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Ton Otto

PhD, Professor

Curriculum Vitae

Ton Otto

Curriculum Vitae


Academic qualifications                                                           

1991            PhD in Anthropology, The Australian National University

1985            MA in History, cum laude (highest distinction), Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

1983            MSocSc in Social and Cultural Anthropology, cum laude (highest distinction), Radboud University

1979            BA in History and Teacher Diploma History, Radboud University


Current positions

Professor, Aarhus University

Head of the Ethnographic Department, Moesgaard Museum

Moesgaard, 8270 Højbjerg, Denmark




Professor and Tropical Leader, The Cairns Institute (People and Societies in the Tropics)

James Cook University

PO Box 6811 Cairns, Qld 4870 Australia


Main academic appointments                                       

2013-present   Head of the Ethnographic Department, Moesgaard Museum, and responsible for designing and realising the ethnographic exhibition in the New Moesgaard Museum (opened 10 October 2014)

2010-2013   Professor and Tropical leader (research leader), The Cairns Institute, James Cook University (presently affiliated with placement in Denmark)

2001-2006      Head of the Institute of Anthropology, Archaeology and Linguistics (previously Prehistoric Archaeology, Medieval Archaeology, Ethnography and Anthropology), University of Aarhus

1996-present   Professor of Anthropology and Ethnography, University of Aarhus

1994-1996      Research Fellow, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

1992-1994      Post-doc researcher and lecturer, Australian National University and Radboud University

1991-1992      Founding Manager of the Centre for Pacific Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen

1985-1990      PhD Research Scholar, The Australian National University (including leave for consultancy work)

1981-1984      Tutor and junior lecturer, Radboud University Nijmegen


Career highlights and honours

2011:    Award of the ‘Intangible Culture Film Prize 2011’ and the ‘Richard Werbner Award for Visual Ethnography 2011’ for the film Unity Through Culture at the 12th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film in London.

2010:    Appointment as ‘tropical leader’ (‘People and Societies in the tropics) at the Cairns Institute, JCU to set up a research group working in the field of Culture, Agency, and Change.

2008:    Award of the ‘Prix du patrimoine culturel immatériel’ for film Ngat is Dead, at the Jean Rouch International Film Festival in Paris.

2004-2008: Head of the Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography (collaboration between Aarhus University and Copenhagen University)

1996:    Appointment to the (first permanent) professorship in Ethnography and Social Anthropology, at the University of Aarhus.

1994:    Award of a 3-year Research Fellowship (Akademie Onderzoeker) by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, a prestigious and very competitive programme

1991 -1992: Appointment as founding manager of the Centre for Pacific Studies (CPS) at the University of Nijmegen.


Research interests

Throughout my career I have sustained an interest in processes of social and cultural change and I have written extensively about religious change, cargo cult movements, political and economic transformation, warfare, the politics of tradition, heritage and identity, and the management of natural resources, with a regional focus on Melanesia. Through research supervision I have further developed a strong interest in the north-European welfare state and more recently in Australian Indigenous issues.

I engage with material and visual culture through the making films and exhibitions, which I not only see as a means of communication but also as research methods in their own right.  I am further involved in the development of the interdisciplinary collaboration between anthropology and design. At present I focus in particular on questions of Indigenous agency in relation to modern communication technology (Internet) and constructions of history, heritage and change.

Finally I am also interested in and write about methodological, epistemological, and theoretical issues and most recently I have focused on the development of participatory research methods that aim at collaborative design in processes of change.


Research qualifications                        

  • Long-term intensive ethnographic fieldwork in Melanesia, especially Manus (Papua New Guinea), during 11 fieldtrips, totalling almost four years since 1986
  • Publication of 20 anthologies, monographs and special issues of academic journals; 79 book chapters and articles in refereed journals
  • Ethnographic filmmaking, resulting recently in two price winning films.
  • Collection of artefacts and preparation of exhibitions at Moesgård Museum  (2003-2004)
  • Fluency in Danish, Dutch, English, German, and Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin. Working knowledge of Paluai (Papua New Guinea). Reading capacity of French, Norwegian, and Swedish.


Research management                         

  • Presently grant holder and leader of the project ‘Camera as Cultural Critique’ (DKK 6,5 mill.), which involves 3 postdoc researchers, one PhD student and 2 professors (including myself). Further co-applicant and member of the steering group of the Danish Network of Design Anthropology (network grant of DKK 1 mill.).
  • Director of Research, School of Arts and Social Sciences, James Cook University (2011- 2013)
  • Research leader at the Cairns Institute (People and Societies of the Tropics), James Cook University, research programme Culture, Agency, and Change (2010 - present)
  • Ample experience with the management of research groups and the administration of grants, including the organisation of conferences. The most important grants being for the ‘War and Society’ project (DKK 3,2 mill. 1998-2002), an ENRECA collaboration with Danish Centre for Development Studies, and the American University of Cairo (DKK 4 mill. 1998-2002), the Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography (in excess of DKK 17,7 including scholarships, 2004-2008), and the project ‘Innovation in cultural heritage communication’ (DKK 1,8 mill. 2008-2012), which included three PhD students.
  • As Head of Institute (2004-2008) one of my principal responsibilities was to supervise staff concerning their research performance. I also chaired the Institute’s research committee and was responsible for formulating the Institute’s research programme
  • Member of the Faculty Research Committee, Faculty of Humanities, University of Aarhus (2001–2004)
  • Research coordinator Centre for Pacific Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen (1993-1996)
  • Founding member of the board of the European Society for Oceanists(1992-1999).
  • Organiser of the founding conference of the European Society for Oceanists, Nijmegen (1992)
  • Research assessment: Regular assessor of research applications for the Australian Research Council; the Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research; The Norwegian Research Council; Marsden Fund as well as other agencies (1994- present)
  • Head/member of assessment committees: professorship (9), lectureship (7), research institutes (2)


Research training and supervision

  • Presently advising 7 PhD student as principle supervisor and 3 PhD students as co-advisor
  • Thirteen PhD completions as principle supervisor since 1998.
  • Supervision of ca. 50 MA students, based on research (3-6 months) and thesis writing.
  • PhD coordinator for the programme of Anthropological and Archaeological Studies, University of Aarhus (2008-2009)
  • Head of the Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography (2004-2008) and Member of the Steering Committee (2001–2004); this school was an institutional collaboration between the Departments of Anthropology at the Universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus to organize and enhance PhD training in anthropology in Denmark. It received DKK 9 mill. in basic funding from the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (2001-2009)
  • Member of the Faculty Committee for PhD training, Humanities, Aarhus University (2001-2004)
  • PhD coordinator, Dept. of Anthropology, Aarhus University (1997-2002)
  • Extensive experience with the organisation of PhD courses, from 1994-1996 (the Netherlands) and 1997-2009 (Denmark), including the introduction of innovative formats and the building up of an international network of leading scholars, supervisors, and assessors.
  • Substantive international experience with the assessment of PhD theses.

Extensive experience with the assessment of PhD applications (1998-2011) 

Editorial experience                                         

  • Co-editor of: Canberra Anthropology (1989-1994); Oceania Newsletter (1991-1993); Folk, Journal of the Danish Anthropological Society (1997-2003)
  • Member of International Advisory Board: Anthropological Forum (since 2000); Anthropological Notebooks (since 2000); The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology (since 2007)
  • Reader for various other international journals and publishers (Oceania, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Ethnos, Harwood Academic Publishers, University of Hawaii Press, Cambridge University Press, Ashgate, etc.)


International relations

important relations are presently with researchers at the Australian National University; the University of California, Irvine; CNRS and EHESS, Paris; University of Bergen, Norway; Radboud University, The Netherlands. 


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