skip to content

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


Nicholas Thomas has been Director of the Museum since 2006. He is author or editor of nearly fifty influential books and exhibition catalogues, which have ranged widely over art in Oceania, European travel, colonial histories, museology and the history of collections. His books have included Entangled Objects (1991), which influentially contributed to a revival of material culture studies, Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (1999), a comparative postcolonial art history of Australia and New Zealand, Islanders: the Pacific in the age of empire (2012), which was awarded the Wolfson History Prize, and Gauguin and Polynesia (2024), which offers a fresh view on the artist. Nicholas Thomas has also written extensively about contemporary art, museums and related issues for the Financial Times, The Art Newspaper, Apollo, Artlink and Art Asia Pacific among other magazines and journals.

'Oceania', which he co-curated with Peter Brunt for the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris in 2018-19 was acclaimed as landmark exhibition by critics across major newspapers in the UK, France, Germany and the United States, as well as in Pacific nations themselves. Thomas has curated or co-curated many other exhibitions at MAA and elsewhere, often in collaboration with contemporary artists.

Nicholas Thomas is currently on sabbatical.


Key publications: 


2021  Voyagers: the settlement of the Pacific. London: Head of Zeus / New York: Basic Books

2020  Océaniens: histoire du Pacifique à l'âge des empires, tr. Pauline Dardel, preface by Eric Wittesheim, 510 pp. Paris: Anarchasis

2020  (ed.) A New Voyage Round the World by William Dampier. 462 pp. London: Penguin Classics

2019  (with Elena Govor) Tiki: Marquesan art and the Krusenstern voyage. 250 pp. Leiden: Sidestone

2018  (ed., with Peter Brunt) Oceania. 325 pp. London: Royal Academy of Arts; Océanie, Paris: Fonds Mercator

2018  Oceanic art, second edition. 212 pp. London: Thames and Hudson (World of Art series)

2018   Discoveries: the voyages of Captain Cook, second edition. London: Penguin

2018  (with Lucie Carreau, Alison Clark, Alana Jelinek and Erna Lilje) Pacific presences: Oceanic art and European museums. 2 vols., 253 pp, 511 pp. Leiden: Sidestone

2016  The return of curiosity: what museums are good for in the twenty-first century. London: Reaktion / Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

2014   Body Art. 208 pp. London: Thames and Hudson.

2012  (with Peter Brunt, Sean Mallon, Lissant Bolton, Deidre Brown, Damian Skinner and Susanne Kuechler) Art in Oceania: a new history. 528 pp. London: Thames and Hudson / New Haven: Yale University Press. Winner of the Authors' Society Art Book Prize.

2010   Islanders: the Age of Empire in the Pacific. 336 pp. London & New Haven: Yale University Press. Winner of the Wolfson History Prize.

2010 (with Mark Adams, Peter Brunt and Sean Mallon) Tatau: Samoan Tattooing /  New Zealand art / Global Culture. 160 pp. Wellington: Te Papa Press.

2009 (with Mark Adams, James Schuster and Lyonel Grant) Rauru: Tene Waitere, Maori Carving, Colonial History. Dunedin: University of Otago Press.

2005 (with John Pule) Hiapo: Past and Present in Niuean Barkcloth. Dunedin: University of Otago Press.

2003 Discoveries: the Voyages of Captain James Cook. 505 pp. London: Penguin Press / New York: Walker [in north America: Cook: the extraordinary voyages of Captain James Cook].

2000 (ed., with Oliver Berghof)  A voyage round the world by George Forster (1777). 2 vols. 860 pp. University of Hawaii Press.

1999  Possessions: Indigenous Art / Colonial Culture. 304 pp. London: Thames and Hudson.

1999 (with Mark Adams) Cook’s Sites: Revisiting History. 195 pp. Dunedin: Otago University Press.

1999 (with Richard Eves) Bad Colonists: the South Seas Letters of Louis Becke and Vernon Lee Walker. 163 pp. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

1997 In Oceania: visions, artefacts, histories. 269 pp. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

1996 (ed., with Harriet Guest and Michael Dettelbach) Observations made during a voyage around the world, by Johann Reinhold Forster (1778). 446 pp. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

1995  Oceanic art. 212 pp. London: Thames and Hudson (World of Art series)

1994  Colonialism’s culture: anthropology, travel, and government. 238 pp. Cambridge: Polity Press; Melbourne: Melbourne University Press; Princeton: Princeton University Press.

1991  Entangled objects: exchange, material culture and colonialism in the Pacific. 259 pp. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 

1990  Marquesan societies: inequality and political transformation in eastern Polynesia. 256 pp. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

1989  Out of time: history and evolution in anthropological discourse. 149 pp. Cambridge: University Press (Studies in Social Anthropology 67)

Director and Curator
A colour photograph of the Director and Curator of MAA, Professor Nicholas Thomas
Not available for consultancy