Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon

Driving Change: New Zealand Motorists, 1900–1930

View of cars and motorcycles at West Taieri October 1913 image
Otago Witness, Issue 3112, 5 November 1913, Page 42 (Supplement)

The history of motoring often neglects urban history. Urban history often looks at the changes to the fabric of cities brought about by social change, which in their turn drive future developments. The role of motor cars in such change has attracted curiously little attention from historians, not least in New Zealand. By the 1920s we had one of the world's most motorised societies, yet it coped with the changes brought on by motorisation without major upheaval. This contrasted strikingly with other parts of the world, where motor vehicles rapidly generated problems of urban congestion, or added to already existing congestion. In densely settled European cities, high traffic volumes and narrow streets created pressure for rebuilding, whereas in many North American cities car ownership rapidly created traffic and parking problems. Though New Zealand had one of the highest levels of car ownership per head of population, the relatively low absolute numbers of vehicles meant they could be accommodated much more easily than in European or North American cities.


In relation to this project, see:

Trapeznik, A. and Gee, Accommodating the motor car: Dunedin, New Zealand, 1901-30. The Journal of Transport History DOI: 10.1177/0022526616682367: 38/2: (2017) and Gee, A. and Trapeznik, A. The Motoring Lobby in New Zealand, 1898-1930. Journal of New Zealand Studies 130-146: No 27: (2018).

Trapeznik, A. and Gee, A. 'The Madding Wheels of Brazen Chariots Rag'd; Dire Was the Noise': Motoring and the Environment in New Zealand Before the Second World War. International Review of Environmental History 32-49: 6/1: (2020)

The Borders of Capital: Neoliberalism and Regimes of Migrant Detention

Children gazing through a border wall image
ProtoplasmaKid / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2022–2024

Neoliberalism depends on a borderless world of free movement, global markets, and free trade. And yet in this same period, borders have become the sites of unimaginable suffering, where millions of migrants and refugees are detained.

This project examines this paradox by mapping the intellectual and political history of neoliberalism alongside the evolution of migration and border security policies in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The project identifies how neoliberal intellectuals in the mid-to-late twentieth century imagined and theorised the role of borders and migration within a neoliberal society, and it studies how migration and border security policies adapt the original ideas of neoliberal intellectuals to maintain the global power dynamics of neoliberalism.

By focusing on migrant detention, the project analyses the punitive and carceral turn in neoliberal border regimes in which the border becomes a mechanism to protect the capital of individuals and states in the Global North from those who have encountered the most adverse consequences of the global neoliberal economic order, primarily in the Global South.

Splitting up the farm? A cross-cultural history of land and inheritance in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1870–1970

Marsden Fast-Start Project, 2017–2020

The idealisation of the small family farm and the aspiration to “keep the farm in the family” have remained central to New Zealand narratives – more so than any other settler colony. Yet little is known of the history of intergenerational land transmission, perhaps largely due to the sensitivity of the topic. Inheritance matters have resulted in substantial rifts for many rural families.

This study took a broad definition of the “family farm” by including families of Māori, British and non-British ancestry, and looked at two districts where such diversity is present: Taieri, in the southern province of Otago, and Hokianga, in the Far North. Immersive fieldwork was carried out in each district, consulting local historians and community archives, and conducting interviews with ten families. This family and community research uncovered aspects of land ownership and inheritance that were not previously apparent. In particular, the legacy of 19th century “special settlement” schemes in the Far North, and the prevalence of leasing in both Taieri and Hokianga, raised significant questions about the origins of family farm narratives and the need for a sustained focus on the multiple and overlapping forms of land tenure – ownership and occupation and iwi claims.

With these preliminary findings in hand, one block was chosen in each district for a comprehensive survey of land titles. Building the land story in each of these blocks has required meticulous work with land records, maps, newspapers and official sources – as well as family records and probates. These land stories form the foundation of the monograph for the project, which traces the family stories that intersect on these blocks, all the while addressing social, economic and environmental matters that are very much to the fore in the media today. The book will be published in 2022 with Auckland University Press, entitled Family Land: Inheritance, Culture and the Family Farm.

Constant Coconuts: A history of a versatile commodity in the Pacific World

Marsden Standard Project, 2015–2018

Within the humid tropics, along the shorelines of atolls and high islands, the coconut palm flourishes, providing food, medicines, cosmetics, and household items for myriad Pacific societies. Yet no commodity history of the coconut exists.

As a pathway to understanding globalisation, this research will analyse how from c.1840 onwards, products from the “nut” became commodities, how their production and consumption affected individual communities, power relations, mobility, culture, economies, and environment within the Pacific world and beyond. It will consider why, for most Island societies, the coconut became often the sole export staple, and the consequences of such dependency. A key focus is the fluctuating relationship between production and natural conditions, such as rainfall, as well as external challenges, such as declining markets, which tested indigenous agency.

Recently, the coconut's value as a source of biofuel and health and beauty products has significantly revived production. While the distant past is mainly recorded in archives, this network of producers, marketers, governments, and consumers is accessible to ethnographic methods, such as extended observation.

The planned book will combine two perspectives:

  1. commodity chain analysis to trace economic and social linkages;
  2. ethnographic investigation.

Archival and other documentary research will provide evidence for both.

Between Local and Global: A World History of Bluff

Marsden Fast-Start Project, 2014–2017

This project, a historical case study of Bluff between the years 1800 and 2000, will re-shape thinking about New Zealand's economic development and race relations.

As Southland's sole deep-water port, Bluff was a key entry point for goods, people, livestock and ideas central to the lower South Island's colonial development. In return it dispatched primary products to points throughout the British Empire.

Even though it became an important cog in an imperial system, the port attracted and retained a relatively large number of Kāi Tahu people. This project examines whether this constituted a Māori attempt to avoid or find a place within the economy, if this Māori presence shaped the port's evolution, and whether or not the port underwrote or rewrote Māori lifeways.

In exploring these questions, this study responds to calls for regional histories of Māori economies and their transnational linkages, and focuses very strongly on the interplay between economics, place, and community formation. In examining these factors and uncovering the way they sustained a robust Māori community, this project speaks to large historiographical questions in New Zealand. It also challenges the insular approach that tends to shape thinking and writing about the Māori past.

For more information on the project, see:

World History of Bluff website

Mothers' darlings: Children of indigenous women and World War Two American servicemen in New Zealand and South Pacific societies

Marsden Standard Project, 2010–2012

Like a human tsunami, World War II brought 2 million American servicemen to the South Pacific where they left a human legacy of some thousands of children, most born out of wedlock.

Histories of these indigenous, colonised mothers and their children are missing from standard accounts of New Zealand and other Pacific Islands. Our research project sought to recover this neglected human element of the massive demographic transformations that the war induced.

It interrogated the nature of wartime intimate encounters, colonial, institutional and racist barriers to stable relationships and marriage, the fate of children and grandchildren, and long term effects of mixed parentage.

The project deepens our understanding of New Zealand society and the origins of post-war Pacific immigrants as well as the constraints and opportunities that a world war presented to young people interacting across cultures in the South Pacific. More broadly, it contributes to global understandings of the demographic, familial and social consequences of World War II.

For more information about this research project, visit:

US Fathers of Pacific Children website

Migration, Ethnicity, and Insanity in New Zealand and Australia, 1860–1910

Marsden Standard Project, 2009–2011

Committal to a mental hospital was but one possible outcome of dysfunction, despair, and social and economic hardship experienced by foreign-born migrants in nineteenth-century Australasia. Yet comparative analysis addressing issues of migration, ethnicity, and insanity has yet to be attempted in the Australasian sphere.

This 3-year project examined the difficulties that migrants underwent in adjustment abroad through a focus on asylums for the insane in Dunedin, Auckland, and Melbourne between 1860 and 1910.

The project team comprised:

  • Professor Angela McCarthy (researching issues of migration, ethnicity, and heredity)
  • Dr Catharine Coleborne (researching issues of medicine, gender, and hybridity)
  • Elspeth Knewstubb (completed an MA at Otago exploring medicalisation, religion, and gender)
  • Maree Dawson (a PhD student at Waikato exploring puerperal insanity and congenital idiocy)
  • Christopher Burke (Research Assistant)

You can read more about the project on:

Migration, Ethnicity, and Insanity project website

The Idea of Peace in the Age of Crusades

Marsden Standard Project, 2008–2011

The European Middles Ages is widely known as the age of Crusades; it was a time of violence against Muslims and heretics. But it was also the period when Christianity, which provided the holistic framework for public and private life, preached peace as the ultimate goal of human life.

Previously, no attempt had been made to examine comprehensively the idea of peace in medieval political and ecclesiastical writings. Rarely have the origins of modern pacifism and of international law been traced back beyond Erasmus and Grotius respectively. This was a significant lacuna in our understanding, since early modern ideas of war and peace and the subsequent development of international law did not emerge in a vacuum; they can be seen as intellectual responses to medieval scholastic traditions in the new era of “the voyages of discovery”.

The Idea of Peace in the Age of Crusades aimed to highlight the rise of a pacifist impulse among late medieval political thinkers. This study explored the interplay between the Augustinian theology of peace and other intellectual traditions including Aristotelian political science, canon law and military science, thereby offering new insight into the complexity and diversity of the late medieval academic quest for peace.


'War and Peace in the Political Thought of Medieval Europe: The Case of John Wyclif', The Idea of Peace in the History of Political Thought, ed. Shin Chiba (Tokyo: Oufu Publishing, forthcoming) – in Japanese.

Colonial Intimacies, Intimate Colonialism: Interracial Marriage in New Zealand, 1769–1969

Marsden Fast Start Project, 2008–2009

This 2-year project looked at the extent of interracial relationships over 200-years of New Zealand history, and investigated the variety of relationships that emerged between Maori and Pakeha. The project also explored the implications of interracial marriage for families and communities.


In/visible sight: the mixed descent families of southern New Zealand (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2009).

Matters of the Heart: A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand (Auckland University Press, 2013).

A conquest of knowledge?: Knowledge and the colonisation of Murihiku

Marsden Standard Project, 2006–2009

From the late 18th century, the distinctive knowledge traditions of te ao Maori and Europe came into contact on the shores of Murihiku. This region south of the Waitaki River was incorporated into Australian, British and trans-Pacific trading networks and as a result its indigenous peoples, Kai Tahu Whanui, encountered a European world of Christianity, commerce and science, discovering the power of Bibles, money and maps.

Our project explored these cross-cultural engagements and their outcomes, examining the changing ways in which Kai Tahu Whanui and Pakeha settlers understood the landscapes, resources, communities and histories of Murihiku. Most importantly, it traced the role of knowledge production in securing and reinforcing Pakeha dominance as the colonisation of Murihiku proceeded.

Medicine and the Body Politic: An Approach to the Global History of Political Thought

Professor Takashi Shogimen

Marsden Fast Start Project, 2006–2008

Western political rhetoric has been full of organic metaphors and medical analogies: criminals are to be “amputated” from the community, and money circulates in the body politic just like the blood in the body natural.

No attempt has ever been made to explore the influence that the growing medical knowledge exercised on the past conceptualisations of the body politic. This is a significant gap in modern historical scholarship, especially when it is considered that some leading political thinkers including Marsilius of Padua and John Locke were physicians by training. But lessons from the body were not unique to Western Europe; some Japanese political thinkers were well versed in medicine and physicians commented on politics. Tokugawa Japan (1602-1867) witnessed the burgeoning of medicine inspired first by classical Chinese medicine and later by Western science, which, in turn, analogically influenced the Japanese conceptualisation of the body politic.

This study highlighted the hitherto overlooked impact of medical knowledge on the conceptions of the body politic and government in medieval and early modern Europe and Tokugawa Japan from an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural perspective, helping to establish a globally integrated historical narrative of political thought.


Medicine and the Body Politic in Medieval Europe (Turnhout: Brepols, under contract) Western Political Thought in Dialogue with Asia, eds. Takashi Shogimen and Cary J. Nederman (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).

Political Diagnostics: An Introduction (in Japanese), (Tokyo: Kodansha Publishers, 2006).

Treating the Body Politic: The Medical Metaphor of Political Rule in Late Medieval Europe and Tokugawa Japan, The Review of Politics 70 (2008): 77-104.

Imagining the Body Politic: Metaphor and Political Language in Late Medieval Europe and Tokugawa Japan, Western Political Thought in Dialogue with Asia, eds. Shogimen and Nederman, 279-300.

Head or Heart? Revisited: Physiology and Political Thought in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, History of Political Thought, 28 (2007): 208-229.

Medicine and the Body Politic in Marsilius of Padua'a Defensor pacis, in Cary J. Nederman and Gerson Moreno-Ria'o, eds., A Companion to Marsilius of Padua, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, forthcoming).

Scottish migration to New Zealand to 1950, and its contributions to the development of New Zealand society

Marsden Standard Project, 2005–2007

The Scottish Migration to New Zealand project led by Professor Tom Brooking and Dr Brad Patterson of Victoria University of Wellington, has produced over a hundred outputs, including refereed journal articles, book chapters and conference presentations.

The team of four major contributors (Brooking, Patterson, Dr Rosalind McClean and Associate-Professor Jim McAloon of Victoria University Wellington) along with Scottish historians Tom Devine, John Mackenzie and Marjory Harper and others affiliated with the project plan to publish a book based on the project.

A book of papers from the 2007 'Scots Abroad' conference edited by John MacKenzie and Brad Patterson was published by the University of Manchester Press and another set of papers from the 2008 'Nations, Diasporas, Identities' conference appeared in a special edition of the Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, published by the University of Aberdeen.

Empires of Grass: The reconstruction of the New Zealand grasslands 1850s–1950s

Marsden Standard Project, 2004–2006

The Empire of Grass team led by Tom Brooking and Eric Pawson, Professor of Geography at the University of Canterbury, completed a multi-authored book entitled Seeds of Empire: The Environmental Transformation of New Zealand. This book was published by I.B.Tauris (London) in 2010 as part of their new Environmental History series.

In addition to this book, this research project's team of 8 scholars based at the Universities of Otago, Canterbury and Lincoln, have produced over a hundred outputs in terms of refereed journal articles, book chapters and conference presentations.

Back to top