Alistair Kwan

MSc (Hons); MA (Hons) Melb.; MA PhD Yale


Alistair is an historian of science (multidisciplinary with history of art), working on the history of science education. He is especially keen on physical and spatial evidence and learning artefacts: they can tell us about practices that aren't recorded well in textual records, and about people who didn't leave much of a textual record behind — or whose textual record has not been extensively collected in archives or museums. Alistair's historical research takes him often to the fundamentals of material culture theory, both for research and for teaching.

Alistair holds International Scholar status in the Society for the History of Technology.

Research | Current

  • history of teaching and learning, especially learners' experiences of science education and technical education
  • history of science: processes for learning, storing, retrieving and teaching scientific knowledge 
  • history of technology: roles of instruments and architecture in knowledge processes
  • material culture and architecture as primary sources for history
  • roles of evidence and direct experience (as opposed to representations and imagined experience) in education

Teaching | Current

Alistair coordinates the Academic Leadership Initiative for doctoral candidates, and teaches seminars and workshops for tutors, doctoral students and supervisors. In past roles, he has taught small-group pedagogy and didactics, physics, history of science, historical bibliography, bookbinding, letterpress printing.

Alistair's preferred modes of teaching involve object-based and image-based pedagogies. He has a long history of holding classes in museums, art galleries and rare book libraries, architectures, and by hands-on construction.

Postgraduate supervision

Alistair especially welcomes students working on

  • history of science, technology, mathematics, engineering
  • history of science education
  • history of educational technology (including textbooks)
  • embodiment, materiality, spatiality and architecture in teaching and learning
  • laboratory and fieldwork learning 
  • museum education 
  • object-based pedagogies, including the use of representations (e.g. 3d prints)
  • intercultural and historical approaches to STEM education

Students are welcome to conduct research in Alistair's primary source collection of 19th and 20th century publications and manuscripts in science education.

Though he thinks of himself as belonging to the humanities, Alistair initially studied as a gadget-building experimental physicist so also supervises some more technical projects on learning analytics, machine learning, and doctoral education.


  • International Scholar, Society for the History of Technology
  • Junior Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
  • Research Fellow, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
  • Connecticut-Baden Württemberg Exchange Scholar
  • European Studies Fellow, Yale Center for International & Area Studies

Committees/Professional groups/Services


  • Faculty of Education Research Committee
  • Faculty of Science Academic Committee
  • University Disability Strategy Advisory Group


Scholarly communities:

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Sword, H., Blumenstein, M., Kwan, A., Shen, L., & Trofimova, E. (2018). Seven Ways of Looking at a Data Set. Qualitative Inquiry, 107780041772984-107780041772984. 10.1177/1077800417729847
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Marion Blumenstein, Helen Sword, Evija Trofimova
  • Kwan, A. (2017). Interpreting Tools by Imagining Their Uses. Journal of Museum Education, 42 (1), 69-80. 10.1080/10598650.2016.1268884
  • Reframing the PhD Project Team (2016). Stewardship: A way of analysing, integrating and providing intention to the curriculum of the Australian PhD. Reframing the PhD for Australia's future universities, 2 Canberra, Australia: The Australian Office for Learning and Teaching.
  • Kwan, A. (2016). Historic Methods for Capturing Magnetic Field Images. The Physics Teacher, 54 (3), 134-137. 10.1119/1.4942129
  • Kwan, A. M. (2016). “Do not kill guinea pig before setting up apparatus”: the kymograph's lost educational context. Teorie Vědy/Theory of Science, 38 (3), 301-335. Related URL.
  • Kwan, A. (2011). Tycho's Talisman: Astrological Magic in the Design of Uraniborg. Early Science and Medicine, 16 (2), 95-119. 10.1163/157338211X557075
  • Kwan, A. (2011). Vernier scales and other early devices for precise measurement. American Journal of Physics, 79, 368-373. 10.1119/1.3533717
  • Kwan, A. M. (2010). Determining historical practises through critical replication: A classroom trial. Rittenhouse, 22 (2), 132-151. Related URL.

Contact details

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