This image taken by Charles E. Wildbore circa 1907 shows the rural mail delivery that operated in the Pohangina Valley. The background of scorched, leafless tree trunks and limbs draws the eye of the environmental historian. Palmerston North City Library, ID 2007N_Poh2_RTL_0852

This image taken by Charles E. Wildbore circa 1907 shows the rural mail delivery that operated in the Pohangina Valley. It is the background of scorched, leafless tree trunks and limbs that draws the eye of the environmental historian, rather than the mail cart or people in the foreground. Palmerston North City Library, ID 2007N_Poh2_RTL_0852

Why should we study New Zealand’s environmental history? and how is it different from “conventional” history?

These are the questions that Paul Star asks in his essay entitled Environmental history and New Zealand history, first written in 2008, but recently republished on Environment and Nature in New Zealand.

Star offers seven compelling reasons why it is important. And of course, the key difference between environmental history and history is that while people are the central players in conventional history, the relationship between people and the environment is the focus in environmental history. (more…)

Mission farm

Mission farm The Church Missionary Society mission set up at Waimate, in the inland Bay of Islands, in 1830, included a large farm with sheep, cattle, horses, gardens and orchards. Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: PUBL-0144-1-330 Wood engraving by Cyprian Bridge Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The special March issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand contains seven articles – all by graduates of Otago University’s history department (see also: In search of Arcadia?). As the editor’s introduction states, these essays represent the most concentrated research effort in relation to environmental history of any history department in the country, and are well worth a read.

(more…)

Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_The_Arcadian_or_Pastoral_State_1836

Thomas Cole’s The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1834

A series of articles were recently published on Environment and Nature in New Zealand, all drawn from essays written between 1989 and 2000 by students in history at the University of Otago. 

A prominent theme in the essays covering the colonial period is the disconnect between the expectations of immigrants and the reality of what they found, particularly in respect to the environment. (more…)

Hiwinui farmscape JPG

“Rolling hill country” of the Manawatu, a landscape created by fire. Photo: C. Knight

This article, published in the lastest issue of the Journal of New Zealand Studies, examines the role of fire in the opening up of bush country in the region of Manawatu for pastoral farming. Within only a few decades, bush burns had transformed a densely forested environment into one of verdant pasture – leaving only the charred stumps and limbs of incinerated trees as evidence of the dense, impenetrable forest that once harboured moa and other ancient forest creatures. (more…)

Manawatu River

Manawatu River, ca 1870. Note shacks on flanks of the river. Photograph taken by William James Harding 1826-1899. Ref: 1/1-000339-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

I have been dipping into my recently acquired copy of Making a New Land, the revised edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (see: Environmental histories of New Zealand – Making a New Land). In particular, the conclusion really resonates with me:

Environmental history can and should be more than history with nature added in. (more…)

A skimming station on the corner of Roberts’s Line and the Bunnythorpe-Kairanga Road, Manawatu. This photograph shows the long line of carts which was a typical sight at a skimming station in the early years of that century. Source: Palmerston North City Library.

Reading a 1977 paper reviewing farming in the Manawatu, by soil scientist J. Cowie and farming advisor W. Osborn, I was interested to read the following passage:

Dairy farming no longer predominates [in the Manawatu] as it has lost a great number of units in recent years. Twenty-six small dairy companies existed in the billycan and horse and cart days. (more…)

Sofia and biro

The beautiful Sofia, stretching her wings on the red biro from which she was suspended. She was transferred to this Asian maple tree on the morning of her emergence after the chrysalis became noticeably darker.

Well, readers will be pleased to know that Sofia emerged from her chrysalis, “small but perfectly formed”, right on cue – ten days after she disappeared into her chrysalis (see: Little wonders (of nature) and Nature’s capacity to surprise). (more…)

IMG_3810Manuka, along with its indigenous cousin, kanuka, have long been referred to as “scrub” by New Zealanders. “Scrub” is a term which infers something diminutive, including small trees or shrubs, and has a nuance of inferiority. As one of the first species to recolonise an area of cleared bush, manuka has long been viewed with loathing by farmers – its vigour and ability to quickly regenerate made it a cursed “weed”.

But, in our back garden, with its fine needle-like leaves, and covered in a shower of delicate, five-petaled flowers and pearl-like buds, it is reminiscent of snow on a small pine tree. In my mind, it is more than worthy of being New Zealand’s answer to the Christmas tree.

Nauru IslandI was flabbergasted when I found out about this piece of New Zealand’s history. I don’t know what shocked me more: our government’s part in destroying an island and a people’s economy and way of life, or the fact that this history is so little known by  New Zealanders.

New Zealand, along with Britain and Australia, gained the Pacific island of Nauru and its rich phosphate reserves as part of the spoils of the First World War. (more…)

Huntly mapThe latest issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand is now out, and can be downloaded here.

This issue is replete with interesting articles and reviews:

Jo Whittle, ‘Into the backyard: Huntly Power Station and the history of environmentalism in New Zealand’.

Ian Tyrrell, ‘Review Essay: Bernhard Gissibl, Sabine Höhler and Patrick Kupper (editors), Civilizing Nature: National Parks in Global Historical Perspective’. (more…)

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