New Zealand Historical Atlas:
Visualising New Zealand

Malcolm McKinnon (editor)

David Bateman 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 2006
The New Zealand Historical Atlas contains one hundred double-page plates on a broad range of topics in New Zealand history. Eight plates cover "Origins", looking at geological history and the natural world. There are twenty one on "Te Ao Māori", on Maori New Zealand and early contacts with Europeans, twenty nine on "Colony and Colonised", down to the end of the 19th century, thirty five on the "Dominion" period, and eight "From Progress to Uncertainty", on changes since the 1960s.

Some sample plate titles:

There is excellent coverage of social and economic history, with treatment of topics on which good overviews are hard to find elsewhere: the development of the New Zealand power system, for example, or the changing patterns of Maori migration. Some plates zoom in to provide micro-geographic views, in places down to the level of individual streets, farms, and houses; others pull back to look at New Zealand's trade and communications with the rest of the world. And some of the cartography is innovative: there are plates on the Maori world, for example, which present oblique birds-eye perspectives on regions of New Zealand and use fairly large amounts of text to present whakapapa or genealogies.

The most obvious problem with the Historical Atlas is that its plates are cluttered, often without a natural flow between elements or with text that is awkwardly broken up. Mostly this is just a result of trying to fit too much in, though there is the occasional element of "chartjunk", from innovations that don't quite work or perhaps from targeting at schools. There are also minor problems with individual elements, for example with inconsistencies in party colours in election results.

These are minor issues, however. The New Zealand Historical Atlas deserves a second edition, which could fix these problems and update or add material. Anyone curious about New Zealand history should find it a pleasure to browse through: it is useful as a reference, but also for making one look at New Zealand in new ways. And for following up new discoveries there are over fifty pages of sources and references.

October 2006

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%T New Zealand Historical Atlas
%S Visualising New Zealand
%E McKinnon, Malcolm
%I David Bateman
%D 1997
%O hardcover, quarto, references, index
%G ISBN 1869533356
%P 290pp