Pacific Matildas: Finding the women in the history of Pacific archaeology

Started at UWA: 2020

Re-framing history: Acknowledging women who pioneered archaeology in the Pacific

25 years ago, one female pioneer and historian of science, Margaret Rossiter,  called for future scholars to, “write a more equitable and comprehensive history and sociology of science that not only does not leave all the ‘Matildas’ out, but calls attention to still more of them”. Rossiter confronted the historical process through which female scientists were ‘written out of history’, coining the phrase, ‘the Matilda effect’. 

Pacific Matildas: Finding the women in the history of Pacific archaeology, responds to Rossiter’s plight. The project aims to investigate the scientific lives of the first women who conducted archaeological work in Oceania from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, and document their hidden contributions to the development of Pacific archaeology, to ensure their stories and legacies become part of broader narratives in the history of science. 

An interdisciplinary approach will be developed to document the hidden role of women in the history of archaeology and identify mechanisms that led to the relative historical invisibility of their contributions. 

This project is a continuation from a previous Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Project based at the Australian National University (ANU) on the History of Archaeology in the Pacific. Dr Emilie Dotte-Sarout, lead investigator of the Pacific Matildas project, has been a postdoctoral research fellow contributing to The Collective Biography of Archaeology in the Pacific from 2015 to 2020.

Anticipated outcomes of this project include:  

  • a more inclusive history that provides diverse role models for women in science from our region. 
  • the identification of socio-cultural patterns limiting women's careers and successful strategies historically developed to overcome these.

Project opportunity

We welcome researchers to join our team, including people interested in using this area to drive a PhD. Activities will include designing and contributing to a database of publications on historical women pioneers investigated in this project. 




Advance knowledge in the history of Pacific archaeology by re-establishing the participation of women in the discipline

Implement an interdisciplinary approach to overcome and identify the reasons for the relative ‘invisibility’ of women in the history of archaeology.

Determine socio-cultural barriers historically faced by women in practising Pacific archaeology, and successful strategies they developed in response.

Work with us

This project involves research that will be conducted in collaboration with Pacific research institutions, communities and those interested in contributing to better recognition of the first women archaeologists of the Pacific. Volunteers can assist with establishing an EndNote library database of publications of historical women figures investigated in the project. 

If you’d like to get involved, contact Dr Emilie Dotte-Sarout on the details below. 

Find out more

Research team

Research team leader

Dr Emilie Dotte-Sarout is a DECRA Research Fellow at UWA. She specialises in Pacific archaeology and the history of archaeology, and has been working as an archaeobotanist studying the relationship between people and their vegetal environment in Oceania.

Research assistant

India Dilkes-Hall is a promising early career Australian archaeologist and current UWA PhD student. India is currently creating a database of published outputs by or about professional women archaeologists in the Pacific, and generating quantitative data about their representation in academia (i.e. citation rates and other patterns). 

PhD scholar

Sylvie Brassard is undertaking a PhD under the Pacific Matilda project. Originally from Quebec and a long-time resident of Australia with a background in French History, Sylvie will be investigating the untold story of the team of voluntary assistants and students who worked behind the scenes with Marie-Charlotte (Manouka) Laroche  in the Musée de l’Homme during the formative years of the French School of Pacific Archaeology (from the end of the 1930s to the 1970s). She will be working within the School of Humanities and highlighting the interdisciplinary aspects of the project. 

Archaeology Week


Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award: $399,551 (over three years)

Postgraduate student research projects

We are offering specific research projects for PhD, Masters of Research or Honours applicants interested in History, Anthropology, Archaeology and Heritage studies: 

  • The growing impact of ‘that shadowy band’: A history of women’s engagement in 20th century Australian and New Zealand archaeology. 
  • Hidden strings - early women anthropologists in the Pacific and their shared interest in string figures.

Other topics will be available to postgraduate students to investigate the work undertaken in the Pacific by pioneer women in fields of study cognate to archaeology: focusing on (i) specialists in material culture studies or (iii) ‘folklorists’ - many of whom being indigenous scholars.

PhD and Masters applicants must meet academic criteria for the Research Training Program scholarship, and have a background in either Australian or Pacific archaeology, history, gender studies, Pacific or Australian studies, museum and material culture studies, with interdisciplinary interests. Recommended readings: 

  • Rossiter Margaret W. ‘The Matthew/Matilda Effect in Science’, Social Studies of Science London, 23 (2): 325–341: 1993
  • Murray T. & Spriggs M. ‘The historiography of archaeology: exploring theory, contingency and rationality’, World Archaeology, 49 (2): 151-157: 2017

Higher degree by research (HDR) scholarships are available for application. Applications for the Domestic/UWA International Graduates Postgraduate Research Scholarships Round for commencement in 2021 are open from 1 September to Friday 30 October 2020. More information can be found via the Graduate Research School. Additional project funding may assist conference attendance and fieldwork costs, including carer responsibilities. Please contact Emilie Dotte-Sarout if you are interested.

Contact Dr Emilie Dotte-Sarout

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Research repository

Read more about Dr Emilie Dotte-Sarout

Research repository