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Newly elected Academy Executive Committee member: Professor Charlotte Macdonald

Charlotte has been elected Chair of the Academy Executive Committee. Charlotte’s expertise is as an historian of the modern period, largely nineteenth and early twentieth century with a particular focus on New Zealand in the context of empire and colony, women and gender.


1. What inspired you to pursue a career in research/teaching?

I didn’t set out with an idea of becoming an historian, but after completing my first degree at age 19 as an impatient learner, travel beyond New Zealand made me newly curious about my own society. New Zealand had not figured substantially in any subject in my first degree – an experience not unusual at the time. Returning to study for a BA (Hons) degree at Massey University with Professor W H Oliver and a lively group of fellow students on a mixed floor of historians and sociologists opened up the world of research. Being encouraged to pose questions where the answers were not yet known was intoxicating. It is a drug I have yet to give up!

2. What are some highlights in your career thus far?

Seeing research being taken up is always a highlight. My early books A Woman of Good Character: single women as immigrant settlers in nineteenth-century New Zealand (1990), The Book of New Zealand Women/Ko Kui Ma te Kaupapa  (ed with Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams, 1991) and My Hand Will Write What My Heart Dictates (with Frances Porter, 1995) reached a wide readership and altered the contours of who and what counted in History. More recently, my Marsden-funded project ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Settler: Garrison and Empire in the 19thC World’, has drawn together a group of postgraduate students and supported a rare postdoctoral opportunity (www.soldiersofempire.nz). Seeing students get excited about research and supporting their endeavours is always a great satisfaction. I have twice served as the President of the New Zealand Historical Association.

3. What do you hope to contribute to the Academy Executive Committee?

I hope to bring to the AEC the perspective of an experienced researcher who has worked in a variety of roles inside and beyond the university sector. At no time has there been a greater need for knowledge and knowledge-making to be at the centre of our national and global lives. Bringing the expertise of all subject areas together: Humanities, Health Sciences, Physical and Biological Sciences, Engineering, Technology and Earth Sciences is vital. As convenor of the AEC I look to connect these fields in the work of Royal Society Te Apārangi.

4. What does life outside of your profession look like for you?

Life beyond my desk always features music (currently Reb Fountain and Alien Weaponry, and always Anner Bylsma playing the Bach Cello Suites), and as often as is feasible, tramping in the beautiful mountains and valleys of Aotearoa. Three years ago I completed the North West Circuit on Rakiura (Stewart Island) with magical encounters at every turn: daytime meetings with kiwi and a view of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) from Big Hellfire Hut.