1860-1930 see in the bodies of Indigenous people? • What significance did their investigations of Aboriginal bodily remains have in the conceptual development of European thinking about racial classification and the evolutionary genealogy of humanity in this period? • What connections existed between metropolitan European perceptions of Indigenous Australian evolutionary inheritance connected and those of Australian-based researchers, 1860-1930? Were the latter, as has generally been assumed, little more than suppliers of crania and other "raw" bodily materials"? Or where they more active in creating knowledge and theorising about Aboriginal evolutionary inheritance than we have realised? • What did these locally-based scientists and their metropolitan peers contribute to racialised perceptions of Aboriginality within Australian settler society during the second half of the nineteenth and first three decades of the twentieth century? Historians have assumed that they confirmed the evolutionary primitivity and inevitability of Aboriginal peoples' extinction as a race, and the necessity of protecting those surviving the loss of their and allegedly "stone age" life-ways as wards of the colonial state. But exactly what scientific conclusions did draw about Aboriginal evolutionary inheritance? • Following on from this, what did these scientists tell colonial and metropolitan publics? What social implications did they see their findings having? And were the implications they saw licensed by their investigative conclusions, or did they reflect contemporary debates within Australian settler society on questions such as race and nationhood?
  • e-Reseach tools and techniques in Historical Research
    I am interested in employing data mining, network analysis and text analytics tools and techniques to investigate the ways in which science and anthropological knowledge was presented in popular books, magazines, newspapers, public lectures and museum exhibits in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia.

Research Impacts

Over the past decade, I have produced several on-line history and heritage research resources. The one with the greatest impact has been South Seas:


This resource, based on original research over a five year period, attracts around 121,000 users worldwide a month.

A second project having growing impact is PeprMiner:



  • Doctor of Philosophy, James Cook University
  • Bachelor of Arts, James Cook University


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Featured Publications


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