Regional Round-up: News from Manatū Taonga / Ministry for Culture & Heritage

Contributed by David Green & Nancy Swarbrick.

Most members of the History Group are involved in projects related to the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War. We produced two significant books in late 2013. Damien Fenton collaborated with Caroline Lord, Gavin McLean and Tim Shoebridge on the lavishly illustrated New Zealand and the First World War, 1914– 1919, published by Penguin and a non-fiction finalist in the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Gavin McLean’s The White Ships: New Zealand’s First World War Hospital Ships was published by the New Zealand Ship & Marine Society.

Both these books form part of the Centenary History of the First World War, a partnership between Manatū Taonga / Ministry for Culture & Heritage, the New Zealand Defence Force, Massey University, and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association. Another volume in this series is Imelda Bargas and Tim Shoebridge’s New Zealand’s First World War Heritage Sites, which will be published by ExIsle in April 2015. In addition, Monty Soutar is working on a history of Māori involvement in the First World War, Ian McGibbon on a history of the Western Front, and Gavin McLean on New Zealand’s war at sea.

History Group historians are working closely with the government’s First World War Centenary Programme Office (, which is based in the Ministry. Tim Shoebridge is researching the role of the public service in the First World War; David Green is focusing on the contribution of the Post and Telegraph Department; Steve Watters is helping set up a First World War Commemorative Exhibition in the former Dominion Museum building; and Ian McGibbon has been on the ground at Gallipoli, working on a site survey with Turkish and Australian historians and archaeologists. Revised editions of Ian’s guidebooks to New Zealand-related sites at Gallipoli and on the Western Front are to be published by Penguin in the next few months. Several historians are working on First World War heritage trails at home and overseas, and on war-related features for the recently revamped NZHistory website (

In yet other war-related projects, Gavin McLean is collaborating with Harry Ricketts of Victoria University of Wellington on the Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing, and Claire Hall’s No Front Line: Inside Stories of New Zealand’s Vietnam War was published by Penguin in August. This book is based on oral history interviews conducted with Vietnam veterans as part of a memorandum of understanding between veterans’ groups and the Crown.

A few of us have so far avoided being pressed into military service. Alison Parr is producing a book based on an oral history project that explores the social history of Christchurch and its suburbs prior to the Canterbury earthquakes. Chief Historian Neill Atkinson and Project Manager Murray Hemi are developing a major oral history and digital project about the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.

On 22 October 2014 the final theme for Te Ara: the Encyclopedia of New Zealand will be officially launched. Entitled ‘Creative and Intellectual Life’, the theme contains 103 entries on literature and scholarship, music, visual and performing arts, film, and cultural institutions. Its launch marks the conclusion of the ‘first build’ of Te Ara, the retirement of project leader Jock Phillips, and the departure of some long-serving staff including Janine Faulknor and Ross Somerville.

The Te Ara project, which began in 2002, has produced nearly 1,000 richly illustrated entries on every aspect of New Zealand life. With the incorporation of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand, the website now contains the largest body of authoritative reference material about this country on the web. It has proved highly successful, winning numerous awards, and attracts well over 4 million visitors each year.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has signalled its commitment to the ongoing maintenance and development of Te Ara by appointing five current staff on temporary contracts to continue the work. From November, Nancy Swarbrick will have oversight of the project, and Melanie Lovell-Smith, Kerryn Pollock, Emily Tutaki and Caren Wilton will work on various aspects of the content. Basil Keane will have responsibility for the Maori content.