Diese Seite ist nur auf Englisch verfügbar.

In the spotlight: Bronwen Neil

What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?

When a Dutch friend sent me the advert, I thought: this is perfect for me and my current research project on food sustainability in the Cook Islands! 

What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?

For me the idea of the apocalypse is the Christian teaching I have grown up with, where the Apocalypse is a future event that will happen at an unknown moment in history, when the world will end with the second coming of Jesus, maybe preceded by the Antichrist. But from a disciplinary perspective, I have learnt from my research into different traditions that many religions have a version of this idea, and there is a lot of variation across cultures. In the Greek, it just means a ‚Revelation‘, and there have been a lot of revelations about how and when it will occur. 


What is your fellowship trying to achieve, which questions is it addressing, and with which methods?

I am trying to show how an ancient culture dealt with food shortages by looking at how the people of Mangaia, the southernmost island of the Cook Islands archipelago, organize their access to local food sources as a group. Nowadays, there are 474 permanent residents in Mangaia and it is one of the oldest islands in the Pacific. Their nearest neighbour is Rarotonga, a 24-hour sail by sea canoe. So, they have good ideas about sharing and protecting food sources until they are really needed, for times of feasting as well as times of shortage. Their methods have been used for several centuries across Polynesia and could be helpful to people of other islands including my own country, Australia. The main method is field research, interviewing people in the Cook Islands in conversation with other Indigenous people from Tahiti and Aotearoa (New Zealand), which like the Cook Islands are also part of Polynesia.

How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?

This work is based on a project I’ve been doing with Prof Tom Murray, an Australian filmmaker, on documenting how the people of the Cook Islands deal with food scarcity. They manage it traditionally through temporary bans on harvesting certain species of fish, crab, taro – basically whatever they normally find to eat on their island through fishing, hunting or planting. It varies with the seasons, and the harvests are being affected by climate change. So, people are quite worried about the future and are looking for ways to make their local food supplies more plentiful and last longer.


Bronwen Neil is Professor of Ancient History in the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University (Sydney). Her research focuses on Roman cultural history from the fourth to tenth centuries, with an emphasis on east-west church relations, letters, gender and hagiography.