Leg 1

Completed leg 1 of travel to New Zealand: Fargo > Denver > San Francisco > Auckland > Christchurch. Writing now from DIA. We never get away clean; I have a backpack of work along, including a dozen proposals I agreed to review for a major granting agency. My expectation is to be able to discard the printed proposals in Auckland, having completed and uploaded the reviews, and thus lighten my pack.

It is reasonable to ask why I accept this sort of professional obligation and carry it with me instead of just enjoying our travels. The usual answers come readily: you participate in peer review, often burdensome, as dues for membership in the academy. You want to be a player, get support for your own research, achieve stature in the profession, then you have to do your part. Peer review, for all its blemishes, keeps the enterprise reputable.

While executing this duty faithfully, I feel a necessity to do it well, with integrity, and to speak for the process. Neoliberal politics and ideological imperatives invade ever more spheres of the academy. Decisions, appointments, and rewards often rest not on teaching or learning or scholarship or discovery but on other bases. The proponents of disturbance do not like cultures and structures grounded in values they do not recognize.

Yet here I am, reading and assessing, sworn to uphold the values of teaching and learning and scholarship and discovery. And I declare, these values are real and good, and there are spheres where they survive and govern. Let us respect and defend them.


Come Tuesday Dr. Kelley & I catch a flight to New Zealand, returning for the first time since the onset of COVID. Despite the difficulties of getting away, we are thrilled to be going. We realize how important our near-annual expeditions to Aotearoa had become to us, personally and professionally.

At the heart of this is a long-term research enterprise, “Learning from the Lindis.” This is an exercise in regionalism that focuses on a district of Central Otago, where the Lindis River enters the Clutha. When I first visited the Lindis in 1991, it was a pastoral place dominated by sheep culture. Today it is known more for its fine wines. Suzzanne and I have gone deep into the district in a manner by which we hope to define the practice of this genre of history. A big ambition in a rather small, beautiful place.

Dr. K in Lindis Pass

On arrival in Christchurch we will pick up a hire car and drive immediately to the Lindis by way of the Mackenzie and Lindis Pass, then settle into Cromwell a few days, lodging at a modest and comfortable motel that suits us well. I’ll meet my course in the history of the Great Plains from there via Zoom, and from Cromwell we will venture into the countryside. We need to update, because the pace of change in this part of the world is fast. We hope to attend some community events, identify new local sources, and gather intelligence from knowledgable residents. Come next April we will write from this expedition and present to the World Social Science Association.

From Cromwell we return to Christchurch for the conference of the New Zealand Historical Association, where we are to prersent a paper (which we are only now writing). Its title is “On the Ground: Doing Regional History in Far-Flung Places.” Here is the abstract.

“The senior author of this proposal, having pursued research in the grasslands of North America for a half-century and in the New Zealand high country for three decades, learned early in the process that the practice of regional history in the two locales differed profoundly. A memorable dialog with Canterbury‚Äôs W. J. Gardner clarified the distinction for him, and he has been sorting it out ever since, with a commitment to doing history on the ground, at the grassroots, engaging the details of agricultural practice and environmental relationships. Throughout the current century the junior author, joining a line of research specific to the Lindis district of Central Otago, has transformed its practice by shifting focus to narrative culture, especially that propagated by the women of the district, as the basis of region. At the same time both authors have assumed leadership roles in the definition of region at home, on the Great Plains, the senior author through extensive research and writing and the direction of graduate work, the junior author through the founding of a university press dedicated to the proposition of giving voice to the prairies. They propose a paper reflecting on the practice and posture incumbent on scholars who wish to make a difference, to provide a constructive, grounded history to people of a particular place, whether in America or in Aotearoa.”

Not really an abstract, it’s the proposal we made, which was accepted. Yesterday morning over coffee we hashed it over, the conversation got pretty freewheeling, and now who knows where this paper will go. Well, we have a pretty good idea, and we will do what is in the proposal, but we may do it in peculiar fashion. Stay tuned.

Another sort of return: this blog, like so many other things during COVID, went dark for quite a while. This expedition to New Zealand seems like the inspiration and opportunity to bring it back to life, to make it the journal of our travel and work. What say you, Dr. K?