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New History Fund Will Uncover More Of Our Own Stories

A vision to stimulate world-class historical research is behind a $500,000 gift to establish a History Innovation Fund at the University of Auckland.

Based in the history department, the fund has been made possible by Dr Felicity Barnes, a senior lecturer in New Zealand history and her partner Michael Whitehead, co-founder of international data analytics company WhereScape and New Zealand services firm NOW Consulting.

One of the fund’s first initiatives will be recruiting a postdoctoral fellow, initially in New Zealand history, for 2021. It will also support research grants, primarily for New Zealand history and history generally, as well as in allied subjects like art history and ancient history.

As well as being current staff, Dr Barnes is an Auckland graduate, as is Mr Whitehead, and says they are both “beneficiaries of the earlier free university system” so the choice to support the Faculty of Arts at Auckland seemed a logical one.

“We'd like to support an institution that has helped us succeed and we also both believe that, despite current trends towards vocational teaching, the world of work and beyond is best served by smart, adaptable thinkers who are encouraged to question the world around them.”

And while those qualities aren't exclusive to Arts, she believes the discipline’s role in producing such people, and the impact they have, is under recognised.

“Arts’ subjects in particular are underfunded. The government spends more than double on a science student than an Arts one, so this is one small attempt to tip the balance, and I’m so pleased my colleagues in the School of Humanities and the Faculty of Arts share our vision.”

Dean of Arts, Professor Robert Greenberg, is delighted with the gift and what it could make possible.

“I’m so pleased Felicity and Michael have chosen History for this generous gift at a time when all over the world, we are seeing how people are forgetting and misunderstanding the past and increasingly believing fake news, which has so grossly distorted so many historical facts in recent times,” he says.

“I’m particularly excited that we will be able to support New Zealand history, which will become part of the compulsory school curriculum in 2022, and is a very exciting area of scholarship where there is so much still to discover.”

The fund will make a call for the inaugural postdoctoral scholarship in September 2020, and the remainder of the endowment will be used to fund research grants for current history department staff within the University of Auckland.

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