Conference 2019 – Kanohi-ki-te-Kanohi: Histories for our Time

Kia hiwa rā! Kia hiwa rā!

The New Zealand Historical Association welcomes you to our biennial conference, to be held at Victoria University of Wellington Te Whare Wananga o Te Ūpoko o Te Ika a Māui, from the 27th to the 30th of November, 2019.

Meetings, encounters, exchanges, kisses, words, conversations, attractions, glares, confrontations, curiosities: how have people come face to face? What histories are made in these moments? What happens when historians face their subjects?

Dr Wayne Ngata stated: ‘Kanohi ki te kanohi’ or ‘face-to-face’ communication is a facet of human behaviour. It allows one to not only see who or what one is communicating with, but also to hear, feel, and smell the relationship.

We include below abstracts from our three keynotes, Associate Professor Alice Te Punga Somerville, Associate Professor Kate Hill, and Associate Professor Susan Hill:

Alice Te Punga Somerville: While preparing for an essay I wrote as a masters student, I read Te Rangikaheke’s manuscripts related to Maui. I still recall being intrigued that – at least in the version I was reading – they seemed to be in the wrong order: their sequence didn’t take the structure that felt familiar. The temptation when things are out of order, of course, is to ‘correct’ them – to put them back in the right place. We should begin with a baby in a topknot, and work our way through various episodes until a crushing between legs. In my current work on published Indigenous texts 1900-1975, I often hear myself describing my work as a challenge to the idea that Indigenous people started writing in the 1970s and, although this is a helpful shorthand for what I’m up to at the moment and an accurate account of an initial impulse behind the project, it still relies on a corrective view of scholarship, in which I seek to throw out the wrong, broken, history and provide a better one.   

In this talk I will explore some of the ways that histories can be “out of order:” broken; in the wrong sequence; and interrupting the accepted rules. Rather than triumphantly or saviourishly posing ways we can ‘fix’ them, by adding more things, or by putting them back in the right place, however, I will consider the kinds of disordered and disorderly histories that become visible when sitting in a specific place. Responding to the invitation of the conference theme, and because of who I am, I will think about some of the histories that seem ‘out of order’ when you meet them on an island at the centre of Wellington harbour.

Kate Hill: Museums are an important arena for encounters with a specific group of people – people from the past – but this has been a relatively recent development. From the late nineteenth century onwards, museums moved from a detached presentation of exhibits to facilitate ‘objective’ knowledge and education, towards a focus instead on using visitors’ imagination, emotion and memory to stage these encounters.

In this paper I will explore how and why museums, particularly museums developing a new genre of social history, moved from being repositories for study and knowledge to actively encouraging an emotional and personal engagement with the past. In doing so, these museums not only privileged different aspects of history, they also developed new styles of display which invited imagination and created ‘authentic’ experiences. With its roots in Scandinavia and the commercial heritage experiences of the international exhibitions, this way of encountering the past took off quickly in the UK and the US during the inter-war period, and the British museums framed themselves as resources for the whole of the British Empire.

Such developments reflect the complex ways in which modern identities were developing in the twentieth century. In privileging memory and emotion, they asserted that in a mobile world, identity was about roots. Roots-based identities were exclusive, but portable. The Highland Folk Museum, for example, explicitly intended to allow those with Highland roots throughout the British Empire access to their own heritage, whereas at the Cambridge and County Folk Museum, the approach was used to ‘root’ the otherwise rootless.

The key feature of this new genre of social history and its development within museums, was the way they made encountering the past pleasurable, and thus their shaping of identities was obscured, and made more powerful than in museums with objective and classificatory approaches; this was, in Raphael Samuel’s phrasing, history ‘creeping in sideways’. The paper will explore the implications of this new role for museums in identity formation, considering how it may have played out in class, gender and racial identities.

Susan Hill: In May 2019, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially exonerated the late Nehiyawak Chief Poundmaker. Poundmaker was convicted of treason in 1885 due to his leadership in the Indigenous resistance movement referred to by Canadians as the Northwest Rebellion. Canada laid formal and informal charges of treason against several Indigenous leaders prior to and during the first five decades of Canadian Confederation. This paper juxtaposes the Canadian exoneration of Poundmaker and the exoneration movement for the late Haudenosaunee/Cayuga Chief Deskaheh as symbols of Canadian-Indigenous reconciliation. It poses questions around the re-counting of history as a tool of both Indigenous Nation (re)building and contemporary state control over Indigenous peoples. 

Me hui kanohi ki te kanohi kia rongo i te mauri o te tangata