Author(s): Barbara L. Brookes
What would a history of New Zealand look like that rejected Thomas Carlyle's definition of history as 'the biography of great men', and focused instead on the experiences of women? One that shifted the angle of vision and examined the stages of this country's development from the points of view of wives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts? That considered their lives as distinct from (though often unwillingly influenced by) those of history's 'great men'?
In her ground-breaking History of New Zealand Women, Barbara Brookes provides just such a history. This is more than an account of women in New Zealand, from those who arrived on the first waka to the Grammy and Man Booker Prize-winning young women of the current decade. It is a comprehensive history of New Zealand seen through a female lens.
Brookes argues that while European men erected the political scaffolding to create a small nation, women created the infrastructure necessary for colonial society to succeed. Concepts of home, marriage and family brought by settler women, and integral to the developing state, transformed the lives of Maori women. The small scale of New Zealand society facilitated rapid change so that, by the twenty-first century, women are no longer defined by family contexts.
In her long-awaited book, Barbara Brookes traces the factors that drove that change. Her lively narrative draws on a wide variety of sources to map the importance in women's lives not just of legal and economic changes, but of smaller joys, such as the arrival of a piano from England, or the freedom of riding a bicycle.
A History of New Zealand Women is a major narrative history. Professor Barbara Brookes' achievement is phenomenal, spanning two centuries from 1814-2015. Looking at our society through the stories of women, the book tells the political and social history of New Zealand from a female perspective. In the early chapters Brookes covers Maori women’s place within Maoridom and early Paheka contact, early settler roles as missionary wives and traders, the colonial era where roles for both Maori and Pakeha women were altered by the circumstances of a new country, the tensions that arose and the changes to female roles either by design or necessity. The tone is perfectly set - readable, interesting history with enough analytical depth and a wealth of knowledge that places this work among our best histories. The overarching themes are dotted with specific examples of women and their lives in early New Zealand, giving both a depth of analysis and fascinating insights on a personal level, bringing history alive. These vivid accounts are well-illustrated with photographs, sketches, paintings, and maps on most pages. The book is laid out chronologically and moves through periods in a rational progression from colonial settlement to new government to the turn of the century, the world wars and the times between, the moral liberations of the 1960s and 70s and into the more contemporary histories from the 1980s onwards. Brookes explores a multitude of themes, focusing on the ever-changing roles and expectations of the female population, including the impact of the land wars, the challenges and opportunities for migrant women, the political role of women, the changing nature of the family and the place of women in the workforce. There will be women you know of in this book; you will be introduced to many more who have made a contribution to our history, whether this is at an international level or on the ground, fighting for equality or as successful cultural contributors or as stalwarts of fair and frank discussion or as representatives of the everyday. A History of New Zealand Women is an important and fascinating account of the lives of women and a valuable to contribution to herstory.
Winner - Illustrated Non-Fiction - Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2017.
Barbara Brookes is Professor of History at the University of Otago. Her research interests include gender relations in New Zealand, and the history of health and disease in New Zealand and Britain. She has written a book on abortion in twentieth century England, and co-edited several collections of essays on New Zealand history.