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Writing the modern world across the Pacific

Associate Professor Alice Te Punga Somerville. Credit: University of Waikato

Associate Professor Alice Te Punga Somerville of the University of Waikato will examine the diverse history of 20th century indigenous writing across New Zealand and the Pacific to explore how Māori and Pacific Island communities engaged with the changing modern world

Published 2 November 2017

Māori and other indigenous groups are often thought to lack a literary history. A new Marsden Fund study will challenge this perception. While indigenous literature has flourished since the 1970s, little is known of the rich history of writing that precedes this period. Yet Māori, like their counterparts across the Pacific, have been publishing throughout the 20th century and before.

Associate Professor Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Āti Awa and Taranaki) from the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies will explore indigenous literature, written in both English and native languages, across newspapers, magazines, poetry and novels from Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Hawai‘i between 1900 and 1975. She will also examine the dynamic interactions between indigenous authors and publishers across national borders during this period, highlighting longstanding global connections amongst indigenous writers.

This research will show how indigenous peoples around the Pacific made use of the global expansion in publishing during the 20th century to discuss the dramatic social changes affecting their communities: urban migration, cultural renaissance, assimilation pressures, and activist movements. This work will bring forgotten writing back into public view, and highlight the ways that indigenous peoples helped to create the new world through the 20th century.