Environment was strongly represented at the recently-held Past Tensions, New Zealand Historical Association Conference, hosted by the History Programme, University of Waikato from 16 to 18 November 2011. Six streams – and no fewer than 20 papers out of 98 – addressed environmentally-related themes. That represents over 20% of all papers! And, I think it’s a fair indication of the growing importance of studies on the environment.
Since the journal began some 6 years ago, environmental studies in the humanities has gone from strength to strength. Environmental history papers are being offered at the universities of Otago, Victoria, and Waikato, with garden history also being taught at the last institution. A website is available (http://envirohistorynz.wordpress.com/) which brings together writing on the environment. As I write, a new environmental history organisation is in the process of forming from the Australian Forest History Society. A new peer-reviewed Australasian journal of environmental history will also be published from ANU E-Press (more details will be forthcoming).
While these developments are impressive, there is still room for more to be done. The New Zealand Journal of History carries very few studies on environmental history. The University of Auckland, which of the institutions not to offer environmental history, has the most capacity to do so (being the second-largest history department after the Waitangi Tribunal), has great potential to carry on the mantle of Kenneth Cumberland.
Beyond the stuffy rooms of the ivory tower, issues about environment are increasingly to the fore in the public domain. The Rena disaster has focussed attention on government monitoring of ships and the preparedness of the government to meet such an environmental crisis. Mining – especially of the ocean floor – remains a hot political topic. We continue as a nation to dodge the issue of fossil fuel usage and sustainability.
The contributions to this issue bring together what I consider as the particular strenths of ENNZ: providing a forum for new research; a test-bed of ideas; a voice to those beginning their research; a review of the latest offerings in the field from different disciplinary perspectives; and not least, making accessible a variety of stimulating and (at times) controversial ideas.
In this issue, Paul Star challenges historians to think about the role of private settlers in environmental change, putting forward the concept of ‘biota barons’ to describe those settlers whose actions resulted in significant ecological changes in nineteenth-century New Zealand. Joanna Bishop outlines a fascinating new topic – the role of medicinal plants in New Zealand – and asks readers for their help in tracking down new sources. Charles Dawson – presently in South America with his family – overviews an important new book on Māori attitudes to the natural world, that is also, as he puts it, ‘a handbook for aspiring kaitiaki’. Finally, Julian Kuzma reviews a delightful new book by Alex Calder which re-examines the relationship between Pākehā literature and the environment.
In handing on the editorship of ENNZ to Dr. Paul Star, I would like to thank all of those whose support made this journal possible and wish Paul all the best with the journal’s editing.
James Beattie, Hamilton, November 2011