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Centre for Research on Colonial Culture
Rethinking Colonialism & its Legacies

CFP: Children & Young People in British Colonial Contexts

Dr. Hugh Morrison, with support from the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture, will be hosting a 2-day symposium on 24 & 25 August at the Hocken Collections on the histories and experiences of children and young people. The Call for Papers is below:


Unpicking the Tapestry: Children & Young People in British Colonial Contexts

Children and young people were ubiquitous and significant players on the stage of national and colonial formation, yet this remains a significant gap in the history and historiography of British world colonial societies like Aotearoa New Zealand. Therefore an exclusive focus on the historical place of children and young people in comparative colonial contexts is timely in terms of further development; both in the New Zealand context and that of the wider British world. Such discussion can inform a better historical understanding that is locally, nationally, and transnationally configured.

This symposium is sponsored by the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture at the University of Otago, New Zealand. It aims to bring together scholars (from New Zealand and beyond) who are interested in a range of aspects of colonial children and young people under the rubric of ‘unpicking the tapestry’. If colonialism is the overall tapestry holding together children’s and young people’s lives, then what is revealed when we begin picking away at the individual strands of this tapestry? In particular the symposium is interested in addressing a number of key questions which include: What does it mean to talk about ‘colonial childhoods or adolescence’ or to think about children and young people in relation to colonialism? What colonial sites were significant or influential for children’s and young people’s lives, and in what colonial sites were children influential? To what extent were children and young people constrained by boundaries or moved fluidly across boundaries (eg. gender, race or ethnicity, nation, class, religion), and to what effect? What are the sources for excavating and interpreting colonial childhoods? What are the gaps and silences? How do we negotiate these? In what ways might a comparative approach (across colonial societies) expand or limit our understanding of colonial childhoods and adolescence? What are the significant challenges and opportunities in this field of academic enquiry? These are some of the questions we wish to explore further over two days of keynote address, paper presentations and round-table discussions.

The keynote speaker will be Canadian historian Professor Kristine Alexander, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta. She will be joined in round-table discussions by education historian Professor Helen May (College of Education, University of Otago) and one further person to be confirmed. Up to a further 16 paper presentations are anticipated in plenary session form (half hour sessions per paper).

Paper proposals should be sent by email to Dr Hugh Morrison ( in the form of a 300 word (maximum) abstract, accompanied by a paragraph giving academic or professional background by Tuesday 31 March, 2015. Accepted papers will be notified by Friday 24 April at the latest. There will be no registration/symposium costs for presenters, but travel and accommodation costs will need to be individually paid for. It is anticipated that symposium papers will be published as an edited book collection or special journal issue.

Eugenics in British Colonial Contexts

posterThe Centre’s year has kicked off to a good start with “Eugenics in British Colonial Contexts: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa” in the comfortable facilities of St Margaret’s College, on 7-8 February. This single-stream conference was organized by Associate Professor John Stenhouse (History, and CROCC) and Professor Hamish Spencer (Genetics, and Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution), and Professor Emerita  Diane Paul (University of Massachusetts Boston, Research Associate, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, and currently William Evans Fellow at Otago).

After the event was opened by PVC Humanities, Professor Brian Moloughney, Tony Ballantyne (Otago) spoke first on “Colonisation and the problem of Population”. Tony began with the question, when did the Eugenics begin in New Zealand, as its history has various possible beginning points. It was an issue that had significant discursive importance to the big questions of the day, in particular with regard to population, immigration, and political economy.

After the event was opened by PVC Humanities, Professor Brian Moloughney, Tony Ballantyne (Otago) spoke first on “Colonisation and the problem of Population”. Tony began with the question, when did the Eugenics begin in New Zealand, as its history has various possible beginning points. It was an issue that had significant discursive importance to the big questions of the day, in particular with regard to population, immigration, and political economy.


Assoc Prof John Stenhouse

John Stenhouse (Otago) spoke on William Pember Reeves, the Liberal politician of the late nineteenth century. Reeves, celebrated for his Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration legislation, is less well known for his efforts to restrict the immigration of undesirables, including those deemed to be physically or mentally defective. Reeves was one step beyond public opinion, and his efforts stalled. A watered-down bill, principally anti-Asian, was more successful.

Sir Robert Stout, eminent New Zealand politician and jurist, was the focus of Emma Gattey’s (Otago) talk.   A Freethinker and advocate of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Stout’s interest in eugenics is less well known. An active member of the Eugenics Society, Stout pushed for the segregation of mental defectives from society. Even his own daughter, an epileptic, was held at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum for a number of years.

Professor Stephen Garton

Stephen Garton (Sydney) talked on the illiberalism prevalent in early twentieth-century Australia, a time now seen when medicine particularly infected by ideology. Ultimately, however, liberal safeguards survive and all efforts at sterilization of mental defectives fail in Australia, and without a scientific consensus, politicians were reluctant to pass contentious legislation. Jane Carey (Wollongong) took a wide view of the issue of eugenics, arguing that race, class and gender are interlinked into eugenist discourses. Eugenics is often seen in terms of national historiography, but was a transnational discourse. Although for some it was about the “English race”, others took a different view, prepared for example, to “breed out colour” through intermarriage.


Click to enlarge. From left, Caroline Daley, John Stenhouse, Hamish Spencer, Stephen Garton, Angela Wanhalla, Jane Carey, Diane Paul, Barbara Brookes, Erika Dyck, Charlotte Macdonald, Susanne Klausen, Rosi Crane.

Baby contests began first in the US in 1854, but soon spread to other countries, including New Zealand. Caroline Daley (Auckland) discussed how initially these shows attracted considerable opposition, but they also appealed to those with proto-eugenic sentiments as indicators as to the quality of the racial stock. Shows took on a more scientific edge, with doctors weighing and measuring the babies. However, Caroline cautioned at reading too much into the eugenist angle, as consumerism was often a motivation for these events, and they continued to be held after eugenics declined in popularity.


Professor Emerita Diane Paul

Truby King is famous as a health reformer, both in terms of treatment of the mentally ill, and infants’ and children’s health, and as the founder of the Plunket Society that promoted his theory of mothercraft. Diane Paul (Massachusetts Boston) noted that more recently King (and the Plunket Society) have been labelled as eugenist.   While it is possible to find some eugenist ideas in his writing, King was also critical of eugenics at times,  believing that environmental factors, rather than hereditary, were more important, and how we classify King’s ideas really depends on how we define eugenics.

All the way from Canada, Professors Erika Dyck and Susanne Klausen

Susanne Klausen (Carleton) spoke first on the second day, looking at the impact of eugenist theories in South Africa that emerged in the late nineteenth century. One issue that troubled some in South Africa were the poor white Afrikaners, who migrated into the cities, living in slums together with black South Africans. Deemed as less intelligent than other whites, the Race Welfare Society tried to curb their high fertility rate. However, ultimately the eugenics movement in South Africa was relatively weak. In the face of large non-white populations, a white ethnic nationalism prevailed over biological imperatives, with poor white Afrikaners deemed salvageable in the interests of race unity.

Although eugenic discourses percolated through all of Canada, it was only in Western Canada that two provincial parliaments, in British Columbia and Alberta, passed laws legalizing sterilization of the mentally defective.   Erika Dyck (Saskatchewan) discussed the situation in Alberta, where most of the sterilizations took place, between 1928-73. It was agrarian feminists who initially pushed for sterilization, but the legislation was strengthened by the Social Credit government, who removed informed consent. More recently it has been claimed that the government targeted indigenous women, but historical evidence for this is lacking, with indigenous health care, run by federal authorities, in general being provided at the most minimal levels.

Charlotte Macdonald (VUW) looked at the history of eugenic discourse in New Zealand. The high point of New Zealand eugenics was the Mental Defectives Amendment Act in 1928, which established a Eugenics Board. “Experts” could be powerful, for example Dr Theodore Gray, the Head of the Mental Hospitals Department, who recommended the sterilization of the mentally unfit, which became Clause 25 in the 1928 Bill. But this legislation was not palatable to all, and was watered down in its final form. Charlotte also looked at the Healthy Body Movement that appeared in a number of the “white” colonies in the 1930s. Although there is an assumption that this reflected eugenist ideas, this was not actually the case, although the perception may have led to its eventual demise.

Angela Wanhalla (Otago) discussed how marriage was also a concern in the discussion leading up to New Zealand’s 1928 legislation. The initial bill included Clause 21 that would have prohibited the marriage of the mentally or socially defective. While some newspapers were broadly supportive, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches opposed any state interference in the institution of marriage, and the Labour Party’s Peter Fraser led the fight against the worst aspects of the legislation in parliament. Eugenic discourse did influence divorce law, with insanity grounds to dissolve a marriage, although few used it due to the length of time required. New Zealand’s response was to segregate the mentally unfit rather than sterilization or marriage prohibition.

Professor Hamish Spencer

The last speaker, Hamish Spencer (Otago) also focused on the Mental Defectives legislation of 1928. The first Act, which distinguished between mental illness and defect, was passed in 1911. In 1924, a Committee of Inquiry convened to look into Mental Defectives and Sexual Offenders. A number of academics urged eugenic controls, such as the registration and sterilization of mentally defectives and immigration control, which the commission broadly agreed to. The 1928 legislation also came out of Dr Gray’s Report on Mental Deficiency, compiled after a world tour looking at how other countries dealt with the issue. As noted above, Peter Fraser was a vehement opponent of sterilization. Although the government had the support in parliament to pass this, it was not confident of wider public support and amended the original bill. But it was a very close thing.

All participants felt that this event was extremely productive.  Despite differences in how each country applied eugenist ideas, the discourse was transnational.  The organizers are now investigating publication options to get their research to a wider audience.

Waitangi Day Talk

Followers of the Centre may be interested in attending a forthcoming public talk to be given by Dr. Lachy Paterson on 6 February at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Lachy will be discussing changing views of the Treaty of Waitangi, since 1840 and up to the present day. He will also reflect upon the Treaty’s role in New Zealand society currently and in the future. The talk begins at 2pm. Read more about it here.

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New Publications

Congratulations to Tony Ballantyne and Barbara Brookes on the release of their newest books. Tony’s book, Entanglements of Empire, was released by Duke University Press in late December, with a New Zealand imprint published by Auckland University Press being released in April.





In the past week, a collection of essays co-edited by Barbara Brookes with Canadian colleagues Tracy Penny Light and Wendy Mitchinson (both University of Waterloo), Bodily Subjects: Essays on Gender and Health, 1800-2000, was released by McGill-Queen’s University Press. The collection explores the historical entanglement between gender and health across two centuries and in a variety of locations through essays ranging from the nineteenth-century British Poor Laws, an Aboriginal reserve in 20th century Queensland, AIDS activists on the streets of Toronto in the 1990s.


Congratulations Barbara and Tony!

Family Emotional Economies & Disability at Birth

Last year, Professor Barbara Brookes (a CRoCC Steering Committee member), contributed a post to a History of Medicine Blog about the ‘complicated emotions surrounding disability at birth’. You can read the Blog post here. In it Barbara traces the emotional responses and experiences of families to disability in mid-twentieth century New Zealand through the dissertations of University of Otago fifth year medical school students in public health. At that time, the students were encouraged to study what was then described as “intellectually handicapped” children, and did so by going into the community and talking to families, but particularly mothers. The dissertations are a rich archive for social history, but are particularly revealing of attitudes to disability, from within and outside the family during the 1950s and 1960s.

Dunedin: New Zealand’s history capital?

Jock Phillips, an eminent historian in both academic and public domains has just annointed Dunedin as the powerhouse of NZ historical research and scholarship.  And this just days after Unesco named Dunedin a Creative City of Literature.  Jock, until recently the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s General Editor of Te Ara: the Encyclopedia of New Zealand has suggested in his latest blogpost that “New Zealand history moves south”, citing examples of the academic strength of historians at the University of Otago, its public institutions, such as Toitū: Otago Settlers Museum, as well as citizen-driven initiatives.  Whatever aspect of history turns you on, Jock suggests that “Dunedin in 2015 is the place to be”.   Click here to read Jock’s blogpost.

MA Scholarship Available

Are you interested in pursuing an MA in Wellington? If so, you’re in luck. Professor Charlotte Macdonald (School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations) at Victoria University of Wellington has an MA scholarship available. It offers $16,000 + fees, on a project linked to her Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden-funded research: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Settler: Garrison and Empire in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Applications close on 23 January. Click here to read the advertisement and find out more about the project.


Mobilities in a ‘Dangerous World’

Call for Papers

Sixth New Zealand Mobilities Symposium: Mobilities in a ‘Dangerous World’

25 and 26 June, 2015, University of Waikato

The contemporary world and its real and imagined ‘dangers’ offers us with a variety of challenging themes to explore in this Sixth New Zealand Mobilities Symposium, including sustainable mobilities, climate change and human mobility, mobility justice, historical mobilities in new perspective, the mobilities of disease and war, and mobilities and the borders of the nation state. We have conceptualised ‘danger’ as the risk and threats that mobility might pose in the contemporary world, such as climate change refugees, pandemic disease transmission via people and movement, among other aspects of perceived dangers in our shared mobile world. We are also inviting papers relating to various other topics, including sport, leisure, health and tourism mobilities; human and object transport and mobilities; refugee and migration, especially Pacific peoples; mobile media technologies; and moving methods.

We expect to conclude the conference with a panel focused on theorizing mobilities/moving methods. This conference places additional emphasis on capacity building for research among emerging researchers and postgraduate students in mobility studies. We are aiming to keep all sessions as plenary sessions, so spaces will be limited at the time of the selection of abstracts.

Keynote presenters will include

Dr Holly Thorpe (Sport and Leisure Studies, University of Waikato, and author of Transnational Mobilities in Action Sport Cultures, Palgrave 2014): ‘Youth and Sporting (Im)mobilities in Disrupted and Conflicted Spaces’.

Professor Mimi Sheller (Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Director, Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, Drexel University, Philadelphia): ‘Connected Mobility in a Disconnected World: Moving people, information and aid after disasters’. [Please note: Mimi Sheller will present a virtual keynote.]

Other invited speakers to be advised.


Abstracts due: Friday 6 March 2015. Please send a 250 word abstract and a 100 word biography to

Decisions on paper offers will be made by 1 April 2015.

We are hoping to offer student bursaries to support postgraduate students from beyond the Waikato to attend this conference. More information will be made available in April of 2015.

Contacts and organisers:

Professor Cathy Coleborne (History Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences):

Dr Holly Thorpe (Sport and leisure Studies, Faculty of Education)      

Dr Gail Adams (Geography Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)

Placing the Personal Essay

Last week CROCC participated in the ‘Placing the Personal Essay Colloquium’, held at Puke Ahu in Wellington, aka the Massey Wellington campus. Convenors Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey put together academics and creative writers, and asked them to talk about place and the form of the personal essay. This was an invitation to migrate across borders, and many of the speakers did. From the academic side Lydia Wevers talked about ‘dirty books’, her dirty five-year experience of working at Brancepeth Station as she researched Reading on the Farm, Tony Ballantyne’s fish and chip shop (chop suey pattie for $1.60) anchored his argument for attention to the local, and Sally Blundell offered an insider’s account of what home means after the Christchurch quakes. The ‘creatives’ for their part got fairly theoretical: Martin Edmond’s keynote on ‘Riding the Ghost Train’ initiated a writing-as-ghostly metaphor which ran through the colloquium. (Alex Calder got spooked in Southland; Annabel Cooper revisited some old haunts.) Lynn Jenner brought place and the personal together in confessing to a childhood in a small red or pink painted room in imagined Vienna, before going on to make a plea for greater freedom in prose forms. Ian Wedde was surprised to be the first to point out that we all live now in a kind of Middle-Earth Truman Show, and Jack Ross and Harry Ricketts also took up elements of this theme, and Giovanni Tiso’s remarkable concluding account of what happened when he uploaded images suggests this is just the kind of world that Google Plus is taking us to. Alice Te Punga Somerville, both an ‘academic’ and a ‘creative’, countered such hyper-reality by pointing out that far below us in the concrete pipes which now channel an ancient stream under Puke Ahu, eels gathered, as they have for a very long time, a story of the persistence rather than the ephemerality of place. Even the eels, though, migrated to Twitter in the course of the day.

Congratulations to Cherie and Ingrid for putting such a diverse group of speakers together, and posing us the dilemma of talking about place, the personal and the essay form. The challenge produced a very lively day. The venue had to be changed to accommodate all the people who wanted to attend, and the tea breaks fizzed with conversation.

‘Placing the Personal Essay’ was held under the auspices of the W.H. Oliver Humanities Research Academy of Massey University, the Stout Research Centre of Victoria University of Wellington, and the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture, University of Otago. Tony Ballantyne and Annabel Cooper represented CROCC at the event.

Annabel Cooper

Colonial Worlds Elemental Histories Symposium

A one-day elemental histories symposium, a Centre for Research on Colonial Culture event, was held on 31st October, at the Hocken Collections. ‘Colonial Worlds Elemental Histories’ began with a keynote address  from Grace Karskens, Associate Professor, UNSW. Her stories of early settlers (1802-1830s) who farmed the fertile but flood-prone Castlereagh region west of Sydney, revealed dogged determination in the face of repeated devastation. The settlers developed a culture of risk-taking and opportunity that underlay their fatalistic attitude towards the Australian bush.

Professor Tom Brooking’s paper ‘Yeotopia Gained: New Zealand 1840-1914’ explained how by 1914 most farming in New Zealand was carried out by family concerns but on someone else’s land. The changes in land ownership revealed a fracturing of a flawed dream.

‘Elementally United: The Case of Canterbury’s Nor’west Wind’ by Katie Pickles exhorted us to think with our senses. The wind, a dominant force in shaping emotion is both felt and seen in the landscape.

Dr Michael Davis’s paper entitled ‘Entangled Knowledges: Indigenous and Environmental Histories across the Tasman’, featured the botanical explorations and friendships between New Zealander William Colenso, Australian Allan Cunningham and Englishman Joseph Dalton Hooker.

In ‘Getting to Know You: People and Rabbits in Southern New Zealand’, Emeritus Professor Peter Holland presented a collation of information culled from diaries and ledgerbooks of rural farms and stations. Across southern New Zealand rabbit densities varied with swings in weather and climate, and interactions between people and rabbits changed.

By contrast Dr Vaughan Wood examined a single but detailed diary for his paper ‘Mapping the network of a nineteenth century Canterbury farm.’ He was able to plot, trips to the store, post office, friends and relations. Asymmetric patterns of movement across farms were governed by swampy land. These farming men, he concluded were an integral part of community.

After lunch Dr Michael Roche gave us an exposition on ‘The Forest as an Elemental Natural Resource in Colonial New Zealand and the First Failure of Scientific State Forestry, 1874 to 1877.’ These three years saw the introduction of scientific forestry brought by Captain Campbell Walker, who had a career with the Indian Forest Service in Madras and had studied orthodox German practice.

Continuing with the forestry theme Dr André Brett provided us with ‘Forests and Provincial Abolition: Did Conservation Kill the Provinces?’ Forest conservation enjoyed prominent supporters in the political and scientific communities during the provincial era, but it failed to capture the public imagination.

Dr James Beattie’s paper ‘Expanding the Horizons of Chinese Environmental History: Cantonese gold-miners in colonial New Zealand, 1860s-1920s’, used the experiences Chinese working alluvial gold in Otago to explain how their traditional knowledge of water management techniques coupled with hard work and tenacity changed the landscape. One entrepreneurial family Choie Sew Hoy was particularly important in the dredging boom of the 1890s.

PhD Candidate Lucy Mackintosh shared her research on Auckland’s several park-scapes. Her paper ‘Shifting Grounds: Narratives of Identity in Auckland Landscapes’ examined the urban environment with its monuments. ‘Our parks’ she claims ‘so often valued for their natural features, are also rich repositories of stories about the past.’

Continuing the theme of public spaces, Dr Joanna Cobley’s paper ‘The Nineteenth Century Landscape: economics, heritage and national identity’ looked at the heritage site of Tongariro National Park. Gifted to the nation in 1887 this first National Park is still viewed within the frameworks of useful and beautiful.

In the final paper of the day Eric Pawson ‘Writing environmental history’ asked the delegates for their input on an article he was finishing for the International Encyclopedia of Geography.

At a small function also held at the Hocken the book James Beattie and Matthew Henry launched their book Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand, by James Beattie, Matthew Henry and Emily O’Gorman (eds). Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2014. Emily O’Gorman was unable to attend the function.

Thanks to Rosi Crane for supplying this report.



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