The age of inquiry: A genealogy of inquiries into historical abuse

Dr Katie Wright (Lead Chief Investigator), Professor Shurlee Swain (Australian Catholic University), Associate Professor Johanna Sköld (Linköping University, Sweden)

The Age of Inquiry web resource is available here.

Since the 1990s, across many countries, inquiries into historical institutional child abuse have proliferated. This has given rise to a new interdisciplinary field of scholarship, which seeks to elucidate complex questions in relation to the form, function and scope of inquiries and their potential to redress past injustices and improve policy and practice to better protect children in the future.

However, despite a growing body of research, there are many challenges to developing a detailed picture of the rise of historical child abuse inquiries internationally. There are differences in the focus of inquiries (e.g. physical abuse, sexual abuse) and the types of institutions investigated (e.g. out-of-home 'care' setting, schools, churches). The form that inquiries take also differs, both within and across jurisdictions, from Royal Commissions, Tribunals and Parliamentary Inquiries, to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and research focused Investigative Committees, each with different purposes and powers.

This pilot project is beginning the task of mapping the rise of inquiries into historical institutional child abuse – over time and across national contexts – to better understand the form and remit of different inquiries, and to illuminate global trends and national differences. A database is current in development and the data generated will be made publicly available online. Using Online Heritage Resource Manager (OHRM), a contextual information framework mapping system and web-publishing platform, the foundation is being laid for a significant new public knowledge resource containing encyclopedic entries on historical abuse inquiries globally.

The project will contribute to the emerging interdisciplinary field of research on inquiries, as well as the fields of digital history and e-scholarship. It will provide a knowledge base for advancing theorization of inquiries through comparative study of their form, function and scope, and exploration of their potential to redress historical injustices and foster social transformation.

The first version of The Age of Inquiry web resource was published in January 2017.

This project is funded by the 'Transforming Human Societies' Research Focus Area (RFA), La Trobe University, 2016-2017.

Web resource

Wright, K., Swain, S., and Sköld, J. (2017). 'The Age of Inquiry: A global mapping of institutional abuse inquiries'. Melbourne: La Trobe University. DOI:

Publications and presentations

K. Wright (2016). 'Public inquiries and the common good'. Presentation to the Transforming Human Societies, Sustainability and Social Justice Research Cluster, La Trobe University, 16 August.

K. Wright (2016). ‘Remembering difficult childhoods: Historical abuse and public inquiries’, The Social, Biological and the Material Child, 6th International Conference of the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth (CSCY), Sheffield, UK, 5-7 July.

K. Wright (2016). The Age of Inquiry: Mapping historical abuse inquiries for an online public knowledge resource. Transforming Human Societies Digital Methodologies Forum, La Trobe University, 2 June.


For further information about this project, please contact:

Dr Katie Wright
Department of Social Inquiry
La Trobe University
T: +61 3 9479 1009