18 May 2017

The history of amateur history in NZ

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:29 pm on 18 May 2017

It's time New Zealand's amateur historians got a shout-out, says Grant Morris of Victoria University.

The personal stories researched and shared by these unsung heroes – who do it simply for the love of history – add precious colour and texture to our historical record.

New Zealand's strong tradition of local history can be traced to early Māori's powerful connection with place and this can be seen reflected in local historical societies, he says.

"It's basically just groups of people, often who have lived in the area for decades or perhaps their families for even longer, gathering together, getting together archival material, gathering stories, writing up publications, you might find them in the local library, putting on walks, pictures, exhibitions, local history weeks."

'Broad brush' histories of New Zealand tend to reflect the 'Great Man' approach to history, he says: "where you write the history of Britain and you just mention the kings or the prime ministers".

Local history – in being personal – is the opposite of that, he says.

The Onslow Historical Society

The Onslow Historical Society Photo: supplied

No discussion of amateur history can leave out our many passionate genealogists, Morris says, whose field has been revolutionised by technology.

For generations of Māori, whakapapa [genealogy] has been at the centre of history.

Advancing age leads many New Zealanders to refocus and reflect on the places they've lived and their family history, he says.

"If you go into the National Library now and you look around, you might think 'These are the professional historians'. Chances are they're going to be genealogists."

"For many people, knowing about one's family, where they came from and all the influences and their story helps them understand our history beyond the big famous events and famous people. It actually makes it mean more."

Amateur history proves that the history of this country belongs to every New Zealander, he says.

"It's something all New Zealanders have a stake in and all New Zealanders can find value in."

The interview with Kate Hannah that Jesse refers to can be found here.