Associate Professor Denis Byrne

HDR Director

Senior Research Fellow

Portrait photo of Dr Denis ByrneDenis Byrne joined the Institute in 2014 as a Senior Research Fellow specialising in heritage studies and he is the HDR Director. Previously he was manager of cultural heritage research (opens in a new window) at the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW.

His approach to heritage studies reflects his disciplinary background in archaeology and his research experience in the cultural politics of heritage practice in Australia and Southeast Asia. His book, Surface collection: archaeological travels in Southeast Asia, along with more recent publications, extend the possibilities for writing in the fields of archaeology and heritage studies, especially in regard to the emotional and affective dimensions of our response to old things and places.

His book, Counterheritage: critical perspectives on heritage conservation in Asia (opens in a new window), calls for the heritage field to open its eyes to popular beliefs and practices in the Asian societies which provide the context for people-object relationships that often depart radically from Western expectations. The standard secular-rational approach of heritage professionals, he argues, is hopelessly inadequate to encompass old objects and places that in the eyes of religious devotees are alive with supernatural potency. Equally, campaigns by archaeologists and heritage professionals against the private collecting and 'looting' of antiquities in Asia seem blind to the ways that these objects have been assimilated into local economies of value.

He is currently researching the history of travel and migration in the Australia-Asia sphere, focusing on the material traces which attest to this history and comprise its heritage footprint. These traces reflect the mobile lives and cross-border imaginaries of those who travelled, traded, laboured and loved in transnational space. As such, it calls for a heritage practice that transcends the nation-state frame. What is compelling about the topic of transnational heritage is the immediacy of its relevance to Australia's present and future.


  • PhD, 1994, Australian National University
  • MA, 1974, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • BA, 1972, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Honours and Awards

  • 2019: Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities
  • 2014: Invited by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and the Congressional Commission on Cultural Patrimony to address conferences in Cusco and Lima and take part in roundtables on the drafting of a new heritage laws for Peru, which for the first time will recognise indigenous heritage interests.
  • 2011: Visiting fellow at the Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK.
  • 2009: John Mulvaney Book Award, for Surface Collection: Archaeological Travels in Southeast Asia.
  • 2004: Conservation Guest Scholar at the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, researching and writing on the interplay of popular religion and heritage in China and Southeast Asia.

Selected Publications

Byrne, D. 2019. ‘Divinely significant: towards a post-secular approach to the materiality of popular religion in Asia’ (opens in a new window), International Journal of Heritage Studies, online publication March 2019.

Byrne, D. 2017. ‘Remembering the Elizabeth Bay reclamation and the Holocene sunset in Sydney Harbour’, Environmental Humanities 9(1): 40-59.

Byrne, D. 2016. ‘The problem with looting: an alternative view of antiquities trafficking in Southeast Asia’. Journal of Field Archaeology 41(3): 344-354.

Byrne, D. 2014. Counterheritage: Critical Perspectives on Heritage Conservation in Asia. New York and London: Routledge.

Byrne, D. 2013. ‘Love and loss in the 1960s’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19(6): 596-609.

Byrne, D. 2008. ‘Heritage as social action’, in G. Fairclough, R. Harrison, J. Jameson and J. Schofield (eds), The Cultural Heritage Reader, pp. 149-73. London: Routledge.

Byrne, D. 2007. Surface Collection: Archaeological Travels in the Southeast Asia. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Byrne, D. and Maria Nugent. 2004. Mapping Attachment: A Spatial Approach to Aboriginal Post-contact Heritage (opens in a new window). Sydney: Dept Environment and Conservation NSW.

Byrne, D. 2003. ‘Nervous landscapes: race and space in Australia’, Journal of Social Archaeology 3(2): 169-193.

Byrne, D. 1998. ‘Deep nation: Australia's acquisition of an indigenous past,’ Aboriginal History 20: 82-107.

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Dr Denis Byrne talks to ICS about his latest book, Counterheritage: critical perspectives on heritage conservation in Asia. Read the interview.


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