Picturing Australian Citizenship: the power of images in shaping Australia

Museums Victoria and Immigration Museum are collaborating on a project led by University of Western Australia, to examine how images have historically and culturally defined, contested and advanced notions of Australian citizenship.

Blue hardcover book, scribble on front.
HT 28870 – Book - 'The Australian Citizen', Walter Murdoch, Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Melbourne, 1912

Photographs and illustrations have helped create shared and disputed understandings of citizenship in Australia, from colonisation through to the present.

Citizenship refers to the status of someone recognised by law as belonging to the state or nation. Although the category of Australian citizenship was only created after World War II, by the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, ideas of membership of what we now term Australia are much older.

Citizenship is also a social and cultural category, a sentiment of national belonging that includes some and excludes others. How have changing conceptions of citizenship been pictured over time, and to whom do they speak? Images have power in conveying the imagined boundaries, responsibilities and entitlements of citizenship, both domestically and to the rest of the world.

What rights and responsibilities are presumed or denied by ideas of citizenship, and what scope and limits of national belonging do they imply? This project aims to investigate these questions through the power of historical and contemporary images of Australian citizenship.

Planned outcomes for the Museum include: new educational materials linked to Victorian school curricula (Civics and Citizenship); research to inform future exhibition developments and enhance existing online resources; and online articles to deepen interpretation of citizenship-related heritage collections.

Project findings will be shared through scholarly publications, media, public forums and educational materials, aiming to spark wide public engagement around contemporary issues of national identity, community rights and personal belonging. This three-year project is funded through an Australian Research Council Discovery Projects grant.

For further information about this project, visit picturing-citizenship.org.

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