New Zealand Studies Teaching in the UK

Author: Guy Robinson


The content of New Zealand Studies teaching in the UK is outlined in sections covering Literature, Film, Geography, Social Sciences, History, Tourism and Sport. Links to resources available in print and on the Internet are provided.

Table of contents

1. Introduction

New Zealand Studies is a very recent addition to the collection of area-based studies taught in British universities. The teaching of material on New Zealand (or Aotearoa to give it its Maori name) still occurs within a broader disciplinary context such as post-colonial literature or commonwealth history and is often combined with a primarily Australian content. Only in New Zealand itself is it possible to pursue an Honours or Masters degree in New Zealand Studies, which is offered at the Universities of Auckland, Otago, Victoria University of Wellington and Waikato. Nevertheless, following an initiative at the University of Edinburgh in the late 1980s and then the initiation of a series of annual seminars held at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS), University of London, the term ‘New Zealand Studies’ has become more evident in the United Kingdom. A British-based journal devoted to research on New Zealand, the British Review of New Zealand Studies (BRONZS), has published an annual volume since 1989, and in 2002 the instigators of the ICS seminars helped to establish a New Zealand Studies Association (NZSA) dedicated to promoting the study of New Zealand both in the United Kingdom and overseas. Material from the annual seminars, in recent years held each summer at the New Zealand High Commission in London, has been published in a series by Kakapo Books of Nottingham.

2. Literature

Material with a New Zealand content is taught within a wide range of degrees, most of which do not possess a distinctive or specific area-based association. For instance, material on New Zealand Literature primarily appears in the broader context of post-colonial studies. Seven UK higher education institutions teach modules on New Zealand/Pacific Literature (Kent, Leeds, London Metropolitan, South Bank, Stirling, Swansea) whilst 21 teach post-colonial studies with some reference to New Zealand writers (Belfast, Birkbeck College London, Buckingham, Essex, Exeter, Goldsmith’s College London, Hertfordshire, Hull, King’s College London, Kingston, Liverpool Hope University College, Newcastle, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, Open University, Sheffield, SOAS, Strathclyde, Roehampton-Surrey, Warwick, York).

The majority of this is taught at undergraduate level (e.g. Kent, London Metropolitan), though there are taught postgraduate courses in Post-colonial Studies with some New Zealand literary content (e.g. Leeds, University College Northampton).

There are three distinct aspects to the taught content on New Zealand Literature: contemporary literature that includes authors and poets (such as C.K. Stead, Keri Hulme, Maurice Gee, Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera); twentieth century literature with an emphasis upon writers of international renown, notably Katherine Mansfield and Janet Frame (e.g. at Stirling); and an historical dimension that considers ‘pioneering’ 19th century writers (e.g. at Kent). Intersecting these three elements are concerns with Maori writers, particularly reflecting the increased output in the so-called ‘Maori cultural rebirth’ of recent years, and feminist writers, again emphasising the works of Mansfield and Frame (e.g. at Cambridge, University College Northampton). Some of this material may be taught as part of Women’s Studies degrees (e.g. at Anglia, Queen Mary London, Royal Holloway London).

Despite a growing interest in Maori literature and culture, there is almost no opportunity to learn the Maori language at UK universities. However, web links for the teaching of the Maori language are provided by both Cambridge and Oxford.

3. Film

Although the number of films produced in New Zealand is small in international terms, there has been a growth in the teaching of New Zealand Film. In some cases this is taught as part of broader modules (in Literature, Film, Media and Cultural Studies) that focus primarily on Australian films, but there are more specialist modules dealing exclusively with New Zealand (e.g. at Roehampton-Surrey, Newcastle). In part this reflects the emergence in international cinema of films based on New Zealand topics (e.g. The Piano, Heavenly Creatures, Once Were Warriors and, more recently, Whale Rider), but also because locations in New Zealand have been used in films attracting a worldwide audience. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is the best example of this, though the popular television series, Xena Warrior Princess, was a significant predecessor. Courses on Film have often focused on the work of particular directors, with New Zealanders Jane Campion and Peter Jackson amongst those with a substantial internationally renowned body of work that has attracted critical analysis.

Links between film and culture are an important part of this teaching (e.g. at Roehampton-Surrey), emphasising images of the landscape, society and place. Some modules introducing an element of New Zealand content stress the nature of the development of national film industries whilst others focus on particular aspects portrayed in films, e.g. representations of national identity, the ‘post-colonial situation’, the portrayal of women, colonisation, and the ‘taming of Nature’. Typically, Australian and New Zealand films are considered together (e.g. at Sheffield). Emphasis is placed on the role of the key directors in small national cinemas and the tracing of generic influences in the development of films (e.g. at Bangor).

4. Geography

The discipline of Geography has changed considerably since its strong regional focus in the 1950s. The replacement of regional specialisms with a more systematic approach has greatly reduced the number of modules in Geography degrees in which the emphasis is on a particular region, bringing an end to a recognisable regional tradition in some universities (e.g. at Oxford). Increasingly, references to particular countries are made to exemplify geographical characteristics within a systematic framework. In the case of New Zealand this can be seen in Geomorphology, focusing on landforms in the Southern Alps, volcanic activity along the Pacific and Australian plates, and coastal landforms around New Zealand’s coasts (e.g. at Brighton, Edinburgh, Glasgow). In Human Geography, the nature of New Zealand’s economy, founded on the export of dairy produce, meat and (recently) horticultural produce and timber products, has provided case study material in the context of modules focusing on globalisation, post-colonialism, and economic regulation.

There are a handful of regional modules teaching Australasia or the Pacific in which New Zealand plays either a minor or more significant part (e.g. at Glasgow, Kingston, Plymouth, Southampton). It is the human geography of New Zealand that features in these modules, with emphasis upon the economy, biculturalism, historical geography and social change. The distinctive New Zealand flora and fauna and the impact of introduced species offers opportunities for combining geographical and historical study, the latter as part of studies of environmental history (e.g. Lancaster).

5. Social Sciences

With reference to recent social change in New Zealand, neo-liberal policies introduced by the Fourth Labour Government from 1984 and pursued by the National (Conservative) government in the 1990s have led the country to be termed ‘a social laboratory’. New Zealand’s ‘rolling back’ of the welfare state has provided fertile grounds for comparison with social reforms elsewhere, and especially the United Kingdom. Hence New Zealand features as case study material in courses in Social Policy, Sociology, Education and Economics, where issues such as privatisation of health care, pension reforms, new management structures in education, economic deregulation and labour deregulation are foregrounded (e.g. at Edinburgh, Portsmouth, Southampton). Political dimensions of these changes and the interplay between socialist and right-wing policies also provide case study material in political science, with emphasis upon utopian ideals within some New Zealand communities (e.g. at Nottingham). Broader geopolitical considerations involving the South Pacific have included studies of New Zealand’s distinctive and long-standing anti-nuclear stance (e.g. at Plymouth), New Zealand’s contribution to the ANZUS military alliance (e.g. at Southampton) and New Zealand’s role in exploring and administering the Antarctic (at Kingston, Royal Holloway London).

The Maori settlement of New Zealand/Aotearoa features in Anthropology modules in Pacific studies (e.g. at Cambridge, East Anglia, Lampeter). These use Maori and other Polynesian examples to cover issues such as cultural property and repatriation, art forms and motifs as a form of intellectual property, ethnographic film, indigenous anthropology, the agency of objects and the importance of artefact-based research.

6. History

For historians, the reference to New Zealand as a ‘social laboratory’ is more likely to conjure visions of the 1890s than the 1990s. In the 1890s New Zealand was regarded in some quarters as being the first welfare state, in which there were votes for women, the establishment of a national pension scheme and other social reforms. These were subsequently extended in the 1930s. Hence New Zealand features as a case study in certain Social History modules and in the teaching of Women’s History (e.g. at Edinburgh).

New Zealand may be included as a case study in the teaching of Commonwealth history (e.g. at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies), though the popularity of this subject has waned in recent years. Perhaps the single element of New Zealand history that attracts the most academic attention is the evolving relationship between European settlers (Pakeha) and the indigenous Maori, especially in the signing of a treaty (the Treaty of Waitangi) between the two in 1840 and the subsequent Maori Land Wars (the New Zealand Wars) in the 1860s (e.g at Richmond: The American University in London, King’s College London). The existence of a treaty which has re-emerged in modern times as a quasi-Constitutional document underpinning law-making and government policy in New Zealand offers scope for legal studies, and appears as a comparator or case study in some courses (e.g. at Cambridge).

Other courses include material on the settlement of New Zealand by the British in the nineteenth century. Reference is made to the role of the Free Church of Scotland in the founding of Dunedin (e.g. at Aberdeen, St. Andrews), and the work of other settlement associations, especially the Canterbury Association (e.g. at King’s College London, Kingston, Oxford). The creation of a federal Australia in 1901, with New Zealand opting to remain as a separate state, is taught as part of the Australian Studies degree at Lampeter.

7. Tourism and Sport

New Zealand’s tourism industry has grown substantially since the advent of long-haul flights and the country has become an important tourist destination. Hence it provides numerous examples used as case studies in several UK Tourism degrees (e.g. at Christ Church University College Kent, Stirling, Surrey). The principal New Zealand-related topics include ‘circuit’ tourism, the growth of the Japanese and south-east Asian markets, ecotourism (green tourism), the promotion and marketing of New Zealand as a tourist destination (‘clean and green’) and resort development and management, e.g. the ski resort of Queenstown.

One aspect of New Zealand life that has attracted international attention has been the country’s sporting prowess, especially in rugby union through New Zealand’s famous ‘All Blacks’ international teams. As a result Sports Studies modules and modules dealing with sports history or the sociology of sport utilise New Zealand for case study material (e.g. at Stirling). Leisure Studies have also included material on the emphasis on outdoor activities in New Zealand life, with the growth of tramping, hiking, mountaineering and New Zealand’s pioneering role in the development of ‘extreme’ sports such as bungee jumping, canyoning and ‘iron man’ events (e.g. at Loughborough). Sports historians have emphasised the role of sport in cementing ties between the colony and the mother country, notably through the association of the All Blacks with sporting excellence and the development of a distinctive New Zealand male culture.

8. Conclusion

Despite a ‘cinderella’ aspect to the term New Zealand Studies, this brief overview indicates that there is a surprisingly wide range of disciplines within which New Zealand material is taught. Although modules devoted exclusively to material on New Zealand are rare, the exemplar and comparative role has grown in recent years as have the attempts to attract more attention for New Zealand material in the humanities and social sciences. Resources to support these initiatives are highly varied in their coverage, but the only UK university library with a specialist New Zealand Studies section is at Edinburgh, which is largely a historical collection. Nevertheless the creation of the NZSA and the continuing publication of BRONZS indicates that there is a small and enthusiastic group of UK-based scholars pursing both teaching and research on New Zealand.


Allen, C. (2002). Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Atkinson, N. (2003). Adventures in Democracy: A History of the Vote in New Zealand. Dunedin: University of Otago Press.

Belich, J. (1996). Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders. From Polynesian Settlement to the End of the 19th Century. Auckland: Allen Lane.

Belich, J. (2001). Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the year 2000. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Bornholdt, J., O’Brien, G. & M. Williams (1997). An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English. Auckland : Oxford University Press.

British Review of New Zealand Studies (BRONZS). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University New Zealand Studies Committee.

Easton, B. (1997). In Stormy Seas: the Post-war New Zealand Economy. Dunedin: University of Otago Press.

Kelsey, J. (2000). Reclaiming the Future: New Zealand and the Global Economy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Maori Language Commission (1996). Te matatiki: Contemporary Maori Words. Auckland: Oxford University Press.

Mulgan, R. (1997). Politics in New Zealand. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Robinson, G. M., Loughran, R. & P. Tranter (2000). Australia and New Zealand: Economy, Society and Environment. London: Edward Arnold.

Robinson, R. & N. Wattie (1998). The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Starzecka, D. C. (ed.) (1996). Maori: Art and Culture. London: British Museum Press.

Sturm, T. (ed.) (1998). The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English. Auckland: Oxford University Press.

Related links

1. Published Resources

British Library

Kakapo Books, Nottingham

New Zealand Book Council

New Zealand Studies Association

For its publication, the British Review of New Zealand Studies (BRONZS)

New Zealand Studies Collection, University of Edinburgh.

2. Maori language

Maori Language Links Directory

University of Cambridge Language Centre

University of Cambridge Language Centre: Independent Learning in The John Trim Centre

University of Oxford Language Centre

3. Overseas Links

Edward A Clark Center for Australia and New Zealand Studies

Centre for Australia and New Zealand, Georgetown University

Australia and New Zealand Studies Association of North America

New Zealand and Australian Studies Section, Western Social Science Association

4. Other Links in New Zealand

New Zealand Government

New Zealand Studies, University of Waikato

New Zealand Studies Centre, University of Otago

Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies

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