April 24, 2016
Professor Tony Ballantyne, described as New Zealand’s ‘most innovative historian’, presented a new take on the cultural history of Otago and Soutland at this Catalyst Trust talk.
He challenged the prevailing narrative of New Zealand history that elevates ‘the nation’ as the best way of understanding our past. This focus on our national story, he said, obscures as much as it reveals: “We do not just live in a nation but in specific places, and our personal stories adhere to those places.”
Arguing that national identity – what it means to be a New Zealander – is not as important to us on a day-to-day level, Professor Ballantyne explained how place is essential to shaping us as people. Making a case for the relevance of local history, he prefers to examine in detail the histories of towns and suburbs that, though small, have big characters that shape communities, evoke a sense of belonging and imprint themselves onto the people that live, work and play there.