‘New Zealand’s Rivers’ is impressive for its scope, clarity, poignancy and power

Rivers coverIt is a daunting to have your work reviewed by someone as well respected in the field of environmental history as Graeme Wynn, Professor Emeritus in Geography, University of British Columbia. A relief to find it is a positive review, and an very nice indeed to read his assessment that “Catherine Knight is set fair to take her place among the country’s leading environmental historians”.

Professor Graeme Wynn’s review of New Zealand’s Rivers appears in December’s Landfall Review Online (published by University of Otago), and can be read in full here. The following is an excerpt:

“New Zealand Rivers is impressive for its scope, clarity, poignancy and power. Historical synthesis is never easy. It requires difficult decisions (about what and how much to include) and skilful organisation. Success depends upon a lucid sense of purpose (or interpretive stance) and unflinching assessments of the significance (or otherwise) that particular pieces of information hold for the story at hand. Even to contemplate an account on the scale of New Zealand Rivers is to risk a peculiarly academic variant of the so-called ‘New Zealand death’: drowning in a flood of detail. Fortunately, Knight proves herself a deft writer and judicious arbiter of evidence. She has crafted a compelling account that transcends countless instances of environmental degradation and layers of localised history to find hope for the future: ‘New Zealanders are better equipped now than ever before to engage in informed debate about our role as stewards of our waterways’. At least some of the credit for this is due New Zealand’s Rivers.”

In his review, Professor Wynn refers to New Zealand historian Charles Dawson, who in his doctoral dissertation suggested that writing the histories of rivers alerts us “to what little remains”, and sharpens our sense of “what might remain”. Further, it encourages us to “act with care and passion” for the benefit of generations to come.

This is so true (about all environmental history) and has been a motivating force underpinning my writing, though I have never put it so eloquently (or so consciously) myself. And, as Dawson and Professor Wynn put it: “… neither rivers nor those who write about them hand out solutions: they bestow responsibilities. Our task … [is] to unleash the many meanings they carry and to (re)assert the importance of myth, meaning and time in debates about the management and use of precious waters.”

So true.

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