Arts, humanities and social sciences

Leading research in the areas of creative arts, history, philosophy, psychology, political science, art history, classics, religious studies, film and theatre.

Victoria’s creative and scholarly research across the humanities is recognised internationally for its quality and originality. Our researchers work across a broad range of disciplines from history, philosophy and political science to art history, classics and religious studies to English, film, theatre and media studies. Many interdisciplinary research projects draw on expertise across humanities. Our linguistics researchers work on projects in sociolinguistics, lexicography, second language acquisition, discourse studies and sign language. Our Māori studies researchers specialise in local and international indigenous issues. Other researchers focus on projects around Pacific, Asian and European languages and cultures.

Victoria University is situated in a vibrant, creative city rich in theatre, art and heritage, an ideal setting for our creative staff who contribute performances, films and literature to Wellington’s creative mix. Our staff include internationally acclaimed poets, fiction writers, musicians, composers and filmmakers who work with the excellent facilities here and overseas.


A History of the Liverpool trading port

Eighteenth and nineteenth century Liverpool was a busy trading port but, with Britain the world’s second largest slave trading nation, and 80 percent of this trade going through Liverpool, research to date has focused on the slave trade.

Now Victoria historian Dr Steve Behrendt is putting this research in the context of Liverpool’s wider maritime and economic history in a three-year project funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

New Zealand sign language goes digital

New Zealand’s third official language recently became more accessible with the launch of the Online Multimedia Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language in June.

Victoria University’s Deaf Studies Research Unit, which produced the first dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) in 1997, created the online dictionary.

Exploring the complexity of language

When do fish become fishes and mice become mouses? The answers are not clear cut, according to Professor of Linguistics Laurie Bauer.

Professor Bauer has been working with two other world-leading linguists—Rochelle Lieber from the University of New Hampshire and Ingo Plag from the University of Siegen—to fill a gap in our understanding of the complexities of modern English.

Hidden Messages in Artwork Acknowledge Iraqi Deaths

An artwork protesting against the deaths of Iraqi civilian casualties, devised by a Victoria University academic and his US collaborator, is currently showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The work consists of a large stack of seemingly innocuous yellow notepads. However, the lines of each page, when magnified, reveal micro-printed text listing all Iraqi civilian casualties since 2003.

Reversing the decline in speakers of te reo Māori

A Victoria University researcher wants to find out what helps people become active users of the Māori language to try to reverse the decline in speaker numbers.

Associate Professor Rāwinia Higgins from Victoria’s Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies) is co-leading a three-year research project to investigate how Māori language contributes to economic development, cultural identity and social cohesion.

Getting creative

Award-winning playwright Ken Duncum is amazed how productive a year of complete freedom can be, even though he’s never suffered from writers’ block.

The Director of Scriptwriting at Victoria’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) was the 2010 recipient of New Zealand’s most prestigious literary award—the Katherine Mansfield Prize—which includes a residency in Menton, France, where Mansfield lived and wrote.

Rational debate on drugs

Drug policies in New Zealand might be very different if debate on the use and misuse of drugs was based on the scientific evidence available says Victoria’s Criminology Programme Director Dr Julian Buchanan.

Dr Buchanan spent more than a decade working in criminal justice in the United Kingdom, including as a drugs specialist, before becoming an academic. His research interests are in the same field and he has published widely with more than 40 journal articles and book chapters in his name.

Understanding why teens self-injure

A major study led by Victoria researcher Marc Wilson is shining a light on why teenagers self-injure and the consequences of the behaviour.

The team has funding of $1.2 million from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to carry out a longitudinal study into non-suicidal self-injury among adolescents which will follow a cohort of Year 9 Wellington students through their secondary schooling years.

New view of Polynesian conversion to Christianity

Missionaries are often seen as the drivers of conversion to Christianity in Polynesia but research by a Victoria University anthropologist puts forward a different view.

A three-year Marsden-funded study by Associate Professor Jeff Sissons has investigated a series of episodes that took place in Eastern Polynesia in the early 19th century in which images of gods, marae and temples were burned or torn down.

Māori in Australia disengaged with politics

Māori living in Australia are increasingly disengaged with politics, says Māori Studies lecturer and political scientist Dr Maria Bargh.

In her recent survey of the voting habits of Māori living in Australia, 72 percent of respondents stated they did not vote in the 2008 New Zealand election. In addition, 79 percent of respondents stated that they were not aware there is a referendum on the voting system in New Zealand in 2013.

Don’t worry, be happy

To most of the Western world, happiness is the number one goal, and a happy life is seen as a good life. But is it as simple as that?

Not according to Dan Weijers from Victoria University’s School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, whose PhD research focuses on a range of issues—from happiness-seeking hedonists to the role of happiness in climate change.