History Events & Seminars

2016 Seminar

China's Food and Environment
Professor EN Anderson, University of California, Riverside

Monday 15 August, 5.30pm - 7pm
Exhibition Hall, Hamilton Gardens

For thousands of years, China has had to balance food production and environmental protection. This has led to a great deal of what Karen Thornber calls “environmental ambiguity” - caring for the environment but still compromising it to produce food. China excelled in developing systems that produced the maximal possible amount of food for minimal - but still real and serious - environmental degradation. The world is now running out of resources and will have to do even better at minimizing resource use for maximal food production. China’s successes and failures are possibly the best guide for this endeavor.

Presenter Bio:
E.N. Anderson is Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at the University of California, Riverside. He received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967. He has done research on ethnobiology, cultural ecology, political ecology, and medical anthropology, in several areas, especially Hong Kong, British Columbia, California, and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. His books include The Food of China (Yale University Press. 1988), Ecologies of the Heart (Oxford University Press, 1996), Political Ecology of a Yucatec Maya Community (University Press of Arizona Press, 2005), The Pursuit of Ecotopia (Praeger, 2010), and Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). He has five children and five grandchildren, and lives in Riverside, California, with his wife Barbara Anderson and three large dogs. Contact Further information at

This free public talk is co-hosted by the Environmental History & Garden History Research Unit (EHGH), Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of Waikato and the Hamilton Gardens. The talk will be introduced by Director of the EHGH Research Unit, Associate Professor James Beattie.

Book & Journal Launch, 2015

History Programme celebrates launch of James Beattie’s new journal, International Review of Environmental History (ISSN 2205-3204 (print), ISSN 2205-3212 (online), ANU PRESS) and James Beattie, Edward Melillo and Emily O’Gorman’s edited book Eco-Cultural Networks and the British Empire: New Views on Environmental History (IBSN: 9781441109835 BLOOMSBURY UK, 2015).

Symposium: Histories of Science, Environment and Gardens
19 August 2015

The day-long symposium included a Public Keynote address by Professor Tom Brooking, University of Otago, New Zealand Environmental History: A Story of Transformations via Farming and Gardening.

Download the Symposium Presenters and Abstracts.

Event kindly sponsored by History Programme and Hamilton Gardens.

History Podcasts 2015

Dr James Beattie, University of Waikato (4-6-15)
China on a Plate: A Willow Pattern Garden Realised
Keywords: garden history, Chinese history, Chinoiserie

Dr Ryan Tucker Jones, University of Auckland (11-6-15)
Liquid Socialism: Soviet Whalers and the Ecology of the Kollectiv
Keywords: environmental history, whales, Soviet history

Dr Jemma Field, University of Auckland (25-6-15)
Art, History, and Culture: The World of Tudor and Stuart England, 1500 - 1649
Keywords: material culture, art history, Tudor/Stuart England

Professor Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA (2-7-15)
Wanting the Wild: People, Animals and Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century
Keywords: human-animal history, environmental history, Romanticism

All speakers retain copyright of their talks. Opinions expressed in the podcasts are those of the individual and do not necessarily express the opinions of the Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato, or the speaker's institution.

Past Symposia: 2014

Over the course of this year we have run a number of symposia and workshops. In 2014, the Historical Research Unit has been involved into three symposia: an international conference on garden history and two specifically Māori-orientated hui.

Gardens at the Frontier: New Perspectives on Garden History

Symposium, 29-31 January 2014

‘Gardens at the Frontier: new perspectives on garden history’ brought together an invited group of 22 delegates from Australia and New Zealand for what is believed to be the first garden history symposium held in New Zealand. Participation was based on a targeted call for abstracts amongst those actively engaged in this field. Organised by Dr James Beattie, of the History Programme, University of Waikato, the three-day symposium ran from 29 to 31 January 2014 at Hamilton, in central northern New Zealand.

Symposium papers
Speakers covered a great variety of topics—from the libraries and writing culture associated with eighteenth-century southern Chinese gardens to a consideration of the classic Thomas Church-designed Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California; from a new site interpretation of the nineteenth-century New Zealand Land Wars to the hidden (and surprising) history of garden gnomes in New Zealand. Despite such diversity, the papers were connected in several ways. All spoke to the symposium theme by exploring garden history’s thematic, geographical, and methodological frontiers, as expressed through the idea of gardens as cultural and well as physical sites. A full list of abstracts is shortly to be published on the website of the University of Waikato.

Many participants reflected on the practices and sources used to write garden history, and this was a feature of Richard Aitken’s keynote address and public lecture ‘The art and craft of garden history’ (summarised elsewhere in this issue). Aitken interwove practical and methodological concerns sparked by his long-term, ongoing research on emigrant Scottish landscape gardener and garden architect, Charles H.J. Smith. Using the narrative of Smith’s substantial career in Scotland during the 1830s–50s and emigration to Australia in 1855, his keynote reflected widely on the nature of garden history, its sources, audience, scholarship, and methodology. One strong theme—connecting temporally and geographically diverse papers—was that of writing about gardens whose physical traces were almost completely absent or whose only records were found in physical sites. As Duncan Campbell’s paper highlighted, for example, of the some 500 gardens with associated libraries of late imperial southern China during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), only one survives. Campbell discussed the poetry composed by the Zhao brothers in Little Mountain Hall (Xiaoshan tang 小山堂) in the Garden of the Spring Grasses (Chuncao yuan 春草園) of Zhao Yu 趙. The poetry produced at that site, he observed, contains no actual descriptions of the physical appearance or layout of the actual garden. Contrast that with the subject of Professor Michael Roche’s paper on Ashburton Domain, in Canterbury, on New Zealand’s eastern South Island. Aside from two perfunctory letters listing improvements made to the Domain, its designer, W.W. Smith, left no record of his design intention. Instead, Roche has had to reassemble the landscape authorship of Smith through postcards, maps, and general descriptions of the Domain.

A particularly pleasing aspect of the symposium was the diversity of perspectives offered on garden history. These were informed by landscape architecture, garden aesthetics, ecology, historical geography, literary studies, art history, environmental history, and heritage studies.

These diverse viewpoints suggest the different ways that garden history intersects with other disciplines. Several of the participants may not necessarily have called themselves ‘garden historians’, but were certainly undertaking garden history in its broadest sense. This was a heartening and indeed exciting indication of the different approaches that might be taken in the field, and the degree of interest in the history of garden making.

Participants complemented these approaches with finely attuned use of maps, photographs, paintings, sketches, as well as literary and other textual material. Isolating such material can be particularly rewarding for frontier studies, providing an immediacy that is often lacking in more general historical treatments over long time periods. Delegates Joanna Bishop and Annette Bainbridge are both currently utilising such primary sources from the frontier for their respective studies: Bishop on settler knowledge of medicinal plants and Bainbridge on women gardeners in early colonial New Zealand.

Many of the sites discussed at the symposium, although tamed to some extent by environmental factors, tended to cross borders and frontiers—hopping from China to Japan, from India to New Zealand, from New Zealand to Australia (and vice versa). As such, gardens and garden history are well-suited to interdisciplinary and trans-national and analysis, particularly where this spans methodological boundaries. A related theme to emerge was that of heritage and conservation of gardens and the connection of these to a sense of place and to formation of identity. Regional approaches, trans-Tasman plant exchanges (see Stuart Read’s paper elsewhere in this issue), and recent heritage were amongst other papers to draw out the symposium themes. [114/1417]

Public lecture and field trips
The venue of the symposium, Hamilton Gardens, was a particularly appropriate location for hosting such an event. Once the East Town Belt, a rifle range, and cemetery, the site became degraded through sand mining and use as a refuse tip. From this inauspicious beginning, a four acre-section was opened as Hamilton Gardens in 1960 and enlarged for the first World Rose Convention held in 1971. But the site as it was subsequenbty developed is largely the creation of long-time director Dr Peter Sergel. Due to the proximity of Auckland Botanic Garden, a decision was taken to strike out on a daring new direction by the creation of individual gardens or sectors, each showcasing a particular theme or international style in garden history. In line with a management plan first drafted in 1980 and periodically updated, the site now contains some twenty gardens, with another dozen or so in contemplation.

Hamilton Gardens is bordered by the swift-flowing Waikato River and the region’s high rainfall and long sunshine hours render it ideally suited to developing new gardens. In unseasonably warm weather for the area—a sizzling 28C!—delegates were treated to a sneak preview of the masterplan review by Dr Sergel and a lengthy tour where the principal sections were inspected and discussed. But with one million visitors a year, few could cavil at such a popular form of garden history interpretation. It was also pleasure to welcome approximately fifty members of the Friends of Hamilton Gardens for Richard Aitken’s public lecture.

The second field trip took delegates to Beale Cottage, Hamilton’s oldest surviving home, built around 1872. Built for Dr Charles Bernard Beale, surgeon for the Fourth Waikato Militia and Mayor of Hamilton for a short period in 1878, the cottage is a typical example of early colonial architecture from the period. The garden planting is currently under reconstruction by doctoral candidate Bishop using a selection of medicinal plants demonstrative of colonial and contemporary medical herbal practice.

It is hoped that the success of this event will inspire others to organise future Australasian symposia on the theme of ‘new perspectives on garden history’.

Conference publications:
Special Issue of ‘Special Issue: Gardens at the Frontier: New Methodological Perspectives on Garden History and Designed Landscapes’, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 36, 1 (2016).

Download the Symposium Programme and Abstracts.

Oral History Workshop: Methods, Ethics, and Practice

Thursday 23rd October 2014

This was a one day Workshop held at the University of Waikato on Thursday the 23rd of October 2014. It was hosted by Dr Nēpia Mahuika, and included important input from a number of guest speakers including Dr Hemi Whaanga, Dr Robert Joseph, Dr Rosemary Deluca, and Pania Melbourne. This symposium targeted a specifically Māori audience, and was open to Māori researchers in the Waikato area working on oral history projects within their communities. The workshop considered current issues, definitions of oral history and tradition, and the literature in oral history and oral tradition that has particularly relevance for indigenous peoples. It also looked at Interview methodology and analytical interpretive approaches to oral history, transcribing, and interview troubleshooting, and ran sessions on ethics and tikanga relevant to oral history practice, copyright, informed consent, completing ethics applications, and archiving and the presentation of oral history work.

We plan to run more of these symposia in the future, and will open them up to the broader Māori oral history research community who over the past few decades have amassed an incredible amount of oral history records, and are still producing important records today. The organisers would like to acknowledge and thank the Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori office, and those Māori staff across the university who supported this kaupapa, particularly Krista Henare and Papahuia Dickson.

160th Anniversary of the arrival of the first LDS missionaries to NZ, and the 125th Anniversary of the Māori translation of the Book of Mormon

Saturday 18th October 2014

This national symposium was organised in a collaboratively effort with the University of Waikato Law School Governance Programme, The School of Māori and Pacific Development, and the Pro Vice Chancellor Māori Office. This commemorative hui brought together scholars from across the country, with keynote addresses offered by Prof. Whatarangi Winiata and Dr Gina Colvin. Pro Vice Chancellor Māori at Massey University Prof. Selwyn Katene also took this opportunity to launch his most recent book on a history of Māori leadership in the Church entitled Turning the Hearts of the Children. Various contributors to that book also presented during the course of the day. Local Tainui elders and kaikōrero also played a significant and important part in proceedings, offering a wonderful opening session on the history of the Church in the Waikato region and closing our hui with an insightful summary of the day’s discussions. Another fantastic session on the translation of The Book of Mormon was chaired by Waikato scholar Hori Manuirirangi (Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao). These were lively and enjoyable discussions, punctuated by the open and forthright discussions had during and after these presentations. The other co-organisers, Dr Nēpia Mahuika (History) and Dr Robert Joseph (Law), also chaired and ran a discussion feedback session at the end of the day. This was a fabulous hui, well attended, and enjoyed, by those who travelled long distances to be there. The organisers plan to run more hui in the future. The organisers would like to acknowledge the various sponsors and supporters of this symposium, particularly Te Puni Kokiri, the Pro Vice Chancellor Māori Office, The School of Māori and Pacific Development, the Waikato Law School, and the Waikato History Research Unit. Special thanks should also go to Mylene Rakena (Law), who offered invaluable assistance throughout the planning of this symposium and on the day.

Book Launch

History Programme celebrates launch of James Beattie and Duncan Campbell's book, Lan Yuan蘭園: A Garden of Distant Longing (Dunedin: Shanghai Museum Press and Dunedin Chinese Gardens Trust, 2013):