In praise of zoomify

I’m a part-time creator of content for Te Ara, but outside this time I’m a regular consumer of it. Recently I’ve been struck how technology like the zoomify tool (which allows you to zoom into images) continues to reshape and improve Te Ara.

I’ve been researching the founding of Auckland and Wellington for another project and wanted to know the extent of Ngāti Whātua land ownership in early Auckland. So I went to their iwi entry in the Māori New Zealanders theme and came across this map showing their 1850 land holdings. But it was hard to read and lacked the detail I was after. I wanted to be able to zoom into the Auckland isthmus and get a better idea of the ownership boundaries. As it is included in one of the first themes to be completed, I concluded the map was put up on the site before Te Ara adopted the zoomify tool.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: MapColl 832.4799/1840/Acc.317

It was a completely different experience when I began analysing William Mein Smith’s 1840 plan for Wellington (shown above). Though I’d seen it many times before in books, the full-screen zoomify allowed me to focus in on the detail and make many new discoveries. One thing I hadn’t noticed before was the position of the public wharf – at the end of Taranaki Street. In trading towns like Wellington, wharfside land was the most prized because it rapidly increased in value. So when the time came for the first settlers and investors to choose their sections this land was picked first – if you look closely you can see the numbers 1 and 2 on the sections either side of the wharf.

Of course, Te Aro pā also occupied this land. Its inhabitants refused to budge so its new ‘owners’ could move in, leading to one of the first conflicts between settlers and Māori in Wellington. I’d sometimes wondered why the New Zealand Company had simply not accommodated Te Aro pā in their planning, as they did Kumutoto (Woodward Street) and Pipitea pā (Pipitea Street). After identifying the high value of the Te Aro pā land (through the zoomify), I’ve decided the Company probably figured it was easier to raze Te Aro pā than upset its powerful investors. It didn’t quite go to plan: the pā remained a Wellington landmark long after the New Zealand Company perished.

So, I think it’s brilliant how Te Ara’s continuing adoption of new technology is allowing people like me to discover new things that can help advance knowledge and understanding of where we live.

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