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Emeritus Professor Erik Olssen



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.

Major Publications

An Accidential Utopia? Social Mobility and the Foundations of an Egalitarian Society: 1880-1940, Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2011.

“Towards a Reassessment of W. F. Massey: One of New Zealand’s Greatest Prime Ministers (Arguably),” in A Great New Zealand Prime Minister? Reappraising William Ferguson Massey, edited by James Watson and Lachy Paterson. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2011, pp. 15-30.

With Clyde Griffen and Frank Jones, An Accidental Utopia? Social Mobility and the Foundations of an Egalitarian Society in Southern Dunedin, 1880-1940, (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2011).

The Fruition: New Zealand Fruitgrowers Federation, 1991 – 2005, (Wellington: New Zealand Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust, 2011).

An Accidental Experiment? The Social Bases of an Egalitarian Society, Hocken Lecture 2007, (Dunedin: Hocken Library, University of Otago, 2008).

Co-editor with Maureen Hickey, Class and Occupation: The New Zealand Reality, (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2005)

Co-editor with Miles Fairburn, Class, Gender and the Vote: Historical Perspectives from New Zealand, (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2005).

Dunedin: No Mean City

Then and Now and the Bit in the Middle