2015 Ernest Scott Prize Shortlist Announced

The following publications have been short-listed for the 2015 Ernest Scott Prize. The Ernest Scott Prize is awarded to work based upon original research which is, in the opinion of the examiners, the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation. This prize is proudly supported by the History Program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts at The University of Melbourne.

The prize is worth approximately $13,000.

The judges for 2015 are Associate Professor Katie Pickles (University of Canterbury) and Professor David Lowe (Deakin University). Read the judges’ citations below.

The winner will be announced at the Australian Historical Association(AHA) 34th Annual Conference which will be held at The University of Sydney on Thursday 9 July 2015.

Learn more about the Ernest Scott Prize.

Christopher Pugsley, A bloody road home: WWII and New Zealand’s Heroic Second Division, Penguin NZ, 2014.

This is an original and innovative work that draws upon and combines a vast and diverse range of sources to tell the history of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF) during World War Two. 104, 998 men and women served with this Division. Writing mostly with the immediacy of the present tense, Christopher Pugsley enlists the reader and carries them along for the military journey that starts with the Division’s formation in Egypt in January 1940 and ends in Trieste, Italy in mid-1945.

Pugsley draws upon an impressive range of sources that includes 10 interviews by the author; memoirs and diaries located at the Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand), the Kippenberger Library and Archives (the National Army Museum), and the Auckland War Museum; Archives New Zealand NZEF papers, and the papers of Freyberg, Kippenberger and Puttick; Central Defence Library, HQ New Zealand Defence Forces, Wellington; Australian War Memorial; Imperial War Museum; The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester; Liddell Hart Centre for Military History (King’s College, London); and National Archives United Kingdom.  The book captures the wider context of the theatre of war, skilfully feeding in significant war developments. Excellent use is made of maps, photographs, diagrams and major official art works.

While the intention is to comprehensively capture all levels of participation, from general to private soldier, Pugsley’s command and interpretation of scholarship on military leadership, training and strategy is a persistent theme through the book. Backed up by official histories of war and many secondary sources he brings an arsenal of knowledge to critically assess Commander Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg and the successes and errors of the Division in the overall context of World War II.

Detailed, shrewd and masterful, this is history at a most comprehensive, intense and energetic level.

Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris, Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, BWB Bridget Williams Books, 2014.

This mighty illustrated history manages to successfully negotiate a pathway that offers a source-rich comprehensive history of Maori, along with leading scholarship. It skilfully incorporates and draws from a wide variety of scholarly perspectives to come up with a wholly new understanding of a Maori past.  This past runs from ancient origins to the early twenty-first century.

Tangata Whenua has a clever and complex interwoven structure. Sweeping in both breadth and depth, the book is divided into three parts: Te Ao Tawhito: The Old World, Te Ao Hou: The New World, and To Ao Hurihuri: The Changing World. Fifteen chapters draw upon best practice from history, archaeology, traditional narratives and oral sources. Over 500 images offer a ‘parallel commentary’, including ancient taonga, artefacts, European paintings and photographs. The book is beautifully produced.

Tangata Whenua charts a distinct way of researching and writing history that makes an original contribution to the history of colonisation. For example, the book is a salute to the scholarship and efforts of many, working in harmony, and is demonstrative of the power of history to gather communal strength. It is significant that the three primary authors are supported by seven other key writers.

Tangata Whenua has managed to achieve a result that is greater than the sum of the parts contained within the pages. It renders the colonial past complex and worthy of challenge, and it opens up discussion concerning the present and the future.

Elizabeth Nelson, Homefront hostilities: The First World War and Domestic Violence, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014.

This insightful and sensitive study of domestic violence that occurred in Victoria before, during and after the First World War powerfully challenges and adjusts previous historical understanding. The book successfully shows the limits of the terms ‘war front’ and the ‘home front’, moving beyond the public privilege often accorded to these spheres into the private and hidden domestic domain. Significantly, through this study, Nelson is able to reveal and reconceptualise the relationship between World War One and domestic violence in Australia.

In order to investigate the war’s impact on domestic violence, Nelson centrally draws upon State of Victoria court cases from 1910-1915. Extensive research also involves archival collections of the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia, the National Sound and Film Archive, the Public Records Office Victoria, the Salvation Army Heritage Centre, Melbourne, and the State Library of Australia. In addition, Nelson mines an extensive number of official sources including Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, and various pieces of relevant legislation. She also makes use of newspapers and periodicals, and contemporary books, articles and pamphlets.

Nelson carefully shows how war could affect men’s domestic violence towards women, from the onset of physical and mental exhaustion to broader societal fears of disempowerment. She offers insight into the societal norms of the times that could lead to the silencing and toleration of domestic violence. She interrogates where society placed blame for domestic violence, arguing that war made it difficult for women to speak out against prevailing heroic notions of soldiers. Nelson argues that the State could offer sympathy for men’s violence, and indifference to women’s suffering.

This is a brave book. It draws upon solid research to reveal and examine an important topic.

Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia: Volume 3: Nation, UNSW Press, 2014.

In the third and final volume of his history of The Europeans in Australia, Alan Atkinson pursues his inquiry into relationships between community and communication in Australia during the period between 1870 and the end of the First World War. The idea of ‘Australia’ nourished the hopes of those who judged their progress in moral or spiritual terms as it took shape in ways political, especially in the process of federation.

Showing how maps made people think differently, reading lessons changed accents and telephones connected voices, Atkinson’s work is akin to a ‘bottom up’ Australian version of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. He enables us to sense change through evolving notions of manhood and womanhood, and moves nimbly between colonies and schools, families and parliaments, Aboriginal-White frontier violence and urban clubs. All the while, he says, Australians were feeling their way towards a marriage between continental nationhood and moral purpose.

Nation is organised mostly by considering Australians wondering and striving in relation to Enlightenment ideals in their distinctive circumstances. Atkinson turns to lead figures in this wrestle, such as Alfred Deakin and Rose Scott, and joins them with glimpses of Australia as seen from regional newspapers, medical pamphlets, and diverse other sources.  His great skill in exposing and reflecting on different forms of Australian conversation is to invite us into the realms by which Australians understood themselves and the times in which they lived. He achieves intimacy with his many characters by giving them their voices and by standing, as an author, in a close and sympathetic listening position. The result is a rich, and often audible, vista of humanity.

Tom Brooking, Richard Seddon, King of God’s Own: The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister, Penguin Books, Auckland, 2014.

Tom Brooking has produced a handsome, richly illustrated biography of Richard Seddon, New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister (1893-1906) and arguably the country’s greatest leader. As Brooking shows in detail, Seddon was a defining leader through times of policy reform that did much to define the social contract in New Zealand. He was not always the primary agent of change, and followed slowly rather than led the move towards the vote for women, but his dedication to reducing inequality and building a robust role for the state in this ongoing task was unstinting. It extended to important infrastructure such as the railways, institutions such as the Bank of New Zealand, and polices ranging from pensions and housing to energy and environmental protection.

One of Seddon’s great strengths was his preparedness to strike out on foot through the electorates, and engage with those who would seek to speak with him. He was a big man, and through the pages of this big, meticulously-researched book (including a rich, 36-page Bibliography) we feel his strides. The strong connection with people underpinned his transformation into popular and even populist leader. As Brooking shows, he was always solidly grounded too, in his formative experiences of growing up in a rugged masculine environment and cutting his political teeth by championing miners’ rights (while developing an enduring hostility to Chinese immigrants) and better education, roads and services for the west coast.

Seddon was known for his dedication to family, and a talking point was his appointment of his daughter Mary Stuart as his private secretary. As Brooking makes clear, his wife Louisa, Mary Stuart and five other daughters, played quiet but important roles in relation to women’s suffrage and other issues.

Brooking’s book-ends, his reflections on how Seddon measures up against others for the claim to being New Zealand’s greatest Prime Minister, are perhaps unnecessary. This is a biography fit for the ‘King of God’s Own’.

The 2015 Ernest Scott Prize will be announced on July 9 at the 34th Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association (AHA).

Congratulations to all of the short-listed authors.