Ten years ago today Jack Elder (remember him?), who was Minister of Internal Affairs, clicked the mouse to launch NZHistory.net.nz. At the time this was an initiative of the Heritage Group of the Department of Internal Affairs – a quickly forgotten grouping which pulled together the historical and heritage activities of the department, including the National Archives, as it was then.
The website largely drew on the energies and staff of the old Historical Branch and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB). Jamie Mackay from the DNZB was the moving spirit. The launch featured a really whizzy interactive of Richard Pearse’s plane. Initially, the site was seen primarily as a virtual shop window for our historical publications.
Well the Heritage Group has joined the dustbin of history; National Archives has become Archives New Zealand – an independent department; the Historical Branch has become the History Group in the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and the DNZB will shortly become part of Te Ara, also in the ministry. But Jamie Mackay remains the webmaster extraordinaire; and the creativity that he and the team showed then has gone from strength to strength. And NZHistory.net.nz now offers an extraordinarily varied menu covering all of New Zealand history.
Among the features of NZHistory.net.nz that I particularly enjoy are:
- Anzac Day: the site has always been a treasure-trove of material commemorating the Gallipoli landings and the Great War on the Western Front (see especially the great exhibition on Passchendaele). For years there was a huge spike in visitor numbers towards the end of April, although now the content is so rich now that it receives over 100,000 visitors a month during most of the year.
- Today in history: a daily snippet on fascinating events in New Zealand’s past. Today, for example, the site tells us that on this date in 1940 the country began marketing Jockey Y-fronts. Us Kiwi males could now relax – there was ‘no bunching discomfort at the crutch’ and a ‘no-gape opening’.
- Disasters: There is a great series on New Zealand disasters, from Tangiwai to the 1918 flu epidemic.
- Transport: I love the fascinating series of pieces about railways, which drew on Neill Atkinson’s fine book Trainland.
- The Classroom: This provides a guide to teachers on how to use the material on the site for class activities.
- Memorials register: This register began from the photographs and database I compiled with Chris Maclean about New Zealand memorials of the First World War. But it has since grown like topsy, with many people getting the ‘memorial bug’ and contributing both photos and comments to the site. Today, for example, the site received a note to say that Eli Cropper, whose name appears on the memorial commemorating the victims of the Wairau affray in 1843, should actually be Eli Crapper.
So congratulations to NZHistory.net.nz from Te Ara. You have been a great companion on this strange web journey and you have taught us heaps.
As for the rest of you, take a look at the site and tell us your favourite pages.