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Removing Black Singlet “Straightjacket” On History

Media release
1 July 2009

Removing Black Singlet “Straightjacket” On Our History

A fresh take on how New Zealand’s past has been interpreted will be offered at this year’s Winter Lectures at The University of Auckland (21 July to 25 August).

The six lectures on “Writing New Zealand history in the twenty-first century” feature five university historians and one from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

They will look at how our history has been written and understood, and suggest how it might be rewritten in the future. In particular they will explore how far the cultural nationalism identified in twentieth-century histories was a misleading “construct”, says Associate Professor Caroline Daley of The University of Auckland’s History Department who is organising the series.

In the first lecture, entitled “Taking off the black singlet”, she will argue that the black singlet — rural, masculine, and hard-wearing, the woollen equivalent of number eight fencing wire — has “straightjacketed” the writing of our history. “Thankfully, a new generation of historians are delving into the wardrobe of the past and finding that satin and sparkles were part of the country's story, alongside boiled wool and nightshirts made from sugar sacks."

The other lectures will offer original insights into the role of Empire, the impact of local history (“What happens if we take Gore seriously?”), the so-called Māori “renaissance”, nostalgia for the past, and the New Zealand experience of war.

It will be argued that “the rebranding of old stuff as trendy and desirable” demonstrates widespread interest in our history. Moreover professional historians cannot ignore the popularity of events such as art deco weekends and medieval jousting tournaments.

The notion that fighting for King and country helped transform New Zealand “from dutiful daughter of Empire to independent nation” will come in for serious scrutiny.

The lectures will reveal major aspects of our history in a new and sometimes provocative light, says Dr Daley. “For anyone interested in how our past has made us what we are today this will be a fascinating series.”

The lunchtime (1-2pm) lectures are on six successive Tuesdays in the Maidment Theatre, 8 Alfred Street. They are free and everyone is welcome. Full details are at

Flyer (pdf)


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