HOW DID I BECOME A HISTORIAN?
Although history has always been a passion of mine, it was only later in life that I decided to make a career out of it.
It was late 2007, and I’d been working in I.T. – the subject of my first degree – for about two and a half years. The people were lovely and the work was okay, but I just wasn’t passionate about it. And while I’d always loved history, it seemed to present few job prospects. Fortunately, I.T. teachers with industry experience were in demand, so I decided to do a one-year Graduate Diploma in History followed by a Teaching Diploma. I reasoned that, once my I.T. background had gotten me a plum teaching job at a good school, I would weasel my way into their humanities department.
But once I stepped into the History Department at Victoria University of Wellington, I was hooked. History, I discovered, was not simply the retelling of past events – it was the art of trying to interpret the often fragmented historical evidence, and developing arguments that best fit that evidence. It was about context, and nuance, and about reading between the lines. It was about creating new knowledge, and casting it into the collective pool of historical knowledge so that it could be debated and dissected.
Rather than doing a Teaching Diploma, I went on to do Honours after finishing my Graduate Diploma, and then straight into my PhD (which I completed in 2015). And I wrote – oh, how I wrote. More essays that I’d ever written before in my life, it seemed. But beyond that, I also sought as many opportunities as I could for publication. My first was a space history piece for ‘Liftoff’, the magazine of the New Zealand Spaceflight Association. Since then I’ve published four journal articles, three commissioned research reports, a public history piece for NZHistory.net, and over a dozen journalistic and general interest pieces. I’ve also self-published two oral histories – one for my grandmother, and one for my friend Brian Fox.
In 2012 I started working for the Waitangi Tribunal Unit in an entry level position. I still work there today in a senior technical leadership role. Broadly, my work involves providing procedural and evidential advice and support to the Tribunal in running its inquiries. It allows me to exercise my analytical skills (on both historical and contemporary matters), including the production of commissioned historical research.
WHY DO I WRITE HISTORY?
I write history for lots of reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, it’s because I love doing it! The excitement of poring through dusty old archives, seeking that amazing find that will confirm or shatter your assumptions (I call those ‘Indiana Jones moments’); the sudden flash of inspiration where all of the disparate threads of your research suddenly fit together; the sublime agony of writing, as you corral and cajole your thoughts into a coherent structure; and the satisfaction of casting your completed work into the wider world, perhaps therein to challenge what we all take for granted as true.
History, like other humanities subjects, is a heady and unique mix of art and science, of literary inspiration and analytical rigour. The best histories entertain and inform; they draw you in, and pull you headlong to their conclusion without pause for breath. Thus, my second and equally important reason for writing history – because I believe it should be enjoyable and accessible to all. Academic history has its place, but I am a firm believer that history should be well-written, clearly understandable, and widely read. If knowledge is to serve its transformative purpose (as I sincerely believe it should), how else could it possibly be conveyed except in a user-friendly fashion?
The ‘history of the right’
My primary area of interest is the often-neglected ‘history of the right’ – conservatism, authoritarianism, fascism, and any number of other ‘isms’ that fall on the right side of the political spectrum. While my own political views lie on the opposite end of the spectrum, I find myself drawn to trying to understand those who find an ideological home so far from my own.
My thesis looked at several populist conservative movements that arose in Australia and New Zealand during the Great Depression. These movements sprang into being being virtually overnight and amassed a collective membership numbering in the hundreds of thousands. At the height of their influence they posed a direct challenge to the electoral base of mainstream conservative parties. They soon faded away from the political scene and, indeed, from the collective memory of Australian and New Zealand society.
Where had they come from? Why they had amassed such widespread support so quickly? What kind of people supported them, and why? What shared beliefs and assumptions drove them, and what did they hope to achieve? And perhaps most importantly, why did they apparently fail to achieve any lasting success? It is these questions that I sought to answer in my thesis, and which generally feed my interest in the history of similar right-wing movements and ideologies.
Other research interests
I also have a number of other research interests, including environmental history, political history, the Cold War, the politics of space exploration, and historical methodology.
You can download my full curriculum vitae here. An abridged version follows below.
- 2010 – 2015: PhD in History, Victoria University of Wellington.
- 2009: BA(Hons) First Class in History, Victoria University of Wellington
- 2008: Graduate Diploma of Arts (History), Victoria University of Wellington
- 2002 – 2005: Bachelor of Information Technology, Southern Cross University
- Senior Facilitator (formerly titled Senior Research Analyst/Inquiry Facilitator), Waitangi Tribunal Unit (December 2013 – current)
- Research Analyst/Inquiry Facilitator, Waitangi Tribunal Unit (July 2012 – December 2013)
- Community Continuing Education Centre Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington (November 2012)
- Tutor/Teaching Assistant, Victoria University of Wellington (July 2010-December 2011)
- Feature Writer, Salient Magazine (February 2010 – May 2010)
- Information Analyst, Electronic Data Systems (later Hewlett Packard) (August 2005 – June 2010)
- Wellington, my home: a memoir of Brian Murray Fox, Tawa: YourBooks, 2017.
- An afternoon with Grandma, Petone: Modern Bookbinders, 2011.
- ‘Australian Fascism? A revisionist analysis of the ideology of the New Guard’, Politics, Religion & Ideology, Vol. 13, no. 3, September, 2012, pp.375-393.
- ‘“Familiarising the Foreign”: New Zealand soldiers’ observations on landscape during the Gallipoli Campaign’, New Zealand Journal of History, Vol. 45, no. 2, October, 2011, pp.209-224.
- ‘Conservative Protest or Conservative Radicalism? The New Zealand Legion in a comparative context, 1930-1935’, Journal of New Zealand Studies, no. 10, 2011, pp.139-158.
- ‘“But Why, Some Say, the Moon?” The politics of Apollo during the Kennedy Administration, 1961-1963’, Quest: The History of Spaceflight, Vol. 16, no. 1, January, 2009, pp.32-45.
Official reports and commissioned research
- ‘Northland rural rivers: environmental management, pollution, and kaitiakitanga since 1991’, Waitangi Tribunal Unit, June 2016 (Wai 1040, #A60)
- ‘The environmental management of the Mokau River mouth’, Waitangi Tribunal Unit, March 2014 (Wai 898, #A149)
- ‘The environmental management of the Waipa River and its tributaries’, Waitangi Tribunal Unit, March 2014 (Wai 898, #A150)
- ‘The New Zealand Legion’, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2 April 2012; http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/the-new-zealand-legion.
- ‘Illegal flower tributes: Internet censorship in the 21st century’, Salient, 24 May 2010.
- ‘Small towns have big things’, Salient, 17 May 2010.
- ‘Close Encounters of the Underwater Kind’, Salient, 26 Apr 2010.
- ‘To fight or not fight: Conscientious objection and the Anzac tradition’, Salient, 19 Apr 2010.
- ‘A smattering of strange sports’, Salient, 29 Mar 2010.
- ‘Royal retreat or sovereign sanctuary? The monarchy versus republic debate in New Zealand’, Salient, 22 Mar 2010.
- ‘Salient Through The Ages’, Salient, 15 Mar 2010.
- ‘VSM: 2010’s Most Contentious Acronym’, Salient, 8 Mar 2010.
- ‘The Alternate Newbies’ Guide to the University Experience’, Salient, 22 Feb 2010.
- ‘All American Hero who Missed the Moon’, Spaceflight: The Magazine of Astronautics and Outer Space, Vol.51, no.7, July, 2009, pp.252-255.
- ‘Man in Space – The Perpetual Conundrum’, Liftoff, no. 246, July-August, 2008, pp.8-10.