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Stephanie Mawson


I am a doctoral candidate working under the supervision of Dr. Sujit Sivasundaram. My research focuses on the early history of Spanish colonisation in the Philippines and broader Spanish Pacific world. I have previously completed an MPhil thesis at the University of Sydney titled "Between Loyalty and Disobedience: The Limits of Spanish Domination in the Seventeenth Century Pacific." The focus of this thesis was on the role of both Spanish and indigenous soldiers in the consolidation of Spanish aims in the Pacific. Prior to this, I conducted research at Honours level on convict transportation between New Spain and the Philippines during the seventeenth century. I have undertaken research in archives in Spain, Mexico, Guam and the United States and am adept in seventeenth century Spanish paleography.

I have also worked professionally as a researcher for a large trade union in Australia and am trained in corporate and social research and financial analysis.

Research Interests

Provisional PhD Title: Incomplete Conquests in the Philippine Archipelago, 1565-1700

The Spanish began the process of colonising the Philippines in 1565. Envisaged as a counterpoint to Portuguese and Dutch control over the East Indies, the settlement in the Philippines opened up trade between China, Latin America and Europe via the Pacific crossing, changing the history of global trade forever. Within the historiography of the Philippines, the arrival of the Spanish has been viewed as ushering in dramatic changes to the social, political and economic environment of the archipelago. The pacification and evangelisation efforts of soldiers and missionaries brought Philippine communities quickly under Spanish domination. This thesis argues by contrast that the extent of Spanish domination has been overstated within the historiography of the Philippines – partially as a by-product of an over-reliance on religious and secular chronicles that sought to magnify the role and interests of the colonial state. By examining different sites of colonial authority and power, I demonstrate that Philippine communities contested and limited the nature of colonisation in their archipelago.

The culture and social organisation of Southeast Asian communities within the archipelago impacted on the nature of Spanish imperialism and the capacity for the Spanish to retain and extend their control. Throughout the seventeenth century, the Spanish presence within the archipelago was always tenuous. A number of communities remained outside of Spanish control for the duration of the century, while still others oscillated between integration and rebellion, by turns participating in and resisting the consolidation of empire. These communities continued to maintain their local and regional economies and customs. In making these arguments, I challenge prevalent assumptions of indigenous passivity and cultural degradation, instead asserting the agency of Southeast Asian communities in the face of imperial expansion. Thus, particular actors come to the fore in each of the chapters: Chinese labourers, indigenous elites, fugitives and apostates, unpacified mountain communities, native priestesses and Moro slave raiders. These Southeast Asians were often placed within situations of conflict and contestation against agents of the colonial state, including missionaries, colonial officials, military officers and soldiers, tribute collectors and labour recruiters. 

Geographical Focus:

  • Maritime Southeast Asia
  • Philippines
  • Pacific and Micronesia
  • New Spain and Spanish America

Thematic Interests:

  • Early modern social and labour histories
  • Empires and Spanish colonialism
  • Rebellion, resistance and indigenous responses to empire
  • Convict transportation and soldier relations with native populations
  • Slavery and slave raiding in Southeast Asia

Other Professional Activities

RHS Marshall Fellow, Institute of Historical Research (2017-2018)

Founding president, History in the Making Journal Association (2011-2014):

Member, Pacific History Association

Member, Imperial and Global History Network

Key Publications

Stephanie Mawson, 'Convicts or Conquistadores?: Spanish Soldiers in the Seventeenth Century Pacific,' Past and Present, Vol. 232, No. 1 (2016), 87-125.
Awarded the Alexander Prize by the Royal Historical Society in 2017.

Stephanie Mawson, 'Philippine Indios in the Service of Empire: Indigenous Soldiers and Contingent Loyalty,' Ethnohistory, Vol. 63, No. 2 (2016), 381-413.
Awarded the Dr. Robert F. Heizer Award for best ethnohistory article published in 2016 from the American Society for Ethnohistory

Stephanie Mawson, ‘Rebellion and Mutiny in the Mariana Islands, 1680-1690,’ Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2015), 128-148.

Stephanie Mawson, ‘Unruly Plebeians and the Forzado System: Convict Transportation between New Spain and the Philippines during the Seventeenth Century,’ Revista de Indias, Vol. 73, No. 259 (2013), 693-730.

Stephanie Mawson, ‘The “Workingman’s Paradise”, White Supremacy and Utopianism: The New Australia Movement and Working Class Racism,’ Labour History, No. 101 (2011), 91-104.