New Book ‘A Bloody Difficult Subject’: Ruth Ross, te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Making of History by Professor Bain Attwood.

This month Auckland University Press is pleased to publishing ‘A Bloody Difficult Subject’: Ruth Ross, te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Making of History by Professor Bain Attwood.

This book is a sophisticated, multi-faceted history of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi and its place in New Zealand society. It traces the landmark work of Ruth Ross (a relatively unknown public historian) in analysing the two treaty texts, and explores the influence that law and politics has had on shaping our understanding of te Tiriti. It also examines both the private and public life of history.

One historian’s research and the transformation of te Tiriti in New Zealand life.

Ruth Ross is hardly a household name, yet most New Zealanders today owe the way they understand the Treaty of Waitangi — or te Tiriti o Waitangi as Ross called it — to this remarkable woman’s path-breaking historical research.

Taking us on a journey from small university classes and a lively government department in the nation’s war-time capital to an economically poor but culturally rich Māori community in the far north, and from tiny schools and cloistered university offices to parliamentary committees and a legal tribunal, Attwood enables us to grasp how and why the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand law, politics, society and culture has been transformed in the last seven decades.

A frank and moving meditation on the making of history and its advantages and disadvantages for life in a democratic society, A Bloody Difficult Subject is a surprising story full of unforeseen circumstances, unexpected twists, unlikely turns and unanticipated outcomes.


Bain Attwood is a professor of history at Monash University in Melbourne. He is the author of several books, including Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History (Allen & Unwin, 2005), Possession: Batman’s Treaty and the Matter of History (Melbourne University Press, 2009) and Empire and the Making of Native Title (Cambridge University Press, 2020). A graduate of universities on both sides of the Tasman, he has held fellowships at the Australian National University and Cambridge University and a visiting professorship at Harvard University. Empire and the Making of Native Title was the joint winner of the New Zealand Historical Association’s 2021 W.H. Oliver Prize for the best book on any aspect of New Zealand history, and was shortlisted for the 2022 Ernest Scott Prize for the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or the history of colonisation.