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Top Cambridge scholarship for Otago History and Law alumna

Friday 8 May 2020 10:48am

ANews0520 EM Gattey Gates Cambridge 226px
Otago alumna Emma Gattey

Otago alumna Emma Gattey has been selected as one of 77 top international postgraduate students to be awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge.

Emma studied Law and History at Otago and was a clerk at the High Court of New Zealand and junior barrister practising in Wellington before becoming an Ertegun Scholar at the University of Oxford in 2019. She is completing a Master’s in Global and Imperial History and in October will begin her PhD at Cambridge, studying Māori resistance to British colonisation in New Zealand.

"I want my academic work to inform and develop public knowledge and opinion, to improve race relations as well as social justice outcomes for New Zealanders," says Emma.

The Gates scholarship programme was launched in 2000 with a $210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Professor Barry Everitt, Provost (CEO) of the Gates Cambridge Trust, says “this year's selection process has taken place against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic which more than ever shows the vital need to bring together from around the world the most brilliant minds from the most diverse backgrounds to work on global challenges.”

Emma recently arrived back in New Zealand from the UK, and she talks to us from self-isolation in small-town North Otago.


question Q  What was your reaction to gaining the Gates scholarship?

I was speechless - and for a characteristically verbose person, this doesn’t happen often! Seriously, though, I am delighted, and overwhelmed in the best possible way.


question Q  Could you explain the topic of your PhD thesis?

I’m passionate about highlighting New Zealand as a case study of a wider phenomenon: the role of the ‘Fourth World’ or Indigenous peoples in the globalization of anticolonial discourse.

My PhD will focus on indigenous resistance to British colonisation in New Zealand, seeing Māori intellectuals and activists as deeply situated within global networks of anticolonialism.

I will study Māori who sought and shared knowledge by forging personal relationships with overseas allies, as well as through foreign texts. My research will illuminate indigenous participation, collaboration and multilateral influence within global networks of post-colonial power and resistance.

It’s really important to me to historically illuminate a territory formally free of empire, but — as Māori activists and intellectuals have long realised — which remains subject to ongoing internal colonisation.

My project also traces the increasing consciousness of a shared struggle against common oppressors, transcending national or ethnic boundaries.


question Q  What are you studying at Oxford at the moment?

I am studying a Master’s in Global and Imperial History. My thesis looks at revisionist Māori anthropology, written in 1920s Oxford, and is supervised by the incomparable Jamie Belich.


question Q  From your time at Otago, who inspired and influenced you?

My time at Otago was wonderful for many reasons, as most alumni will tell you! But in terms of academic mentors, I was very fortunate to work closely with brilliant minds and personalities from both the Faculty of Law and History Department.

In History, I was very lucky to learn from the incredible Barbara Brookes, Angela Wanhalla, Tom Brooking, and John Stenhouse. In my final summer at Otago, I completed an internship at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, working closely with the archivist and curator. This internship spurred my History Honours thesis (on the religious practices and beliefs of the first Scottish Presbyterian emigrants to Otago), and my supervisor, John Stenhouse, has been an ongoing mentor for me.

In the Faculty of Law, I worked closely with Jacinta Ruru, who supervised my Honours thesis on the NZ courts’ recognition of tikanga Māori. A teacher of incredible mana, her scholarship continues to inspire me. Donna Buckingham, a current Law Commissioner, and John Dawson were also strong influences and mentors.


question Q  How did Otago help pave your future path?

Otago has influenced my current academic path in countless ways. Chief among them is the support and encouragement I received throughout both degrees from my teachers. This generous support has continued well beyond my Otago years, with former lecturers providing academic references that have helped me both to pursue a legal career in New Zealand and further postgraduate study at Oxford and now Cambridge.

I’m actually returning to teach Jurisprudence at the Law Faculty in Semester 2, 2020, which speaks to my enduring love of Otago, as well as the twinned disciplines of History and Law!


question Q  Lastly – how are you finding life in lockdown?

My partner (also an Otago alum) and I flew back to New Zealand in late March when coronavirus started getting really bad in the UK. It became a very scary, stressful place to be, so we made an 11th hour decision to fly home. I could not be happier about this decision. I’m currently self-isolating in a small town in North Otago, working quietly away at my master’s thesis and enjoying the native birds. It’s hard not being able to see my family yet, but as soon as it’s safe to do so, I can’t wait to visit them in Christchurch.