2015 Ernest Scott Prize Winners Announced

The Faculty of Arts, in conjunction with The Australian Historical Association, is excited to announce the joint winners of the 2015 Ernest Scott Prize are Alan Atkinson and Tom Brooking.

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.

Professor Alan Atkinson receives his award from Professor Joy Damousi.

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.

Congratulations Alan.

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.

Professor Tom Brooking receives his prize from Professor Joy Damousi

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’.

Congratulations Tom.

The 2015 Ernest Scott prize is worth approximately $13,000 and was judged by Associate Professor Katie Pickles (University of Canterbury) and Professor David Lowe (Deakin University).

The following publications were shortlisted for the prize, and are also highly commended:

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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

Congratulations to all of the short-listed authors. Read the full short list citations here.

The Ernest Scott Prize is awarded annually 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. Click here for more information about the Ernest Scott Prize.