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Category Archives: Symposium

Family Ties, Literary Kinship and Creative Production in 19th Century Britain

On 12-14 February 2017, the Department of English and Linguistics, University of Otago, will host ‘Family Ties,’ an international symposium exploring literary kinship and creative production in nineteenth-century Britain. The CFP is below.

Plenary Speakers:

Judith Pascoe, University of Iowa
Devoney Looser, Arizona State University

In 1800, poet and playwright Joanna Baillie dedicated her Series of Plays to her physician brother Matthew Baillie for his “unwearied zeal and brotherly partiality”; Matthew himself had recently edited the anatomical research of their uncles, John and William Hunter. At century’s end, Oscar Wilde cited his mother Jane Wilde’s translation of Sidonia the Sorceress (1849) and his great-uncle Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) as his “favourite romantic reading when a boy.” Family played an important role in the literary and artistic productions of the long nineteenth century, from the Burneys to the Brontës, and the Rossettis to the Doyles. Critical approaches ranging from Noel Annan’s “Intellectual Aristocracy” to Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory have provided useful ways of assessing and contextualising the role of family in the creative production of writers and artists, but still the role of the family remains under explored.

We invite submissions for “Family Ties” focused on British literary and artistic families in the nineteenth century. Topics for 20-minute papers might include:

Interdisciplinary Influences
Collaborations and/or Dissents
Authorial Identity/ies
Communities and Networks
Redefining Family Units
Stages of Life (births, marriages, deaths)
Reimaginings of nineteenth-century families
Families, Creativity, and Empire
Economics of Family Authorship
Literary and Artistic Legacies
Little-known Relations
Generational Influences

Please send abstracts of 250-300 words by 15 November to Dr Thomas McLean and Dr Ruth Knezevich at

Details of the conference will be posted online here as they become available.

Book & Place Symposium

On 27 and 28 October, the University of Otago Centre for the Book is hosting its annual Research Symposium on the theme of Book and Place.

It will open on the evening of 27 October with a public lecture from Neville Peat in the Dunningham Suite, 4th floor, Dunedin Public Library, starting about 7.00 pm. You are cordially invited to come and listen to this well-known author reflect on his sense of book and place as he describes, in words and pictures, some of New Zealand’s most remote and precious areas and landmarks. An informal reception will follow the talk.

The Symposium proper will begin at the Marjorie Barclay Theatre, Otago Museum at 9.00 am on Friday 28. Professor Tony Ballantyne will begin proceedings, and after morning tea, Dr. Ingrid Horrocks of Massey University will deliver a plenary paper entitled: ‘Writing Place: A Case for Creative Nonfiction’. Nicky Page, Director of Dunedin’s UNESCO City of Literature programme will also be present. Please check out the full programme through the Centre for the Book blog

Importantly, for those attending the Thursday night ecture, please notify the Dunedin Public Library via their Library’s event site that you wish to attend.

To register for the symposium you need to send an email providing your name as you wish it to appear on your name tag and your email address to

There is no charge to attend the Symposium, which is generously supported by the Department of English and Linguistics, the Division of the Humanities, and the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture.


Symposium: Collecting and Exhibiting Photography

Te Papa is hosting a symposium on photography in June. It costs $10 for the day-long event. To register click here.

Collecting and Exhibiting Photography
Saturday 11 June, 10am 5.15pm
Nga Toi, Level 5 and Rangimarie 1, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

How do curators decide what photographs to exhibit and what to collect, and what are the ethical questions they consider? What are the implications of displaying non–art photography in an art museum? What is the significance of historical photographs in the age of digital photography? These questions and more are explored in this thought-provoking series of talks inspired by New Zealand Photography Collected.

10am–12pm: Keynote lecture and gallery walk-through
Leading art historian and photography curator Professor Geoff Batchen talks about New Zealand Photography Collected and issues related to photography curation. A walk through the exhibition with its curator, Athol McCredie, follows.

1.10pm–2.40pm: Panel – Collecting and exhibiting national collections
Panelists are Judy Annear, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Shaune Lakin, Curator at the National Gallery Australia, and Ken Hall, Curator at Christchurch Art Gallery.

3.05pm–3.25pm: Lecture – The evolution of photography curation
Ron Brownson, Senior Curator at Auckland Art Gallery, explores how the curation of photography collections has changed. He also gives examples of contemporary artists who use photographic archives in their practice.

3.25pm–5.15pm: Panel – The ethics of exhibiting photography and photographic archives
The discussion is led by writer Dr Cassandra Barnett from Massey University Wellington, joined by Te Papa Pacific Cultures curator Nina Tonga, artist Fiona Amundsen, and Dr Clare Veal, an expert on the history of photography in Thailand.


Four Waves of Feminism

If you missed last month’s Making Women Visible conference, or there were papers on the programme you wanted to see, but couldn’t, then you’re in luck! The Dowse in Lower Hutt is hosting a one-day symposium, Four Waves of Feminism, on 8 April that brings together presenters from the conference, and others, to discuss feminism in contemporary art, art history and curating. This is going to be a popular event, so make sure you register your interest in attending ASAP!


Stimulating symposium on Indigenous Photographic Histories

Practitioners, curators, archivists, scholars and others flocked to the Indigenous Photographic Histories Symposium held at the National Library in Wellington on 5 November, an immensely successful one-day event co-organized by Paul Diamond (Alexander Turnbull Library), Angela Wanhalla (CROCC/University of Otago) and Jane Lydon (University of Western Australia, Perth).

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Click to enlarge. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

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Keynote speaker: Professor Sherry Farrell Racette. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

The symposium kicked off with two keynotes. The first, Professor Sherry Farrell Racette (Manitoba) on “Enclosing some Snapshots”: James P. Brady, Photography and Political Activism, showed how photography was such an integral part of the work of this well-known Métis activist. A self-taught community-based photographer, Brady used it record Metis life at a time when these communities were impoverished and its people lacked rights.

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Keynote Speaker: Professor Jane Lydon. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

Professor Jane Lydon then gave Aboriginal Transformations of the Photographic Archive on how Aboriginal communities are now using historic photographs. She traced the emotional and healing properties of photographs, and echoing Sherry Farrell Racette’s keynote, pointed to the link between photography, rights and political activism. Drawing upon her Australian Research Council-funded project that identifies and returns Aboriginal photographs held in European collections, Jane noted that while photographs carry the burden of the colonial past, Aboriginal families see them as ways to connect with family and place. To read more about that ARC project have a look at the website: Returning Photographs: Australian Aboriginal Photographs from European Collections

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From left: Edith Amituanai, Nina Tonga, Brook Andrew, Paul McNamara, Yuki Kihara, and Jeanette Wikaira. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

After morning tea, a panel of shorter talks ensued, first from three practitioners/artists: Edith Amituanai (Unitec), on the ethics of taking photographs in terms of her own work. Edith spoke about her community-based photography, recording Samoan people and their everyday lives in New Zealand and beyond. She gave us one of the most evocative sentences of the day when she described a photograph as an ‘incomplete utterance of a sentence’; Brook Andrew of Wiradjuri (Monash)  discussed the complexities of representation, and his own obsession with the colonial archives, which he uses in his artwork; and Yuki Kihara gave a tour-de-force presentation on the intellectual work underpinning her recent “A Study of a Samoan Savage”, which was inspired by early “scientific” photographs of Samoans in the archive. These were followed by reflections from three people who deal with collections: Paul McNamara on how photographers had utilized the archives in various exhibitions at the McNamara Gallery  in Whanganui; Nina Tonga, Te Papa’s Curator Pacific Cultures, on the photography of George Crummer, a trader in the Cook Islands from 1890; and Jeanette Wikaira, Kaituitui Ratonga Māori  on how Kai Tahu families interact with the photographic archives of the Hocken Library.

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Helen Brown (left) enjoying a break in proceedings with Lyndon Fraser (Canterbury University), and Lynette Shum, Oral History Advisor at the Turnbull. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

The suite of papers reflected on community, place and family. Natalie Robertson of AUT was unable to be at the symposium, but her Siting Mauri through Living Film and Photography using material relating to Ngāti Porou and the Waiapu River was wonderfully and elegantly presented for her by AUT doctoral candidate and photographer Ngahuia Harrison. Helen Brown of Ngai Tahu Archives presented on Wiremu Teira and his Māori Friends where she discussed the Pākehā writer and photographer William A. Taylor and his relationships with Ngāi Tahu communities.

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Karen Hughes & Aunty Ellen Trevorrow. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

New Zealanders are probably unaware that Aboriginal families, not allowed to live alongside white Australians were relegated to “fringe camps” on the outskirts of outback towns. Karen Hughes (Swinburne University) and renowned Ngarrindjeri weaver Aunty Ellen Trevorrow (Camp Coorong Race Relations Cultural Education Centre) showed life in Ngarrindgeri camps through the intimate and familial portraits made by Aboriginal women photographers.

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Chanel Clarke. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

Chanel Clarke, Māori Curator, Auckland Museum, rounded off the after-lunch session with Dressing the Part: Queen Victoria’s Māori Subjects, on the intersections of dress, photography and colonialism during a visit of Māori to England in the early 1860s. The symposium was lucky to have three “keynote listeners” who all gave their impressions and reflections on the earlier sessions: Damon Salesa (Auckland), Jo Smith (Victoria), and Tina Makereti (novelist, Curator Māori, Museums Wellington). All three touched upon several important themes that united all the presentations: the affective power of photography, the ethics of photography, the rich and varied methodologies being deployed, and the ongoing power of colonial images in the present day.

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Wonderful “keynote listeners”: Damon Salesa, Jo Smith, and Tina Makereti. Photos: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

It was wonderful to be exposed to insights from so many indigenous scholars and practitioners. It was also gratifying to hear how indigenous communities are now using the photographic archives, even those heavily underlain with the violence of colonialism, for their own purposes, as art, for rediscovering histories, and reconnecting communities.

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The symposium organisers: Jane Lydon, Paul Diamond, and Angela Wanhalla. Photo: Mark Beatty, Imaging Services, National Library

The Canadian Invasion.

It seemed like Dunedin had been invaded by Canadian academics at recent Centre events.

The first event was a half-day symposium, “Colonial Families: New Perspectives” on 20 August, organized by Angela Wanhalla and also funded through her Royal Society Rutherford Fellowship. This featured Laura Ishiguro (University of British Columbia), with ‘“Say nothing”: gossip, intimation, and the limits of intimacy in a colonial family’, a paper that investigated the mixed-race David-Phillipps family, and the gossip and silences around the marriage and children. Jennifer Ashton (Auckland), spoke on ‘Respectability and the Half-caste: The Russells and Manings in 19th Century Hokianga’, on the efforts of early elite Pākehā males for their mixed-race children to gain the cultural capital necessary to become respectable in the emerging settler society. Crystal Fraser (University of Alberta) gave a paper on ‘Reconciling the Future: Past and Present Understandings of Gwich’in Families in the Northwest Territories, Canada’ which looked at her own family’s history living in the “two worlds” of Indigenous and “modern” Canada.   Erica Newman (University of Otago) finished this session with the paper ‘The Care of Fiji’s Orphan’s During the Colonial Period, 1874-1970’ looking at guardianship, adoption and orphanages in colonial Fiji, with particular emphasis on Fijian Indian children.


Canadian guests at the Pūrākaunui Falls, in the Catlins, with members of Otago’s History programme, on the weekend. From left: Angela Wanhalla, Jane McCabe, Kate Stevens, Laura Ishiguro, Crystal Fraser and Kristine Alexander.

On 24 and 25 August the two-day symposium, ‘”Unpicking the Tapestry”: Children and Young People in British Colonial Contexts’ was held at the Hocken Collections.  CROCC member, Hugh Morrison, gathered a great range of scholars to look at colonial children’s history.  This began with a mihi whakatau (welcome) from Mark Brunton, Māori Research Officer (Office of Māori Development, University of Otago).

Mark Brunton

Kei te mihi atu a Mark Brunton (Ngāi Tahu) ki ngā tāngata i tae mai ki te hui rangahau. Mark Brunton (Ngāi Tahu) greeting the symposium attendees.

The first day’s talks were as follows: Crystal  Fraser (University of Alberta) ‘”We went through hell together me and my friend; we cried together, we got shit together, and we fought together”: Student Life at Hostels in Northern Canada, 1950s to 1980s’; Chris Brickell (University of Otago) ‘Transport, Modernity and the Making of Adolescent Cultures’;


Chris Brickell spoke about how modes of colonial transport operated as cultural spaces for New Zealand adolescents.

Susan Cahill (Concordia University) ‘Where in the Girl’s  Realm  are  the  Irish?:  Representations  of  Irish   Girlhood  in  British  Girls’  Periodicals  1880-1914′; Michelle Smith (Deakin University) ‘The Family and Maternal Feminism in Colonial Girls’ Literature’; Helen  May (University of Otago) ‘Froebel’s “New Child” in the “New World” Colony: Transforming the Kindergarten across Cultures and Continents’; Christina  Ergler (University of Otago) ‘Managed Childhoods? Questioning the notion of Urban Children’s Free play in Aotearoa over the Course of History’.  Kristine Alexander (Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Studies, University of Lethbridge) closed off the first day with an evening public lecture, ‘A Tangled Web: Children, Colonialism and Archives’ looking at how the presence of children is marginalized within the Archives.


CROCC Director, Tony Ballantyne, who chaired the evening keynote, poses a question to Kristine Alexander.

The second day’s lineup included Lynette Townsend (Te  Papa) ‘Child-­made Material Culture: an Assemblage of Colonial History’; Jane McCabe (University of Otago) ‘From “Grandmama’s” to “Up the Hill”: Three Childhoods in One Empire Family; Hugh Morrison (University of Otago) ‘Children and Missions: Shifting Identities and Colonial Spaces’; Laura Ishiguro (University of British Columbia) ‘”The future of this country will depend on our children and children’s children”: the Aspirational Politics of Settler Futurity in Colonial British Columbia’; Bettina Bradbury (Victoria University (NZ) and York University) ‘”I don’t think I was ever a boy’: Edward Kearney Junior’s Memoir, Emotion, Memory and Colonial Childhood’;

anna gilderdale

Anna Gilderdale talked on the social presence of New Zealand children in colonial newspapers.

Anna Gilderdale (University of Auckland) ‘”Sunbeams”, “Cousins” and “Little Folk”: Constructing Young Folks’ Social Worlds through Print, 1880-­1920′; Kristine  Moruzi (Deakin University) ‘Colonial  Children  and  Charity’.  The event closed with a panel discussion headed by Kristine Alexander, Helen May, Kristine Moruzi and Hugh Morrison.


Panel. From left: Kristine Moruzi, Kristine Alexander, Helen May & Hugh Morrison.



Click to enlarge. Presenters (mostly), from left: Helen May, Hugh Morrison, Christine Ergler, Jane McCabe, Anna Gilderdale, Crystal Fraser, Angela Findlay, Kristine Alexander, Susan Cahill, Kristine Moruzi, Bettina Bradbury, Laura Ishiguro, Lynette Townsend, and Michelle Smith.

Extra Media options:  Dunedin TV (the local station) broadcast a two-minute television clip on the “Unpicking the Tapestry” symposium, with short cameos from a few of the presenters.  Click here to view.

This was also the first time we have actively used Twitter at a CROCC event, with Angela Wanhalla (and a few others) disseminating regular tweets of snippets of presentations, and the odd photo, as the symposium progressed.  These can be accessed on Twitter through #cyccs.  Angela has also created a Storify package where the tweets have been collected together, and can be seen without having to have a Twitter account.  Click here to access.

Thanks to Hugh and Angela for organizing these two amazing events, and to all the  scholars (from Canada, Australia and New Zealand) who made their way to Dunedin to share their research.

Orphanages, Residential Schools, Colonial Gossip

All of these topics will be discussed at a half-day symposium on “Colonial Families: New Perspectives” taking place on Thursday 20th August from 9-12 in Central Library Seminar Room 3, University of Otago. This event is sponsored by the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture, with support from a Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and features four speakers who will present new research into the history of the family in Canada, New Zealand and the Pacific:

Laura Ishiguro’s (University of British Columbia) research is trans-imperial and global in scope. She will speak about colonialism, mobility, and intimacy in the “long” nineteenth century through the story of one Metis family from British Columbia. Her talk draws upon her SSHRC-funded research project, “Settler colonialism, global families, and the making of British Columbia, 1849-1871″ (Insight Development Grant 2014-16). She guest-edited a 2013 issue of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History on “Imperial Relations: Histories of Family in the British Empire,” and in it called for a rethinking of the meanings of, and relationships between, family, intimacy, and imperialism.

Crystal Fraser (University of Alberta) is a high-profile young Gwich’in scholar who is undertaking research on the impacts of colonialism on her home community, Inuvik, located in northern Canada. She has been identified as “one of the most important Canadian historians of the next generation” whose research on residential schools, gender, and sexuality in Gwich’in society and the Canadian North is “actively shifting both fields as aboriginal people and northerners start writing and directing research in their own history on their own terms”. She is also a leading voice in Indigenous social media, which included hosting @IndigenousXca where she discussed racism in Canadian academia. Crystal will speak about the current debates within Canadian history and society about residential schooling.

Jennifer Ashton (Auckland) will speak about family, race and respectability in northern New Zealand during the nineteenth century. Jennifer’s talk draws from her recently published, and highly regarded first book, At the Margin of Empire: John Webster and Hokianga, 1841-1900 that “takes us into Hokianga to reveal how the evolving intimate relationships and economic transactions of everyday life reflected larger shifts in colonial power” through a biography of the trader and colonist John Webster and his networks.

Erica Newman (Otago) will talk about her original and exciting doctoral research on orphanages and adoption in colonial Fiji. Erica’s research in this area has been recognized internationally in the form of invitations to participate in pre-read workshops at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and an invited publication on her previous work on Māori adoption in the highly regarded American Indian Quarterly.

Contact Dr. Angela Wanhalla ( for further information about this free event.

An exciting symposium on colonial childhood

The Centre for Research on Colonial Culture is hosting a free two-day symposium, ‘Unpicking the tapestry: children and young people in British colonial contexts’, comprising 16 different papers on this theme by a range of scholars from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the USA, and with roundtable discussions to end each day’s sessions.  This will be held in the Seminar Room, Hocken Collections, 24-25 August.  Click here for the Draft Programme.


Dr Kristine Alexander

As part of this event, Dr Kristine Alexander of Leithbridge University, a Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Studies, will be giving a public lecture, “A Tangled Web: Childhood, Colonialism, and Archives”.  This will be be held in Burns 2, 24 August at 5.30pm.  All interested people are warmly invited.

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?

If you are interested in attending the symposium, please contact by the end of the month.


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.


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