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Frances Steel imageHead of Programme
Pacific Students' Liaison Officer

Contact details

Room 2S9, Arts 1 (Burns) Building
Tel +64 3 479 8334

Academic qualifications

2008: PhD, Australian National University
2003: PGDip (Arts), University of Otago
1999: BA, University of Otago

Research interests

Frances specialises in the history of the Pacific world, with a particular focus on colonial networks, oceanic mobilities and transnational labour cultures. She has an ongoing interest in the interlinked colonial histories of New Zealand, Australia and the United States in the Pacific and their unfolding implications.

Her first book, Oceania under Steam (Manchester University Press, 2011), examined transformations in the western Pacific following the advent of timetabled shipping and the new forms of industrial labour and regional mobility in its wake. Frances’s interest in oceanic connections also led to the edited collection, New Zealand and the Sea: Historical Perspectives (Bridget Williams Books, 2018). She has published widely on colonial histories of touring and on cultures of service labour, including the jointly-authored book, Colonialism and Male Domestic Service across the Asia Pacific (Bloomsbury, 2019). Her article in History Australia on servant mobilities between Fiji and New Zealand was awarded the Marian Quartly Prize in 2019.

Frances is currently working on a book that approaches British and American imperialisms in the Pacific through transpacific steamship and aviation routes and inter-island mobilities. It considers how these networks channelled interdependence, conflict and friction both across the Pacific and more widely within the Anglo-world. She is also developing a project on refrigeration and colonial food trades in the Pacific, which explores interrelated themes of climate control and changing patterns of production and consumption.

Frances joined the University of Otago in 2021. She previously taught at the University of Wollongong. Her research has been supported by grants from the Australian Research Council and the National Library of Australia.

Areas of research supervision

Frances welcomes research proposals in Pacific and colonial history, including New Zealand in the Pacific; oceanic/maritime history; labour history; commodity history, including cultures of food and consumption.


  • HIST 206 Introduction to the Pacific World
  • HIST 318 Australia since 1788: Boundaries of belonging

Frances also contributes to:

Editorial responsibilities

Frances serves on the editorial boards of:

  • Atlantic Studies: Global Currents
  • Journal of Pacific History
  • The Great Circle: Journal of the Australian Association for Maritime History


Steel, F. (2021). Waitresses at sea: Gender, race and service labour on ocean liners, c.1930s-1960s. Women's History Review, 30(2), 223-240. doi: 10.1080/09612025.2020.1757866

Steel, F. (2016). Anglo-worlds in transit: Connections and frictions across the Pacific. Journal of Global History, 11(2), 251-270. doi: 10.1017/S1740022816000085

Martinez, J., Lowrie, C., Steel, F., & Haskins, V. (2019). Colonialism and male domestic service across the Asia Pacific. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 280p.

Steel, F. (2011). Oceania under steam: Sea transport and the cultures of colonialism, c.1870-1914. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 269p.

Steel, F. (Ed.). (2018). New Zealand and the sea: Historical perspectives. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams, 384p. doi: 10.7810/9780947518707

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