About Associate Professor Penny Russell

Associate Professor Penny Russell's research interests include Australian history, women's history, gender history, colonialism and biography and autobiography.

Associate Professor Penny Russell’s research focuses on the 'small talk' of history in Australia and England, seeking within private writing and the intimacies of social encounters (domestic and exotic) the political landscapes of gender and class, race and colonisation. She is fascinated by snobs and social climbers, scandals large and small, and the mysterious ways people lived, loved and learned in times past. These interests intersect in her research on the history of manners in Australia and in her writing on Jane, Lady Franklin, whose bid to rescue her missing Arctic explorer husband Sir John Franklin in the mid-19th century made her a sentimental celebrity in England and across the Western world. Associate Professor Russell’s research in these and related areas has been widely published both in Australia and overseas and Arctic Romance: Lady Franklin and the Lost Polar Expedition will shortly be published by University of Toronto Press. Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia was published by UNSW Press in 2010.

Associate Professor Russell is particularly interested in research supervision and has received both the SUPRA 'Supervisor of the Year' award and the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Higher Research Degree Supervision. She has been Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Arts in 2004-5.

Current projects

  • Empires of Honour: Violence and Virtue in Colonial Societies, 1750-1850 (with Professor Nigel Worden, University of Capetown) (ARC Discovery Project Grant 2012-2014
  • Jane, Lady Franklin, 1791-1875
Areas of teaching and research supervision
  • Australian nineteenth- and twentieth-century history, with a particular interest in 'intimate' history: family and relationships, love and marriage, the minutiae of social life, the politics of gender
  • Travel, gender and imperialism in nineteenth-century Australia and Britain
  • Biography, life writing, subjectivity
  • Scandal

For more details see: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/history/staff/profiles/russell.shtml

Selected publications


Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia
Sydney: UNSW Press, 2010. Winner, NSW Premiers History Award for Australian History 2011; Alex Buzo Shortlist Award for CAL/Waverley Library Literary Award 2011; Shortlisted for Ernest Scott Prize 2011; shortlisted for Qld Premiers Literary Award (History) 2011

This Errant Lady: Jane Franklin's Overland Journey to Port Phillip and Sydney, 1839 National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002

Edited Books

Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity (ed. D.Deacon, P. Russell and A. Woollacott) Palgrave MacMillan (Transnational History series), London and New York, 2010

Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World (ed. D. Deacon, P. Russell and A. Woollacott) ANU E-Press, Canberra 2008

Australia's History: Themes and Debates (ed. M. Lyons and P. Russell) University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2005

Memories and Dreams: Reflections on 20th Century Australia (Pastiche II) (ed. R. White and P. Russell) Allen & Unwin, Sydney 1997 (Reprinted, 2002)


Adele Nye, Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Jill Roe, Penny Russell, Desley Deacon, Amanda Laugeson and Paul Kiem, ‘Exploring Historical Thinking and Agency with Undergraduate History Students' Studies in Higher Education, 2011, pp. 1-18. DOI:10.1080/03075071003759045.

Adele Nye, Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Jill Roe, Penny Russell, Desley Deacon, Amanda Laugeson and Paul Kiem, ‘Historical Thinking in Higher Education', History Australia, 6(3), 2009, pp. 73.1-73.16. DOI:10.2104/ha090073.

‘Life’s Illusions: The art of feminist biography’ Journal of Women’s History 21 (4) 2009, pp. 152-6.

‘Unhomely Moments: Civilising domestic worlds in colonial Australia’, The History of the Family 2009, pp. 327-339.

(with Marilyn Lake) ‘Miss Australia’, in Melissa Harper and Richard White (eds) Symbols of Australia UNSW Press, Sydney, 2010, pp. 91-97.

‘Citizens of the World? Jane Franklin’s transnational fantasies’ in D. Deacon, P. Russell and A. Woollacott (eds) Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity Palgrave MacMillan, London and New York, 2010, pp. 195-208.