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Research into NZ youth history supported by prestigious award

Clocktower at night

Wednesday 10 February 2010 11:49am

Dr Chris Brickell has been named as the University of Otago’s latest Rowheath Trust Award and Carl Smith Medal recipient.

The Award and Medal recognise outstanding research performance of early-career staff at the University and are accompanied by a $5000 grant for personal scholarly development.

Dr Brickell, who is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Gender and Sociology, was selected for the honour from a strong field of applicants at Otago.

He will use the grant to travel to archives around the country to seek out material for a new research project on the largely hidden cultural history of adolescence and young adulthood in New Zealand. The project will cover a broad period of the country’s history, beginning in 1840 and ending in 1980.

His nomination for the Award and Medal notes that Dr Brickell has gained a growing national and international reputation for his research in the areas of gender, history and sociology of sexuality, and histories of consumer culture and social analysis.

He has published 10 book chapters and 20 papers in some of the most eminent international journals in his fields and has supervised a number of PhD and MA students.

In last year’s Montana Book Awards he won the award for best first non-fiction book for Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand.

Dr Brickell says that he hopes his youth history project will culminate in another scholarly book written in an accessible style. As with Mates and Lovers, photographs will be an integral component of the book.

“I’m finding this an immensely fascinating topic to be investigating. It’s often assumed that it was not until the 1950s that a significant generation gap emerged. However, my preliminary research shows that there is a sense in which a similar gap is noticeable right back into the nineteenth century.”

While the 50s saw the ‘bodgie’ and ‘widgie’ creating moral panics in milk bars, in 1920s New Zealand it was ‘flappers’ whose unbridled ways were shocking their elders. In the previous century, ‘mashers’, ‘dudes’ and ‘dudines’ were also offending adult sensibilities with their outlandish clothes and ways, he says.

“A common thread through the eras is that young people were being seen as both overly hedonistic and at the leading edge of social change,” he says.

His research involves pulling into focus and synthesising the youth-related aspects within published works and primary sources, both written and oral, and attempting to fill gaps in the record through uncovering further sources that have so far been largely overlooked.

These include diaries, letters, journals, scrapbooks and other writings that reveal young people’s experiences in their own words, he says.

From the official record, Dr Brickell says he has already found gems such as the New Zealand Truth newspaper lamenting in 1914 that “for far too many young women, the mystery and secret of sex are no mystery or secret at all.”

“While it is fascinating and fun to delve into these deeply disapproving adult writings, I also want to balance this with the other sources that reveal what young people in different eras of our history were thinking, and what their social experiences were.”

Dr Brickell says he is also keen to hear from people who may possess interesting writings or photos that record these aspects of young people’s lives during the period the project covers.

“Offers of any photocopies or scans of these kinds of items would be greatly appreciated.”

Dr Brickell will be presented with the Carl Smith medal when he gives a public lecture at the University later this year.

For more information, contact

Dr Chris Brickell
Gender Studies Senior Lecturer
Department of Anthropology, Gender and Sociology

Note to Editor

The Rowheath Trust was established in 1964 by Carl Smith - whose family lived in the Rowheath area of England - to support the University. Mr Smith received an honorary doctorate from Otago in 1968.

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