Radio from the social history collection at Queensland Museum

Social history

Explore Queensland Museum’s social history collection, including material culture from our everyday world, and find about social and historical research we are undertaking around Queensland’s recent past and contemporary society.


At Queensland Museum we collect the tangible and intangible experiences of Queensland through physical objects, visual and oral histories, in order to preserve the past and represent the people in our community today.

The history of Queensland, the state and its communities are well represented in the Social History collection. Our collection traces the earliest settler histories through to current political and social activities but is largely composed of objects from the mid-late 19th century to the mid-20th century.

Rich in objects from everyday life, the Social History collection ranges from 19th century furnishings through to modern kitchen gadgets, these domestic objects providing insights into lifestyles, social mores, new inventions and entertainments throughout Queensland’s history. Together with objects that represent day-to-day activities, the collection also relates to significant historical and contemporary events, people, and places, whether it be political or social, conflict or collaborations.

The collection also retains items from Europe and other parts of the world, dating from the 1600s and 1700s. Brought to Australia by migrants, many of these items hold historical significance.

The Social History collection complements other parts of Queensland Museum’s Cultures and Histories collections including: Transport; Science, Technology and Industry; First Nations Cultures; and World Cultures.

Scientific study

Research in the Social History collection encompasses a range of areas of study, including historical research, contemporary studies, material culture studies, fashion and art focused research, women’s studies, Australian studies, cultural studies and Australian historical archaeology. These fields of research, each in their own, way investigate human activities and sit in the Humanities and Social Sciences array.


Collection highlights

Highlights of the Social History collection include the nationally significant Daintree photograph collection which consists of over 200 photographs of Queensland in the 1870s; the Ellis Rowan botanical paintings; the dress and textile collections featuring Queensland designers including Janet Walker, Paula Stafford, Mark Wilson, Harvey Graham, Olive Ashworth and Gwen Gillam; the furniture, ceramics and domestic technology made by Queensland crafts people such as Ed Rosenstengel and John Mason, Brisbane manufacturers such as Music Masters, Crown, and Bristol Potteries; and numismatics and philately collections that relate to the earliest days of the colony of Queensland.

Individual highlights from the collection speak to significant and rare objects such as:

  • The Tompion Clock
  • Paddy Budgen's Victoria Cross
  • Mephisto, the only remained German World War 1 tank
  • An altar set made and/or used by Australian World War 2 prisoners in Changi Camp

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Research overview

Research may be carried out at the level of a single object or group of objects, on individual collections, or comparatively between collections and with other collections internally and externally. Object biographies sit beside considerations of how object groups speak to identity and the meta narratives and complexities of our histories and cultures.

Investigations focus on documenting specific elements of Queensland’s history as represented by objects, contemporary collecting, cultural studies with a focus on identity, fashion, social and political activities, and the recording of the stories of individual people and events that speak to life in Queensland.

Current research projects include:

  • Considerations of the lived identities of Australian South Sea Islanders, a collaborative project with Australian South Sea Islander communities integrating the perspectives of historical archaeology, museology, cultural landscapes, and heritage studies.
  • Development of contemporary curatorial methodologies exploring identity and diversity through fashion and clothing
  • Investigations into how aviation has transformed Australian society over the last 100 years, focusing at Queensland Museum on the Thomas McLeod aviation collection.
  • Museological considerations of contemporary collecting.


Archaeology, collections and Australian South Sea Islander lived identities
This project integrates the perspectives of historical archaeology, museology, cultural landscapes, and heritage studies with the lived experiences of the Australian South Sea Islander community.

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Australian Research Council: "Heritage of the Air: How Aviation Transformed Australia"

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Did you know you don't have to come to the museum to see our collection?

Over 5,000 items of our Cultures & Histories collection are now accessible online for free. All you need is your device and a little bit of inspiration to explore Queensland’s cultural and natural heritage.

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