Woman Russell, Penelope (Penny) Ann (1961 - )

20 March 1961
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Penny Russell is a leader in the history profession, who has made an important contribution to the history of nineteenth-century Australia and Britain through her work on status and manners in colonial Australia; travel, gender and imperialism; and biography and life-writing.

Penelope Ann Russell was born 20 March 1961 in Maryborough, Queensland. Her father, Gerald Victor Russell (1912‐1997), was a dentist; her mother Mary Gertrude Russell (née Thompson) (1919‐1992) was a teacher and librarian. Russell was the youngest of four children. Her family moved to Victoria when she was about a year old and eventually settled in Ballarat, where she spent her childhood years. Russell was educated at local primary schools and then Ballarat East High School, completing the Higher School Certificate in 1978. She attended Monash University from 1979‐1982, majoring in History and English. Russell studied Australian history during the third and fourth years of her undergraduate degree, and was inspired by the teaching of Marian Quartly (then Aveling), Marilyn Lake and Graeme Davison. Her Honours thesis was a study of early female medical graduates from the University of Melbourne.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Russell spent two years in Canberra in the Australian Public Service before returning to postgraduate study. She commenced her doctoral degree at the University of Melbourne in 1985, under the supervision of Patricia Grimshaw. Her research focused on the women of the gentry of Melbourne in the post gold rush era, 1860s‐1870s, and was based largely on their private writings, letters and diaries. Russell was awarded her PhD in 1990 for her thesis: A wish of distinction: genteel femininity in Melbourne society, 1860-1880, which was the basis for a Melbourne University Press book published in 1994.

While completing her doctoral studies Russell taught women's history at the University of Melbourne. In 1989 she held fractional appointments first at RMIT and then at Victoria College Rusden, lecturing in Australian history units. In early 1990 Russell took up a lectureship in Australian History at the University of Sydney, where she has contributed substantially to curriculum initiatives. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1995 and Associate Professor in 2006. In 2013, following her promotion to Professor, she was named the Bicentennial Professor of Australian History.

Russell is the author of numerous books and articles on Australian social history, and has also written substantially on Jane Franklin, wife of Arctic explorer John Franklin. Her book, Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia (2010), was short-listed for five prizes in 2011, winning the New South Wales Premier's History Award for Australian History. Other books include This Errant Lady: Jane Franklin's Overland Journey to Port Phillip and Sydney (2002) and A Wish of Distinction: Colonial Gentility and Femininity (1994). She has also edited a number of books: Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, with Desley Deacon and Angela Woollacott (2010); Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World, with Desley Deacon and Angela Woollacott (2008); Australia's History: Themes and Debates, with Martyn Lyons (2005); Memories and Dreams: Reflections on 20th Century Australia (Pastiche II), with Richard White (1997, revised edn 2002); Pastiche I: Reflections on 19th Century Australia, with Richard White (1994); and For Richer, For Poorer: Early Colonial Marriages (1994). She has been the recipient of several Australian Research Council Discovery Grants, most recently with Professor Nigel Worden, University of Cape Town, for their project 'Empires of Honour: Violence and Virtue in Colonial Societies, 1750-1850' (2012-2014), which places Australia's early history within a wider comparative frame.

Russell was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 2012. From 2008 to 2013 she was the joint editor of the Australian Historical Association's journal History Australia. Her commitment to research supervision has been recognised through both a Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) 'Supervisor of the Year' award and University of Sydney, Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Higher Research Degree Supervision.

Russell married James Andrew Campbell on 7 March 1987; they have a son, born in 1994, and a daughter, born in 1997.

Additional sources: Personal communication between Penny Russell and Sharon Harrison, April 2013.

Published Resources


  • Russell, Penny, '"Mothers of the Race": A Study of the First Thirty Women Medical Graduates from the University of Melbourne', BAHons thesis, Monash University, 1982. Details

Online Resources

See also