The 2022 Iain McCalman Lecture

Wilful ignorance - pacific collections, connections and equitable futures
Senior-curator of the Macleay Collections, Dr Jude Philp, presents the 2022 Iain McCalman Lecture on the role of museums in reinforcing cultural ignorance and how we can reposition these institutions as places that stimulate change.

The Iain McCalman Lecture, created by Michelle St Anne, celebrates SEI co-founder and former co-director Iain McCalman’s dedication to fostering and pioneering multidisciplinary environmental research. The lectures aim to highlight the work of early to mid-career researchers working across disciplinary boundaries to impact both scholarship and public discourse.

This year, Dr Jude Philp will present the lecture entitled, Wilful Ignorance: Pacific Collections, Connections and Equitable Futures. The themes raised in the lecture will be sonically and visually explored in a partnered event with the Chau Chak Wing Museum on Saturday 2 April, find out more here.

This event was presented at the University of Sydney on Thursday 24 March 2022.


Overwhelmingly ideas about nature and about culture across our region are far richer than the ideas from the Linnean binomial method and its ugly and sinful sibling, social evolution, which were foundational to museums across the world. One point of difference in the diverse learning systems of people who live with the Pacific Ocean and its associated seas is the centrality of respect which united species with individuals and geography with society.

Museums were built to display and explain the world through partitioning knowledge into ever-refining categories of specificity. While they are full of objects that speak to the centrality of respect museums remain largely positioned to display the categories of western knowledge. Internationally these institutions are undergoing revolutionary change thanks largely to the work of First Nations peoples across the world who have made obvious museums’ inherent inadequacies.

Drawing on a variety of themes of Iain McCalman’s work including environmental history, biography and the culture of science to explore how museums have helped shape a ‘wilful ignorance’ of Pacific peoples’ lives in Australia, I argue that museums need to expose the ideas of otherness and categories of value inherent in their systems. To do this we need to reposition our institutions into places that showcase the power of respect.

Watch the video

Past lectures

2021: Dr Dalia Nassar, Shallow and Deep Collaboration: Art, Ecology and Alexander von Humboldt

2020: Dr Dinesh Wadiwel, Swinging the pendulum towards the politics of production: Animal-based food and environmental justice

2019: Dr Frances Flanagan, Climate Change and the New Work Order


Jude Philp is a museum-based anthropologist and senior-curator of the Macleay Collections at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Over the past twenty years her exhibition and research work has been directed towards understanding the cultural and social circumstances under which animals and peoples’ objects were collected for museums in the nineteenth century.

Committed to stimulating research into the collections, and increasing the purposefulness of museums holdings, her research output includes the recent publication of the Torres Strait and New Guinea journals of Alfred Haddon Recording Kastom (SUP, 2020), exploitation of scientific and historical methodologies to reveal the histories of animal specimens (ARC Merchants and Museums) and renegotiating histories of colonial British New Guinea through a Government collection of 13,000 items (ARC Excavating MacGregor).