Dr Emma Kluge
Lecturer in Colonial & Environmental History
I am an historian of decolonisation, international governance, and anticolonial and environmental thinking. I focus particularly on the development of transnational activist networks in the Pacific and the interactions between these networks and international institutions and discourses. My first book, The Limits of Decolonisation, examines the strategies West Papuan activists used to launch an international campaign for independence at the United Nations in the 1960s. My second project, The Green Pacific, focuses on the intersection between anticolonial and environmental thinking and activism in Oceania.
In my work, I draw on a range of sources, such as petitions, local and international newspapers, and records from personal, governmental, and colonial archives. I also work with oral histories; for my first project I conducted interviews with West Papuans in Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Netherlands.
I have several publications emerging from this work. In 2020, I published an article in the International History Review, ‘West Papua and the International History of Decolonization’. In 2022, I published my second article in Humanity 'A New Agenda for the Global South: West Papua, the United Nations and the Politics of Decolonisation' which investigated connections between West Papuan activists and African leaders at the United Nations. I'm currently working on other articles on West Papua for special issues focused on decolonisation and petitioning in colonial and post-colonial contexts.
My research explores the history of decolonisation, international governance, and anticolonial and environmental thinking. I focus particularly on the development of transnational activist networks in the Pacific and their interactions with organs of global governance. My emerging work explores the intersection between anticolonial and environmental activism in Oceania.
My first monograph, The Limits of Decolonisation: West Papua, the United Nations, and the Politics of Self-determination in the 1960s, examines the strategies West Papuan activists used to launch an international campaign for independence at the United Nations. I focused on how West Papuan activists advocated for independence against the backdrop of Indonesian statehood, while navigating the rise of Afro-Asian anticolonial politics and Cold War-era neo-colonialism, which threatened the sovereignty of indigenous peoples in the Pacific. I reconstructed the connections formed between West Papuan activist networks and Afro-Asian anticolonial thinkers, which drew on discourses of race and rights, and the broader transformation of self-determination claims at the United Nations in the 1960s. West Papuans ultimately failed to achieve sovereign statehood, bringing into question who achieves self-determination, and how, in the era of decolonisation. More broadly, I demonstrated the need to integrate the Pacific into international histories, as Pacific Islanders challenge understandings of colonialism and conventional chronologies of decolonisation. I examined a wide array of sources created by West Papuans, such as petitions to the United Nations, local and international newspapers, and records from official or colonial archives (in English, Dutch, and Indonesian languages), as well as conducting oral history interviews with West Papuans in Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Netherlands.
This research has also resulted in other academic publications. My first article, published in International History Review, examines how West Papuan activists used the language of race and rights as a strategy to gain support from African leaders at the United Nations and to establish their case internationally. My second article, with Humanity, ‘A New Agenda for the Global South’, explores how international conventions and Afro-Asian networks worked to marginalise Pacific actors and foreclosed claims to indigenous sovereignty.
My second project, The Green Pacific, expands on this work by excavating the connected histories of anticolonial and environmental activism in the Pacific from the mid-twentieth century to today. This project analyses several decolonisation campaigns which combined anticolonial and environmental critiques. Focusing on this region reveals a new perspective on the global history of environmental activism and decolonisation. In the Pacific, decolonisation was not a story of the making of postcolonial nations through industrial modernisation or the struggle for economic sovereignty. Instead, it was, and is, a story of Pacific peoples seeking to regain sovereignty over oceans and land to protect their lived environment and as an underlying condition of possibility for future existence. As such, I argue that environmental history is the history of decolonisation in the Pacific, one that underpins ongoing international discussions about climate change mitigation and state and human rights.
As a scholar and teacher, I’m committed to community-based and sources-based learning. My experience working with oral histories and local archives informs my teaching pedagogy; I aim to engage students early on with primary source research and expose them to a variety of avenues for research.
In previous roles at the University of Sydney, I taught undergraduate modules on 19th and 20th century European imperialism and decolonisation across Asia, Africa, and Oceania. I also taught modules in Global and International Studies focused histories of globalisation and decolonisation.
At the University of Exeter, Cornwall, I will teach modules in History and Environmental Humanities.
I was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on the lands of the Kaurna people. I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Adelaide, before completing a PhD at the University of Sydney. From 2021-2023, I held a Max Weber postdoctoral fellowship at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. I was appointed as Lecturer at the University of Exeter, Cornwall, in 2023.