Historical interests

I’m interested in many things, but much of my work has focused on nineteenth-century New Zealand. I’m especially interested in social and cultural history – the ways in which ‘ordinary’ people experienced their lives in past times.

University of Otago history

My most recent big project was to research and write a new history of New Zealand’s oldest university, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019. I kept a separate blog about that project at University of Otago 1869-2019.

History of childbirth

I’m still interested in material which didn’t quite make it into my 2013 book on the history of childbirth. One spinoff publication was a paper on childbirth on nineteenth-century migrant voyages to New Zealand.

History of holidays and festivals

I’m interested in public holidays and festivals and the way they were adopted and adapted in colonial New Zealand. I explored holidays in nineteenth-century Otago for my PhD thesis and later examined some holidays – Christmas, New Year and Easter – throughout New Zealand.

Popular beliefs about the afterlife

This project is on the back burner and I suspect it won’t come to fruition for a few years yet. I’ve been collecting material – especially mourning cards – for some years now. I’m interested in exploring New Zealanders’ many and varied ideas about life after death (including its absence), and how these have changed over time. It reflects my wider interest in popular religion in New Zealand.

Railway station gardening competitions

This is an interest sparked by a family connection – my grandfather worked for the railways, and I have some photographs of the remarkable gardens he helped create around some of the stations where he worked. I wrote a conference paper on the history of these gardens in 2019 – you can now see it on this blog!

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