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Research Interests

My main interest is the relationships between politics, society, ideas, culture, and economics. The ways in which they produce the lives of individuals and their societies has been a particular interest. Most of my research has been on New Zealand history and to a lesser extent the history of the United States, although comparative analyses within specific fields have often waylaid me. Since the late 1970s labour history and social history more generally have been my major research areas.

The 'Caversham Project' has taken up much of my time since 1995. This project, which brings together labour and social history perspectives, has had two distinct phases. The first phase focussed on 'Urban Society and the Opportunity Structure', identifying the structures of social and geographical mobility and their inter-relationship with residential differentiation. The second phase, which focused on gender rather than class but continued to investigate structures and the ways in which they have changed, resulted in Sites of Gender, edited by Barbara Brookes, Annabel Cooper and Robin Law (Auckland University Press, 2003). The third phase focuses on marital, inter-generational and worklife mobility in An Accidental Utopia? Social Mobility and the Foundations of an Egalitarian Society. When that is finished I hope to return to my history of New Zealand.


Reilly, M., & Olssen, E. (2018). Te Tūtakitanga o ngā Tāngata: The meeting of peoples. In M. Reilly, S. Duncan, G. Leoni, L. Paterson, L. Carter, M. Rātima & P. Rewi (Eds.), Te Kōparapara: An introduction to the Māori world. (pp. 158-179). Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press.

Olssen, E. (2017). [Review of the book The big smoke: New Zealand cities 1840-1920]. New Zealand Journal of History, 51(1), 222-223. [Book Review].

Olssen, E. (2015, July). The significance of human differences: Race and culture as concepts for understanding the diverse peoples of the Pacific, 1750-1914. Keynote presentation at the 21st Annual Conference of the New Zealand Studies Association: Empires and Cultures of the Pacific, Vienna, Austria.

Olssen, E. (2011). Towards a reassessment of W.F. Massey: One of New Zealand's greatest prime ministers (arguably). In J. Watson & L. Paterson (Eds.), A great New Zealand prime minister? Reappraising William Ferguson Massey. (pp. 15-30). Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press.

Olssen, E., Griffen, C., & Jones, F. (2011). An accidental utopia? Social mobility and the foundations of an egalitarian society, 1880-1940. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press, 334p.

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