Dr Rowan Light
PhD in History (University of Auckland); BA (Hons) in History (University of Sydney); BA in History and European Studies (University of Auckland); Te Ara Reo Māori (He Pī ka Pao) (Te Wānanga o Aotearoa)
I am a historian of memory and commemoration, interested in public uses of the past and how communities make sense of violence and trauma. I am project curator (NZ Wars) at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, assisting the Human History team in the redevelopment of the New Zealand Wars gallery.
My recent work includes a chapter critically analysing Te Papa's Gallipoli exhibition in historical context, published in (Routledge, 2020); and an article exploring the scripts of remembrance of 19th and 20th-c violence in Māori Television Anzac Day broadcasts since 2006, published in the special First World War issue of Journal of Australian Studies.
My doctoral research explored imperial and post-imperial remembrances of the First World War; in particular, the emergence of postwar national commemorations from 1965 to the Anzac Centenary in 2015. The memory of ‘the long nineteenth century’ is a key research interest. My essay 'Unknown Anzacs: the politics and performance of bodily repatriation and state formation', was awarded the Ken Inglis Postgraduate History Prize and published in Australian Historical Studies in 2018. 'Unknown Anzacs' explored the connections between nineteenth and twentieth-century histories of violence through a comparative and transnational lens.
I have also published in Australian Historical Studies and the Melbourne Journal of History, and reviewed for the New Zealand Journal of History. My ‘public impact’ writing in New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post and The Press has contributed to the evolving debate about public monuments and New Zealand’s colonial history.
I am passionate about helping students see their history-writing as the pursuit of the truthful, good, and beautiful. As Saidiya Hartman writes, beauty is not a luxury, but a political act: "It is a way of creating possibility in the space of enclosure, a radical art of subsistence, an embrace of our terribleness, a transfiguration of the given. It is a will to adorn, a proclivity for the baroque, and the love of too much.” (Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, 2019, p. 33)
Some of my recent public contributions include:
- 'Solidarity and difference — how Anzac Day reflects an ever-changing New Zealand', (2021): https://theconversation.com/solidarity-and-difference-how-anzac-day-reflects-an-ever-changing-new-zealand-159210
- 'Podcast: New Zealand's Troubles with Commemoration' (2020): https://95bfm.com/bcast/new-zealands-troubles-with-commemoration-w-dr-rowan-light
- 'History should make us uncomfortable' (2020): https://www.pressreader.com/new-zealand/the-northland-age/20200720/281711206961551
- 'Disruption - more than consensus - has been key to Anzac Day and its history' (2020): https://www.maxim.org.nz/disruption-anzac-day-history/
- 'Podcast: Rowan Light on the protest and patriotism of ANZAC day' (2020): https://www.maxim.org.nz/rowan-light-podcast/
- 'Coronavirus: Why the past matters as we struggle to face a difficult future' (2020): https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/120899697/coronavirus-why-the-past-matters-as-we-struggle-to-face-a-difficult-future
- 'New Zealand history: what stories should we be telling?' (2019): https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/news/2019/11/11/new-zealand-history-what-stories-should-we-be-telling-.html
- 'Mount Erebus disaster: The plane crash that changed New Zealand' (2019): https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-50555046
- 'Captain Cook 'First Encounter' celebrations a 'difficult step towards a truly shared story' (2018): https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/104561606/opinion-captain-cook-first-encounter-celebrations-a-difficult-step-towards-a-truly-shared-story
- 'Podcast: Anzac Day - what we commemorate and why' (2018): http://seeds.libsyn.com/historian-rowan-light-on-anzac-day-and-why-we-celebrate-a-defeat
- 'Podcast: Teaching war, teaching peace' (2018): https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/blogs/post/podcast-teaching-war-teaching-peace/
Research | Current
Anzac Nations: The Legacy of Gallipoli in Australia and New Zealand, 1965-2015 (Otago University Press, 2022)
Ano te mahara e reka: The Repatriation Hīkoi of Bishop Pompallier 1838-2002 (Ngā Kōrero Tuku Iho, New Zealand Oral History Award & Faculty Research Development Fund)
I am also currently working on research and writing projects in the following areas.
- Museum narratives and decolonisation
- New Zealand Wars in history and memory
- Spatiality, knowledge, and empire
- Early Māori and Catholic missionary encounters
- Catholic collective memory
Teaching | Current
HIST 107: Titiro Whakamuri (Course Co-ordinator and lecturer)
Haere mai, whaowhia te kete mātauranga / Welcome, fill the basket with knowledge
'Titiro whakamuri, kōkiri whakamua', look back to move forward, calls for a looking or reflecting back on Aotearoa New Zealand histories. In this course, we do that by asking ‘ko wai tātou’? Who are we all, together? Where are we? What – and who – is ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’? What does it mean to belong to this place, and how has this belonging changed over time? Who have been included and excluded in these histories?
This course engages such questions by exploring Aotearoa New Zealand histories since the 18th Century. It ranges from tangata whenua worlds of hapū and iwi, to conceptions of ‘Māori’ and ‘Pākehā’, to the naming of Niu Tīreni, Maoriland, and Middle-earth. These differences reflect how communities have organised themselves (Te Tiriti, Kingitanga, democracy), imagined themselves and their relationships (whakapapa, faith, race), and understood connections to other worlds (Pacific, imperial, global.)
This course will interest students who seek an introduction to Aotearoa New Zealand history, who want to think more deeply about historical practices in this place, and/or who are interested in public applications of history through communities and schools.
Helen Leggatt, ‘The Burning Issue: Cremation in New Zealand from 1870 to 1930’ (PhD, 2019–) [University of Canterbury] [Associate supervision with Dr Lyndon Fraser and Dr Heather Wolfram]
Phoebe Fordyce, ‘Remembering Helen Macmillan Brown’ (Hons, 2018) [University of Canterbury]
Helen Leggatt, ‘Life and Death in Exile: Remittance Men in New Zealand’ (Hons, 2018) [University of Canterbury]
Eve Williams, ‘Towards Positive Ageing: Older People’s Advocacy in New Zealand, 1970-2001’, (MA, 2019) [University of Canterbury]
Keith Sinclair Memorial Scholarship (University of Auckland), 2015-2018
Ken Inglis Prize (Australian Historical Association), 2017
Australian Historical Association
New Zealand Historical Association
Memory Studies Association
Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)
- Datt, A. K., Frost, J., Light, R., & Zizek, J. (2019). Designing engaging assessments for teaching the digital humanities. In E. Alqurashi (Ed.) Handbook of research on fostering student engagement with instructional technology in higher education (pp. 139-153). Hershey, PA, USA: Information Science Reference. 10.4018/978-1-7998-0119-1.ch008
Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ashwini Datt, Jennifer Frost, Joseph Zizek
- Light, R. P. (2019). Mobilising memory: Anzac commemoration in Australia and New Zealand, 1965-2015 The University of Auckland. ResearchSpace@Auckland.
- Light, R. (2018). Unknown Anzacs: The Politics and Performance of Bodily Repatriation in Postcolonial State Formation. Australian Historical Studies, 49 (2), 237-254. 10.1080/1031461X.2018.1449873
Office Extension: 82688
Primary office location
HUMANITIES BUILDING - Bldg 206
Level 7, Room 713
14A SYMONDS ST