A shared passion for the past

Three students will celebrate their passion for the past when they graduate with a Master of Arts (MA) in History from Victoria University of Wellington this month.

(L-R) Dean Broughton, Jamie Hawkins Elder, Professor Charlotte Macdonald, Hayden Thorne
(L-R) Dean Broughton, Jamie Hawkins Elder, Professor Charlotte Macdonald, Hayden Thorne

Despite their very different histories and homes, Dean Broughton, Jamie Hawkins Elder and Hayden Thorne have travelled the same path together at the University.

Inspired by his upbringing as the son of a merchant seaman, Dean Broughton’s MA research focused on immigrant sailors in nineteenth century British maritime history. “For me, a key aspect of the study of history is to recover the accounts and records of the minority groups who have made valuable contributions to society,” he says.

After a 12-year career in hospitality followed by five years in veterinary practice, Dean returned to university at the age of 49 to pursue history academically. His passion for the subject is fuelled by new and underutilised ways of remembering the past. “Today's ex-merchant seafarers are a well-connected group who participate in public social media forums,” he says. “This in itself provides a valuable new archive of untapped written and photographic history offering insight into their collective memory of a life at sea.”

In 2019, Dean will continue his studies with a PhD examining the occupation of seafaring as an alternative method of immigration to New Zealand. His particular focus is British seafarers who deserted in New Zealand between 1945 and 1970.

Hayden Thorne’s historical interest lies in the field of American Legal History, and more specifically, the United States Supreme Court during the early stages of the Cold War. Hayden says this niche area of history combines his interest in American history with his legal background.

“When I started my undergraduate study doing a combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, my history papers were only ever intended to be an interesting fill-in to break up my legal study,” he says. “My end goal was always to graduate and go into legal practice, but as I got to the end of my study, I started to find law less and less attractive, and began to enjoy my history study more and more. A couple of persistent lecturers managed to persuade me to enrol in Honours in history—and I haven’t looked back since.”

Hayden will take up a scholarship at the University in 2019. His PhD will continue his study of the United States Supreme Court, with a focus on the role legal representation plays in the outcome of significant Supreme Court decisions.

Jamie Hawkins Elderfirst started studying at the University in 2011, after moving to Wellington from her hometown of Gisborne. “My research looked at settler 'refugee' women during the Land Wars of the 1860s in New Zealand, and was in part motivated by my inquiry about the history of the place I came from,” she says.

“The ‘refugees’ symbolised the unsettling of settler colonialism, both literally by their locational displacement and figuratively by igniting fear about the stability of the settler colony. The research argues that during the wars there was conflict off the battlefield as well as on.”

Landing a contract role as a research assistant at the Office of Treaty Settlements before even submitting her final copy, Jamie now has a permanent role as historian working within the Maniapoto settlement team.

Professor of History Charlotte Macdonald says, “Dean, Hayden and Jamie chose very different topics for their research, yet they were all engaged in making sense of the past and believing that research, interpretation, argument, and clear articulation of a final set of conclusions was important and purposeful. They all developed skills of sifting through ranges of material in order to distil sense and make judgement. The histories they produced are fascinating and original.

“Their research is a strong demonstration that we are what we have been, not just what we wake up today and imagine we are,” she says.