Research Themes


Auckland Museum has six research themes, built on existing research strengths, expertise and collections. The themes are aligned with the priorities of our Five-Year Strategic Plan, He Korahi Māori and Teu le Vā. They are not defined by any single collection but provide opportunities for interdisciplinary research and partnership. Given our base funding structure from Auckland ratepayers, each of our research themes is strategically aligned to current societal or environmental issues that are of relevance across Auckland. Within each theme, the narrative of Auckland (including the historical Auckland province) is the first priority, with additional strategic emphasis on more distant geographies, including the south-west Pacific area.


Download Auckland Museum's Research Strategy 2018-2023 (pdf)


Theme 1: Tāmaki Makaurau

Aerial shot of Auckland Museum

Auckland is a unique, rapidly growing and evolving city – home to a diverse population that makes upan increasingly large proportion of New Zealand’s population. This theme will weave together a focus on both natural history and indigenous socio-cultural histories encompassing study on contemporary Auckland communities; landscapes and infrastructure; the development and context of applied arts; our archaeological heritage; stories of significant Aucklanders; and on the ecology and diversity of Auckland’s natural environment, and the past and present health and well-being of Aucklanders. It will also include research focused on inviting Aucklanders to view Auckland Museum as a place for them. Research approaches will include partnership and collaboration with communities. Our aim is to conduct research that enables Auckland Museum to become the go to place for dialogue and discussion about Auckland and its people and our connection with it. Our research will make us relevant to and inclusive of the diverse communities within Auckland. 


• Explore the origins, development, identity and future of Auckland and its surrounding regions focusing on both natural history and sociocultural histories to explore culture, contemporary society, creative practice and communities, geography and infrastructure, landscapes and seascapes, history and heritage.

• Expand the relevance of Auckland Museum to the city and its diverse communities by actively investigating how our public engagement and visitor experience leads to social and environmental impacts and benefits.

• Investigate and understand evolving cultural identities and whakapapa in Auckland. This would also include research into processes of migration, and the social histories of indigenous and immigrant communities.

Aerial shot of Auckland Museum, © Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Theme 2: Biodiversity

Talochlamys zelandiae

New Zealand’s long isolation has resulted in a unique biodiversity. Research into biodiversity, taxonomy and biosystematics will aid future conservation of our unique and diverse species, and will help to understand the influences of introduced species. The importance of research within this theme is highlighted by the recent Decadal Plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand, the development and implementation of which already involves Auckland Museum's personnel. Research into the origins and evolution of New Zealand’s landscapes, flora and fauna is an opportunity to understand significant biogeographic relationships. This includes biodiversity within the Auckland region and its relationship to the upper North Island and the regional Pacific area. An additional important focus is documenting how and why biodiversity has changed over time as a result of both natural and human-induced changes. This understanding will help us develop solutions to protect the unique biodiversity of New Zealand into the future. Mātauranga Māori will be an important component of this research, with a focus on interweaving a cultural dimension with our natural history collections and combining scientific knowledge with indigenous practices and systems. The biodiversity theme furthers our previous research and commitment in this area. It connects strongly with other research themes, especially Tāmaki Makaurau, Human Impacts, and Indigenous Cultures and Knowledge Systems. These relationships will be further developed during the research planning stages.


• Document flora and fauna, incorporating mātauranga Māori, within the Auckland region, the upper North Island, and the regional south-west Pacific area, to understand taxonomic relationships and changing biodiversity (including naturalisations and invasions) and to forecast consequences of future changes

• Establish new partnerships within the regional Pacific to expand the understanding and protection of the natural heritage of these regions

• Develop research-based conservation initiatives and tools to sustain and restore Auckland's environments, ecologies and endemic species focusing on contemporary pressures and issues facing the environment

• Undertake biological surveys incorporating public engagement and iwi partnerships to establish baseline information that provides a reference point to monitor environmental and human-induced changes or to build on past surveys to document rates of change

• Take a leading role in research into taxonomy and biosystematics in New Zealand, producing guides in areas of taxonomic expertise for New Zealand and the regional Pacific

Talochlamys zelandiae, MA20597, © Auckland Museum CC BY

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Theme 3: Human impacts

Testudo elephantina

The impacts of humans on the environment are broad and accelerating, which suggests we are now within the Anthropocene – a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth. Auckland Museum will play a critical role by amassing evidence required to influence changing cultural perspectives so that environments and landscapes can be protected and restored. The aim of this area of research is to undertake studies into the impacts of humans on the composition of landscapes, flora and fauna, and the changes in distribution of species as a result of human–induced impacts within the Auckland region and historical Auckland province.


• Foster inter–disciplinary research to accurately assess contributors toward the Anthropocene, including human impacts on our people, communities, environments, species distributions and biodiversity

• Investigate the impacts on our region of macro–influences such as invasive species and diseases

• Investigate the impacts of human-induced change on Auckland environments, ecologies, landscapes and communities focusing on immediate environmental pressures such as urban expansion as well as the influences of climate change, globalwarming and sea-level rise

• Develop research outreach programmes focused on achieving significant positive conservation outcomes for endangered species in New Zealand

• Investigate the impact of our growing population on human society

Testudo elephantina, LH635, © Auckland Museum CC BY

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Theme 4: New Zealand in Conflict and in Peace

Military Service Act, 1916

The experiences of war and the impact of war on people and society an important focus for Auckland Museum. The research in this area will be directed towards understanding the relationships between war, conflict and peace on New Zealand society and how this has shaped its identity, focusing on the Auckland region and historical Auckland province. This will expand our understanding of the New Zealand Land Wars; the material culture of war; peace and peace-making; and the changing nature of commemoration, reflection and remembrance. An additional research focus is the museology of remembrance and commemoration practices in New Zealand.


• Develop a long–term research programme investigating the history, landscapes and heritage of wars, with increasing focus on the New Zealand Land Wars, post-WW2 conflicts and peace-making

• Explore changing remembrance and commemoration practices relevant to New Zealand's communities and translating insights into museum practice

• Transform our collections associated with war, conflict, and peace into hubs of active investigation and collaboration, such as Online Cenotaph

• Document and understand the relationship between Auckland and its military history including the maternal culture of war

• Connect Auckland Museum with other museums by creating new partnerships focused on identifying and telling New Zealand’s stories of war, conflict and peacekeeping

Military Service Act, 1916, EPH-PW-1-101, © Auckland Museum CC BY

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Theme 5: Aotearoa New Zealand - Evolving identities

Aotearoa New Zealand has a diverse population, resulting from many different stories of migration and identity. This diversity is particularly evident within the Auckland region. Issues such as identity, social relations and social context will be explored, along with how objects are used to understand the past, their meaning and how they influence current cultural perceptions. This theme will encompass research into the human population of Aotearoa New Zealand, focusing primarily on the Auckland region, and how this has influenced the evolution of identities, cultures, lifestyles and everyday experiences of contemporary New Zealanders, at home, at work and in the community. Through this research, Auckland Museum will contribute to positive health, well-being and societal outcomes.


• Research, document and interpret events and socio-political and socioeconomic issues that have shaped and continue to shape society and communities within the Auckland region

• Actively explore how the role of geographical and genealogical connections in the regional Pacific area is shaping cultural identities, as well as our role in shaping cultural identities in the Pacific region

• Carry out research into the social history and development of communities within our society through material culture

• Undertake research on significant Auckland Museum collectors, collecting practices, collecting policies, as well as the makers, artists, photographers, writers, techniques and methods that are represented within the collections, reframing Auckland Museum as a site of investigation

Bag (Handbag), 1995.56.17, © Auckland Museum CC BY

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Theme 6: Indigenous Cultures and Knowledge Systems

Clamshell, painted 'Matua'

Auckland Museum's collections and research methodologies contain significant Māori and Pacific taonga. The interpretations of these items are strengthened and informed through indigenous culture and knowledge systems. The research focus of this theme will be on the incorporation and inclusion of indigenous knowledge systems into research, as well as the research that enriches our understanding of the indigenous cultures that Auckland Museum serves – particularly focusing on Māori and Pacific. We will also investigate contemporary expressions of indigenous culture, including how these have been shaped by acculturation processes. The role of making and makers within indigenous cultural expression will also be explored. Iwi and hapū objectives and partnerships will be central to the development of this research theme.


• Establish an active and visible role in understanding and incorporating indigenous knowledge systems into research practice and outcomes

• Embed co-development practices into research through genuine relationships with knowledgeholders, makers and communities, including analysis and dissemination of best-practice approaches

• Develop strategic partnerships to create new knowledge and to share knowledge, expertise and findings on the development and incorporation of indigenous knowledge systems to research

• Take an active research role in the understanding of Te Ao Māori and Te Taiao, including the development of research partnerships that empower iwi as kaitiaki of their environments

• Adopt an active research role in the revitalisation and retention of te reo Māori and other indigenous languages

Clamshell, painted 'Matua', 2018.83.1, 2000.4537.69, © Auckland Museum CC BY

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