Testimonials: Current students
Exactly ten years after graduating from Otago University with a BA (Hons) in History and LLB, I returned to the University and to the Department of History and Art History as a PhD student. Despite the time that had passed, the Department still felt like a really welcoming place and our decision to relocate back to Dunedin from Melbourne, specifically so that I could study here, has been the right one for my young family. My supervisors (Barbara Brookes from History and Colin Gavaghan from Law) have been really supportive of my part-time study status and the interdisciplinary nature of my PhD topic (medico-legal responses towards infertility in New Zealand from 1950s). The Department also has a really supportive postgaduate culture and runs an excellent postgraduate seminar programme, which accommodates postgraduate students’ needs across all stages of their degrees.
When I enrolled as a PhD candidate I have to admit I really had no idea what I was taking on. I had never attempted a research project anywhere near this extensive, so I had no idea where to start or how I was going to manage it. For the first few months although I diligently came in to the office every day, ploughed through books and trawled online databases, I had no real sense of what I should be doing or how I was going to fill the coming years. Since then, I have seen quite a few of my fellow postgraduate students start their own projects so I know now that this is an almost universal feeling and it does (eventually) pass, but nevertheless at the time I certainly was daunted. Luckily, though, right from this very first crisis of confidence my supervisors have been there to guide me and provide support and advice. This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of postgraduate study: you have the opportunity to build relationships with academics you respect and admire, learning from them but also learning with them as you start to produce your own research and introduce your own ideas. Although at times the prospect of finishing the thesis still seems very daunting, I know that the staff and students in this department will do all they can to see me succeed, and that makes it much less overwhelming.
On completion of my undergraduate degree in Hispanic Studies my significant interest in material culture and the history of representation motivated me to pursue a Masters degree in Art History. During that study I particularly became interested in the hidden history of women professionals, as film stars or as artists who worked on the fringes of Indian film industry. I started searching for the right PhD programme that allowed a multidisciplinary research combining my training in Art History and my interest in film history. The Department of History and Art History with its dedicated programme on Visual Culture seemed just the right place for the kind of PhD project I wanted to pursue. Changing my field to follow an interest combining Art History and Visual Culture has offered interesting challenges, varied work and satisfying results so far. Apart from my supervisor, who has been a source of motivation right from the application process, I have benefited from the expertise of the in-house faculty by participating in departmental seminars. The Department also offers generous postgraduate funding for research trips and I have ample opportunities to collaborate with scholars in other universities.
As an international student, I find Otago University very hospitable and accommodating. Dunedin, as a university town, is culturally rich and diverse for which it recently received the title ‘City of Literature’ from UNESCO. I particularly enjoy being a member of the Dunedin Film Society, which specialises in screening rare films and helps in extending one’s understanding of film cultures from around the world.
Testimonials: Past students
Dr Dan Davy
In 2013, I completed my Ph.D. thesis in the History Department at the University of Otago. The project, entitled ‘Lost Tailings: Gold Rush Societies and Cultures in Colonial Otago, New Zealand, 1861-1911’, examined the formation and transformation of the Otago gold rushes at the junction of global flows and local environments. In 2012, I was hired as Visiting Assistant Professor at Ave Maria University, a small liberal arts college in Florida, USA, where I was appointed as Assistant Professor of History a year later.
I profited immensely from the rich and vibrant academic culture in the History Department at Otago. The intimacy of the department allowed me to draw from the knowledge and perspectives of multiple faculty members, which left an indelible mark on my research. Whether Angela McCarthy’s analysis of letters and diaries, Tony Ballantyne’s and Tom Brooking’s emphases on local and environmental histories, or John Stenhouse’s understanding of New Zealand historiography (to name but a few examples), the mentoring I received shaped my project into something far different – and far better – than I first anticipated when I enrolled in the PhD program. I do not believe I could have written this thesis at any other university.
These influences still animate my approaches to teaching and research, as I shift into new fields. At AMU, I teach courses on Britain and its Empire, the American West, Historiography, and a two-semester Western Civilization sequence required of all first year students. I am also revising my thesis for publication and completing preliminary research on a project studying Hollywood films in Britain at the end of Empire.
I would encourage any prospective student interested in adopting a deeper analysis and a broader scope to seriously consider studying History at Otago. Just be prepared to let the sources guide your research, and don’t expect to write a polished chapter in the first go.
Dr Erin Grant
Looking back at my three and a half years with the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago, I feel a great sense of pride and appreciation for the support and resources that, especially as an international student living on my own in a new country, were able to contribute to my success as a PhD candidate. The department and my colleagues played a significant role in my personal and intellectual growth, for which I am very grateful. I am also thankful for the continued relationship that I have with my supervisor, Angela McCarthy, who continues to provide me with opportunities and advice for publishing.
Since completing my PhD in 2013, I moved home to Canada, to Vancouver Island. My career has taken a turn away from the academy, and I now work as Senior Records Analyst for the Government of British Columbia in the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services. I am enjoying island life with my wonderful partner, sailing and exploring as often as we can in the most temperate part of Canada, with my family close by. Living the dream!
Dr Christine Whybrew
I completed my PhD in Art History at the University of Otago in 2010, studying the Burton Brothers photographic studio and commercial photography in colonial New Zealand. This followed a career in museums and art galleries, including as Manager of Gallery Thirty Three, Wanaka and Curator of Photography at Puke Ariki Museum and Library, New Plymouth. I enjoyed the opportunity to apply my professional experiences to academic study. As a distance PhD student, the Department of History and Art History and the Distance Library Service provided significant support to study effectively from home.
Since graduating, I have been employed as Heritage Advisor (Crown Land Disposal and Research) for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, and as a Historian for Underground Overground Archaeology. I am also an experienced professional writer with a broad record of publications in both popular and academic fields.