Emeritus Professor Margaret Tennant is a distinguished social historian with a national and international reputation in the areas of health, NZ social history, and social policy. Her landmark books – Paupers and Providers (1989), Children’s Health, the Nation’s Wealth (1994), and The Fabric of Welfare (2007) – stand as major monographs. Each has received critical acclaim, adding substantially to an understanding of social policy and welfare across the ‘Anglo’ world as well as in New Zealand. Each also demonstrates Professor Tennant’s signature ability as a scholar to see her subject from divergent perspectives: charitable aid, for instance, from the indigent and the rowdy to the principled and the pragmatic.
Her scholarly work covers a range of topics: Maori mission work, deaconesses and church social work, the history of menstruation, gender, ethnicity and ‘disadvantage’ in constructing New Zealand childhood, and historical conceptions generally of the relationship between government and voluntary welfare agencies. She has also crossed disciplinary boundaries, participating in the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, a broadly based international enquiry located at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Civil Society. In all this she is admired for her deftness and clarity in explaining the complex strands, to use her own metaphor, of a multifaceted social and historical fabric.
Professor Tennant has contributed widely to her discipline and to academic life in New Zealand, as a teacher and supervisor, as Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Massey University, as a member of numerous and ongoing institutional and professional committees, and as a former President of the New Zealand Historical Association. She continually confirms her reputation for thoroughness, for depth of knowledge and for carefully weighed and sound judgements.