Short-lists announced for NZHA book prizes

NZHA is grateful to Jock Phillips and Tom Brooking who took on the large task of judging this year’s History book prizes. The W. H. Oliver Prize is awarded biennially to the best book on any aspect of New Zealand history published. The Best First Book Prize is a new prize, being offered for the first time. It will be awarded to the best first book by an author on any aspect of New Zealand history. The short list for each of these prizes is given below, and the winners will be announced at the NZHA conference dinner on Thursday 30 November. The prizes will next be offered in 2019.

Both judges agree that there was a very high standard of entries across a very diverse range of subjects. This is what the former Chief Historian and the grandson of a bookseller had to say:

We were both particularly impressed by the many examples of excellent book production and we would like to salute New Zealand’s fine publishers. Many books were wonderful to look at and hold even if some of the larger ones are more suited to reading in the lounge, or on a table, than in bed. Indeed, we cannot imagine that better looking books are being produced anywhere else on the planet. The use of illustrations is generally superb. Generating a short list from such a high calibre field has been difficult but what appears below represents a genuine consensus of the kind that Bill Oliver argued dominated New Zealand politics for quite long periods of our history. We have sought to recognise books which present a coherent argument and make a genuinely new contribution to our understanding of New Zealand’s history.

NZHA First Book Prize Short List
Stephen Deed, Unearthly Landscapes: New Zealand’s early cemeteries, churchyards and urupā. Otago University Press
Stephen Deed takes the reader on a fascinating tour of New Zealand’s/Aotearoa’s ‘Cities of the Dead’. As a history of policy about cemeteries the book is outstanding and is an essential first step for anyone wishing to understand the history of burials in New Zealand. This pioneering work should persuade New Zealand historians to pay more attention to the site of one of the most important encounters we can have with our past and help us unpick what is distinctive and what is not about the New Zealand way of death.

Ngarino Ellis, A Whakapapa of tradition: One Hundred years of Ngāti Porou carving, 1830-1930 Auckland University Press
Anyone who has had the privilege of travelling around the Ngāti Porou rohe will have vivid memories of the beautifully kept marae and stunning churches like St Mary’s at Tikitiki. This visually stunning book reveals that carving inside those buildings are extraordinarily intricate and beautiful. This gem of a book positions the history of carving within the social history of Ngāti Porou. It is an important contribution to the history of Ngāti Porou, Māori and New Zealand art.

Miranda Johnson, This Land is our History: Indigeneity, Law and the Settler State. Oxford University Press
This book is an excellent foray into the field of intelligent analytic study of history since the mid 1960s.  The way indigenous people asserted their rights to the land within different political structures, historical traditions and legal systems is portrayed expertly and the study suggests that New Zealand’s record is not so much better as different. This up-to-date book will have an historiographical impact because as the author concludes it tells ‘a rare story of the disempowered changing the status quo’.

W H Oliver Prize Short List
Judith A Bennett and Angela Wanhalla, Mothers’ Darlings of the South Pacific Otago University Press
There has been almost no work done on the effect of US servicemen in the South Pacific, let alone the long-term impact of their fathering children, before the appearance of this emotional-engaging work. Brave and highly worthwhile, this book will have considerable appeal to anyone interested in the impacts of war and the very human connections between New Zealand, Pacific Island communities and the USA.

Barbara Brookes, A History of New Zealand Women.  Bridget Williams Books
This book is something of a tour de force that could only be written by a scholar who has worked for a long time on such a big topic. The detail of women’s lives is fresh and new, amplified by the many evocative photos and other visual images such as paintings and posters. W H Oliver, long a champion of the need to pay more attention to women’s multifaceted roles in the development of New Zealand history, would have thoroughly approved of this big, engaging book that will long continue to reach a wide readership.

Vincent O’Malley, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000.
No-one has described and analysed the mistreatment of Tainui more powerfully than O’Malley has in this book. It has already had a profound public impact and will become a standard reference work for historians for a long time. It will also serve as a very useful teaching resource, especially now that the New Zealand Wars are becoming an important part of the New Zealand history curriculum in schools.

Ben Schrader, The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920
Ben Schrader’s The Big Smoke is a very important book that makes a major contribution to our social, cultural and environmental history. This handsome book contains some really valuable insights and much of the content is strikingly original, such as the sections on city crowds, street life, and on Māori in the city – human examples that really bring the city to life. A significant book in which Schrader does the subject due justice.