The Shaping of History:
Essays from The New Zealand Journal of History

Judith Binney (editor)

Bridget Williams Books 2001
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003 http://dannyreviews.com/
The Shaping of History contains twenty two essays from the last thirty years of the New Zealand Journal of History. The essays selected cover a broad range, but focus on areas that have attracted particular interest, such as Maori history, the Treaty of Waitangi, gender, colonial "atomization", and historiography. Perhaps reflecting the relative infancy of New Zealand history or the small number of its historians, few of the essays assume any kind of technical background; many will interest a broad audience.

Judith Binney considers some of the problems of writing Maori history, and in particular incorporating Maori oral narratives in Western written history. Focusing on the Ngai Tahu South Island claim, Tipene O'Regan examines how the Waitangi Tribunal has brought lawyers, historians, and Maori together, but has also led to the invention of traditions in an attempt to gain access to state funds. And Alan Ward explores the ways in which the operation of the Waitangi Tribunal has created epistemological and methodological challenges for history and historians.

In a more philosophical piece, J.G.A. Pocock looks at the concept of tangata whenua ("indigenes") in the context of Enlightenment anthropology and political theory.

R.M. Ross considers the different texts and translations of the Treaty of Waitangi: "In all, Hobson forwarded five English versions to his superiors in Sydney or London." "The language of the Treaty of Waitangi is not indigenous Maori; it is missionary Maori, specifically Protestant missionary Maori." And Vincent O'Malley sets the Treaty of Waitangi in the context of other agreements between the Crown and Maori in the early colonial period, with comparisons to North American treaty-making.

During the Second World War, the Maori War Effort Organisation was an exercise in autonomy, an alternative to the Native Department; Claudia Orange links the debates over it then to concerns current in 1987. And Angela Ballara describes the role of Maori women of rank in the 1890s Kotahitanga movement, notably in demands for suffrage and representation in the Kotahitanga Parliament.

Looking at relations between unions and employers after William Pember Reeves introduced compulsory arbitration in 1894, James Holt argues that the latter's effects did not match its intent. And Tom Brooking describes how Liberal land policy in the decades around 1900, involving the purchase and sale of Maori land on a massive scale, was driven by ideological convictions to the detriment of Maori.

Raewyn Dalziel describes the stereotyping of women as "helpmeets" in 19th century New Zealand and its part in getting them the vote. And Barbara Brookes describes the debate over abortion and birth control in the 1930s, which centred around a Committee of Inquiry into Abortion.

Dean Wilson mines the records of the Auckland Police Court for vivid insights into working class life in Victorian Auckland. At the other end of the social scale, R.C.J. Stone offers a study of the Auckland legal profession during the same period.

Miles Fairburn's paper from 1982, a shorter version of his book The Ideal Society and its Enemies, argues that high mobility and frequent resort to legal action in colonial society were evidence of atomization and a lack of communal ties. In "The Orderly Frontier" Duncan Mackay counters with a study of the world of Kauri bushmen, where, "for the price of conformity, a bushman was integrated into a cohesive, protective group that provided him with a set of values and a sense of place". And Caroline Daley, using her work on Taradale, criticizes Fairburn's "male bias", "less than adequate refutation of the idea of local community", and chronology.

P.S. O'Connor covers immigration debates and legislation from 1908 to 1920: "Japanese protest probably did more than anything else to rivet the 'white Australia' concept into the world's stereotypes. Yet this protest was not founded on any difference of policy between Australia and New Zealand." And Ann Trotter describes the New Zealand participation in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, set up to try war criminals after World War II, in an essay that makes a reasonable introduction to that tribunal.

In "Of Verandahs and Fish and Chips and Footie on Saturday Afternoon", Jock Phillips surveys changing approaches to New Zealand cultural history. Erik Olssen focuses on 20th century history of 19th century New Zealand. And the closing slot is given to James Belich, with an essay on "Myth, Race, and Identity".

The Shaping of History is an elegant and attractive volume on which considerable care has clearly been lavished. The essays have been reset and augmented with a small but effective selection of black and white photographs not possible in the journal. And in some cases the authors have added afterwords, updating or commenting on their work with hindsight. In addition to its obvious appeal to historians — probably even those with complete sets of NZJH — The Shaping of History is an excellent volume for anyone who has a basic knowledge of New Zealand history but wants to explore further.

April 2003

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Related reviews:
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%T The Shaping of History
%S Essays from The New Zealand Journal of History
%E Binney, Judith
%I Bridget Williams Books
%D 2001
%O paperback, halftones, notes
%G ISBN 1877242179
%P xvi,422pp