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Research overview

Conall Treen is a PhD Student in the School of History, having begun his project in September 2020 under the supervision of Dr Catherine Eagleton, Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith, and Dr John Clark. Prior to beginning his doctoral research, Conall graduated from the University of Glasgow with an MA in History in 2017, and from the University of Kent with an MA in Imperial History in 2019. He is a recipient of the United College Scholarship, awarded by the Museums of the University of St Andrews and the School of History as part of a project to research the provenance of the Bell Pettigrew Museums’ natural science collection. Conall has also been awarded the Santander Research Mobility Scholarship (2021-22), and the British Society of the History of Science Research Grant (2022).

Conall’s research traces the history of the zoology collection of the University of St Andrews back to its origins with the founding of the Literary and Philosophical Society of St Andrews (1838-1917). By researching the acquisition and movement of specimens from the settler colonies of Australia and New Zealand to St Andrews, his project examines how the processes of settler colonialism and the practice of natural history were intertwined during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His research pays particular attention to the roles of Indigenous Peoples within the history of collecting and scientific knowledge production, illustrating how the specimen trade and natural historical research were often dependent on colonial violence and expansion, as well as Indigenous dispossession and displacement. Equally, Conall’s research illustrates how histories of collecting and cross-cultural encounter also reflect moments of Indigenous agency and survival.

The second part of his thesis explores the role and scientific study of specimens from Australian and New Zealand within the University’s museums and classrooms, detailing how Australian and New Zealand fauna informed imperial ideas about race, indigeneity, and colonial expansion. Overall, his work aims to contribute to broader discussions within the history of science, the history of collecting, and settler colonial studies, and moreover, to encourage future discussions about the imperial and colonial legacies within the University’s collections.

Alongside his PhD, Conall is currently working as a collections assistant with the Museums of the University of St Andrews, leading the Bell Pettigrew Museum Provenance Project in researching and recontextualising the University’s natural science collection. In addition to this, he is also an editorial assistant on the Commemorative Cultures: The American Civil War Monuments Project. 

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