Manawatu has an active and engaged historical community. Groups interested and involved in Manawatu history met on Sunday 19 June at a meeting convened by the Palmerston North Heritage. They included: Archives Central; Palmerston North City Library Heritage Team; Palmerston North Branch NZ Society of Genealogists; Feilding Branch NZ Society of Genealogists; Fielding and Districts Community Archive (FDCA); Marton and Districts Historical Society; Historic Places Manawatu Horowhenua; Manawatu Journal of History; U3A History Group; Massey University History Programme; and the Palmerston North History Project. Their reports indicated a healthy interest in local, family histories, and object histories. Wooden Toys of Yesteryear, an exhibition organised by FDCA in association with the Coach House Museum, proved very successful and they plan to host an exhibition on metal toys at the end of this year. FDCA and the Coach House Museum share a building and attract considerable attention from the local community.
A number of digitisation projects are underway. Archives Central are scanning early rare books dating back to the 1870s for the Rangitikei District and hope to have these online by the end of 2016. A considerable number of maps and district plans have also been scanned, and can be viewed here. Palmerston North local history now has a new digital platform. On 10 June, the Palmerston North City Library, supported by the Palmerston North City Council, launched a new local history digital archive, Manawatu Heritage. This site contains the material formerly on the Pataka Ipurangi site as well as books, photo albums and postcards. It is an interactive site with people able to both search and contribute content. At present, there are approximately 12,000 items on the site.
The launch of this site coincides with a recently initiated collaborative project on a new history of Palmerston North. With the support of the Palmerston North Heritage Trust, Massey University’s W. H. Oliver Humanities Research Academy, and the Palmerston North City Council, work has commenced on a book scheduled for publication in 2019. The book’s three editors are all staff from Massey University’s history programme: Emeritus Professor Margaret Tennant, Associate Professor Kerry Taylor and Dr Geoff Watson. This will be a collaboration between academic and community historians. It takes a thematic approach over nine chapters, the writing of which will be coordinated by eight lead authors who will, in turn, work with community historians. Professor Mike Roche is the lead author of an environmental overview ‘City; Nature and Place’; Dr Peter Meihana is writing about Tangata Whenua; Emeritus Professor Russell Poole traces the emergence of the place in ‘An Expanding City; Associate-Professor James Watson is writing on Political activity; Kerry Taylor will focus on work and class cultures; Helen Dollery is writing about the contribution of Organisations to civic culture; Margaret Tennant is contributing chapters on ‘A Divided City’ – local and national issues which have caused tension among Palmerstonians – and ‘Knowledge City’, which focuses on the prominent developmental role of educational institutions; and Geoff Watson is writing a chapter on sport and leisure. A meeting of local historians, held in December 2015 attracted a good turnout of interested contributors.
Massey University’s history programme is also contributing to history in the wider community. It will host a Year 13 seminar on the Scholarship topic ‘Turning Points in History’ on Friday August 12 in Palmerston North and September 1 in Auckland. At the Palmerston North Seminar, Professors Michael Belgrave, Peter Lineham and Glyn Harper will talk on 1840, 1918 and 1945 respectively in connection to this topic. These seminars attract students from throughout the Central North Island and have proven an effective means of engaging with school students.
The development of Massey University Press (MUP), under the leadership of Nicola Legat, has provided a further boost as a quality publisher of historical works. In April it published its first major work Experience of a Lifetime: People, Personalities and Leaders in the First World War, edited by David Littlewood, James Watson and John Crawford. MUP will also publish Michael Belgrave’s history of Massey University.
Under the leadership of Associate-Professor Kirsty Carpenter and Gillian Tasker from Whanganui’s Alexander Library, Massey University’s W.H. Oliver Humanities Research Academy and the Whanganui District Council have run another very successful seminar series. Speakers included recent MA Students Monica Webb and Moyra Cooke, who spoke about Anna Stout and John Bryce respectively and Dr Danny Keenan, who spoke on his recent biography of Te Whiti, Te Whiti o Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka.
As part of its mission to promote and advocate for local history among the wider community, the Palmerston North Heritage Trust has recently instigated awards recognising significant contributors to local history and outstanding publications. In 2015 the late Merv Hancock, Dorothy Pilkington and Margaret Tate were the inaugural recipients of these awards and Catherine Knight was awarded the Palmerston North Heritage Trust Prize for best book on local history for Ravaged Beauty: An Environmental History of the Manawatu.
At the June 2016 meeting of local history groups, Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith, who has been very supportive of local history initiatives, presented Cushla Scrivens and Lucy Marsden with awards recognising their achievements in local history. Cushla Scrivens was the inaugural editor of the Manawatu Journal of History between 2005 and 2015. Under her editorship the journal gained a reputation for high-quality articles and production values. Lucy Marsden was recognised for her lifelong contribution to Palmerston North’s history, including her vital role in archiving Massey University’s history during her long tenure as Massey University’s archivist. In this role, she recorded a number of oral history interviews with senior staff, and published on the history of Massey University including Floreat Agricultura: A history of agriculture and horticulture at Massey University, 1927-2002, co-written with Lesley Courtney and Michael Bartleet. The 2014 Manawatu Journal of History: Massey Commemorative Issue featured a compilation of her articles on the history of Massey University.