Today we launch four stories about creativity in academic disciplines in this country – Anthropology and archaeology, Māori studies – ngā tari Māori, Linguistics and Philosophy. The idea that academic work is ‘creative’ may at first sight surprise those who associate the university with boring lectures and examinations – indeed one of my esteemed colleagues suggested that ‘academic creativity’ is a contradiction in terms, like ‘military intelligence’. Creativity, you might say, surely belongs to the arts – such as dance and poetry and painting. Funding agency Creative New Zealand does not support academic work.
These stories firmly undermine such prejudices – the idea of the ‘open society‘ developed by the great philosopher Karl Popper, who taught at the University of Canterbury from 1937 to 1945, or Lisa Matisoo-Smith’s ingenious use of the DNA of rat and chicken bones to trace Polynesian migration across the Pacific are but two examples of the creativity to be found in these stories.
Of the four disciplines represented, philosophy is the oldest, its origins lying with the ancient Greeks. It is a highly international pursuit, but our story shows a remarkable level of contribution by New Zealanders or people based here. They included Arthur Prior and Max Cresswell, internationally recognised logicians, and Jeremy Waldron, a philosopher of law, who is represented by a fascinating conversation in which he traces his life from Invercargill to New York. The philosophers are a brilliant, sometimes eccentric and often colourful breed – Otago University lecturer Dennis Grey caused a bit of a shock to post-Second World War Dunedinites by wearing lipstick to his classes.
Anthropology first began to claim existence as a discipline about the time that Europeans reached New Zealand, but the early practitioners were not academics. As our story shows, early anthropology here came about from Europeans’ desire to understand, and attempt to control, Māori. This included explorers such as James Cook and governors such as George Grey, who was quite explicit that he studied Māori language and culture in order to govern them. Later there were surveyors, interpreters and Native Land Court judges. At the end of the 19th century the Polynesian Society was founded, partly impelled by the desire to record what was widely believed to be a ‘dying race’.
Along with European enthusiasts, the Polynesian Society also attracted some very significant Māori scholars – Āpirana Ngata, Māui Pōmare and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) – and it is fascinating to look at this story alongside Ranginui Walker’s one on Māori studies– ngā tari Māori. As the 20th century unfolded Māori studies began to emerge as a separate discipline out of anthropology. As early as 1926 Ngata had tried to get Māori language accepted as a BA subject. This did not happen until 1951, when Bruce Biggs was allowed to teach it at the University of Auckland, and it was not until 1978, at Victoria University of Wellington, that Māori studies first became a separate department. Meanwhile, anthropology and archaeology developed their own professionalism and began to explore the archaeology of non-Māori topics such as Chinese gold-mining communities and West Coast coal mines.
Linguistics was another late 20th century off-shoot, with its origins in both English and anthropology. Bruce Biggs again played a founding role in the recognition of linguistics. The first separate department was at Victoria in 1988, and once more there was an expansion into exciting new areas of study, many with a New Zealand focus, including the history of New Zealand English and of the New Zealand accent, and sociolinguistics, which explored, for example, speech in work places and how speech is affected by gender. For a young subject, linguistics in New Zealand has been extraordinarily impressive in its researches, and the country has given the world some outstanding lexicographers and sociolinguists. I particularly point you to the eloquent interview with the New Zealand-born and Israel-based scholar Bernard Spolsky, who makes the case for New Zealand becoming a multilingual society.
These four entries are packed with fascinating stories of inventive individuals and intellectual pioneers who have helped to reshape our view of the world. I dare you to possibly claim that they are not highly creative people.