Marsden Grant for Ngāi Tahu academic

Dr Michael Stevens.Dr Michael Stevens (Ngāi Tahu) of Bluff has returned to the town he grew up in to study its place in history.

Michael, a lecturer in the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago, was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand’s prestigious and highly competitive Marsden Fund Fast-Start Grant worth $300,000 last year.  The grant enables him to carry out a three-year research project entitled “Between Local and Global: A World History of Bluff.” The major output of Michael’s work will be a monograph looking at the port’s evolution between 1800 and 2000.

Michael’s academic career was given an early boost when he won the Bluff Community Board bursary grant, which allowed him to attend Otago University. More than a decade on, he believes his historical case study of the port – writing about the Māori past – will re-shape thinking about New Zealand’s economic development and race relations.

“We know about later 19th Century landlessness and its resultant poverty but the positive consequences of agriculture for Bluff-based Māori and the relationship between land and sea in the colonial economy are not well understood. I think there is a real sense in which southern Māori were not just victims of but also participants in, the British Empire.”

Michael intends to weave the experiences of his own whānau and other Bluff Māori whānau into the port’s wider history. His study ties in with his doctorate studies about two centuries of muttonbirding before the year 2000 and he is looking forward to being a part of the town where three generations of his whānau currently live.