Keith Sinclair and the History of New Zealand
The second required text of the course is Keith
Sinclairís History of New Zealand. Sinclair, like Clark, was a
nation-maker, and of the same generation as Clark.
Sinclair, too, was concerned with extricating his country from its colonial
condition and asserting nationhood through History.
1922-1993. Born and raised in Auckland;
spent most of his academic life on the faculty of the University of Auckland.
Founding editor of the New Zealand Journal of History. A poet whose
work is found in standard anthologies of New Zealand poetry.
In both Literature and History,
an ardent nationalist who believed that New Zealand should shed its
colonial skin and cultivate an independent identity.
says, Sinclair was instrumental in "destroying
the pervasive belief in New
Zealand's inferiority, which crippled so
many of this country's intellectuals during his youth."
W.H. Oliver says, "He made
New Zealand History."
The Origins of the Maori Wars. Wellington:
New Zealand University Press, 1957.
A History of New Zealand. Auckland: Pelican, 1959.
4th Rev. Ed., 1991.
Reeves: New Zealand
Clarendon Press, 1965.
Walter Nash. Auckland: Auckland
University Press, 1976.
A Destiny Apart: New Zealand's
Search for a National Identity. Wellington:
Allen & Unwin, 1986.
Kinds of Peace: Maori People
After the Wars, 1870-85. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1991.
quotes from Sinclair's autobiography, Halfway Round the Harbour: An Autobiography
(Auckland: Penguin Books, 1993)
From the author blurb: "Born in Auckland
in 1922, he decided at an early age that he was a writer and a New Zealand
RE Bill Oliver's history of New
Zealand: "His book was not more popular than mine, but had a very
different emphasis, stressing British origins, whereas I dwelt upon
resemblances between New Zealand, Australia and the United States."
RE the English failure to root in
NZ: "The emptiness of the landscape was a recurrent theme in the
writings of late nineteenth-century poets, almost all of them South
Islanders. . . . I referred to these writers as South Island Englishmen and
to their doctrines as the 'no monuments on our hills' school of poetry."
RE the lack of respect for New Zealand history: "It was difficult,
for many years, to get New
Zealand history taken seriously: did we
have one? it was asked."
RE the human frailties of
historians: "I spent more time thinking about sex than about
RE the human condition:
"It's a bugger being old."
Periodization of Political History
"In general," says
Keith Sinclair, "New
Zealand political history has been
unusually stable." He offers a straightforward periodization
along these lines.
Span of the
of the Times
1870 . . . until 1891"
"ruled by an oligarchy chiefly representative of
the pastoralists and speculators"
"For a further
twenty-one years, until 1912"
"the Liberal Party, chiefly backed by the small
farmers and unionists, was supreme"
intervening twenty-three years from 1912 to 1935"
"there was an unstable three-party system . . .
Reform Party . . . predominant, but its authority was precarious"
fourteen years, from 1935 to 1949"
"the Labour Party held
"the National Party has been in office for all but
Some Study Questions from Sinclairís History of New Zealand
How does Sinclair integrate Maori history into the
national history of New Zealand? What stories or elements are included, with
what prominence, and for what purpose?
How well did the founding visions of Edmund Gibbon
Wakefield play out? What were they? Did New Zealand develop as planned?
What has been the historical role of the state in New
Zealand history? How does state initiative and action characterize life in
How does Sinclair define New Zealandís national identity?
(See the epilogue, and reflect back on the content of the book.)
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