James Beattie

AProf James Beattie profile picture

Associate Professor Centre for Science in Society

I mainly work offsite, so the best way to contact me is via email.


I am a historian of environment, science and gardens. Before joining Victoria University of Wellington in 2017, I was professor of history at the University of Waikato (2007-2017) and, earlier, ‘Asia New Zealand’ post-doctoral fellow at the University of Otago (2005-2007). I hold several research associate positions, including with the World Center for Environmental History (University of Sussex) and the Department of History, Division of Humanities, University of Johannesburg. I am also Honorary Curator, Dunedin Chinese Gardens, and work closely with colleagues at Sun Yat-sen University, People’s Republic of China. From 2017- 2019, I am President, New Zealand Asian Studies Society.


I am a leading historical researcher on the Asia-Pacific region, examining the nexus between environmental history, history of science, landscape history and health history. My work is especially focussed on exploring cross-cultural dimensions of exchanges of environmental knowledge, plants, climate change and conservation ideas. I collaborate with ecologists, geographers, architects and translators, and have led several international projects on environmental change. In addition, I work on Chinese art collecting and have an interest in museums and collecting.

Current research projects

  • Ecological Change and World Empires, 2500BCE to 2000CE, with Prof. Gene Anderson, University of California (Oxford University Press).
  • China, Migration and Environmental Change in the Pacific.
  • Overseas Chinese Gardens: Identity, Belonging and Cultural Exchange.
  • Environmental Change in Australasia—a Documentary History, with Andrea Gaynor (UWA) (Routledge).
  • Ecological Change in the Taranaki Ringplain since the last Ice Age, with Professor Bruce Clarkson (University of Waikato).
  • Medicine and the Chinese Diaspora, with Dr. John Fountain (University of Otago).


I am an experienced supervisor and welcome students to work on topics related to: environmental history, history of science, ecological history, landscape history, health history and garden history. I am especially interested in the role of China and Chinese migration in environmental change.

Current supervisions include


  • Anton Sveding – ‘Public Science: Forests, Conservation and the NZ Public’, PhD (History), 2018-.
  • Meera Muralidaran – ‘Environmental change in South India: trade and the Dutch VOC’, PhD (History), 2018-.


  • Zoe Heine – ‘Community Gardens and Climate Change’, MSc (Science in Society), 2019-.
  • Louise Stevenson – ‘Science and Mission in China’, MA (History), 2019-.

Recent supervisions include


  • Joanna Bishop, ‘The use of Native and Introduced Plants in Colonial Health Care’, 2011-2014.
  • John Armstrong, ‘Trans-National Medical Connections, 1940-1970’, 2010-2013.
  • Maree Dawson, ‘National Fitness or Failure? Heredity, Vice and Racial Decline in New Zealand Psychiatry: A Case Study of the Auckland Mental Hospital, 1868-99’, 2010-2013.
  • Sandy Harman, ‘The struggle for success: A socio-cultural perspective on the French Marist priests and their Māori mission (1838-1867)’, 2010.


  • Alexander Sutherland, ‘Paving the Silk Road: Examining Silk Road historiography and material culture’, 2017.
  • Nicola Lemberg, ‘Gold-Rush Literature in Comparative Perspective’, 2015.
  • Courtenay Rayes, ‘Invasive Organisms: Ship-worms in New Zealand’, 2013-2014.
  • Annette Bainbridge, ‘Cultivating Gardens, Cultivating Friendships: Gardening Cultures in Colonial Canterbury’, 2014-2015.
  • Hazel Baker, ‘Modernism and Japanese Gardens’, 2009-2010.

Selected Publications



Curated Art Exhibitions

  • J. Beattie & R. Bullen, China: Open Empire, Canterbury Museum Travelling Exhibition, February 2018 to 2020.
  • J. Beattie & R. Bullen, Bringing China Home: Chinese Stories and Objects in Hawke’s Bay, 16 July 2016 to 7 June 2017, MTG Hawke’s Bay, Napier, 127 objects curated.

Documentary Films

  • Visions of Peace: A Kiwi Farmer in Communist China, scriptwriter and co-producer, J. Beattie, P. Millar & R. Bullen, post production.

Refereed Articles (since 2018)

  • Beattie, J. (2018) ‘Rethinking Chinese environmental history’, Global History Review 全球史评论 14, 30-69.
  • Beattie, J. (2018) ‘Environmental History and Garden History in China and the West: Problems, Methods and Responses’, Environment and History24, 5-22.

Refereed Book Chapters (since 2018)

  • Beattie, J. (2020), ‘Chinese Resource Frontiers, Environmental Change, and Entrepreneurship in the Pacific, 1790s-1920s’, Migrant Ecologies in the Pacific. Eds. E. D. Melillo & R. T. Jones. Honolulu: Hawai’i University Press, forthcoming.
  • Beattie, J. & E.N. Anderson (2020). ‘Environments and Empires in World History, 3000BCE-1900CE’, in The Oxford History of World Empires. Eds. P. Bang, C. A. Bayly, & W.ScheidelOxford: OUP, 2020.
  • Beattie, J. & P. Star (2020). ‘Global Influences and Local Environments: Forestry and Forest Conservation in New Zealand, 1850s–1925’, in Forestry in the British Empire, Ed. V. Damodaran. Delhi: Primus Books, forthcoming.
  • Beattie, J. & R. Bullen (2019). ‘Rewi Alley and the Art of Museum Diplomacy in Cold War China and New Zealand, 1949-1960s in China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and the Collecting and Display of Chinese Arts since the Cold War, pp.46-61. Eds. J. Beattie, R. Bullen & M. Galikowski. London: Routledge.
  • Beattie, J., Galikowski, M., & Bullen, R. (2019). ‘China and the Art of Cultural Diplomacy’, in China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and the Collecting and Display of Chinese Arts since the Cold War, pp.1-17. Eds. J. Beattie, R. Bullen & M. Galikowski. London: Routledge.

Click here for a full publication list: James Beattie publications.

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Recent invited talks include:

  • ‘From Plunder to Archaeology and Antiques Markets: Collection, Exhibition, and Appreciation of Chinese artefacts in New Zealand, 1860-1940s’, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 30 April 2019.
  • ‘Chinese Resource Frontiers and Environmental Change in the Pacific, 1790s-1920s’, Sun Yat-sen University, September 2018.
  • ‘A Garden on a Plate: Willow Pattern and World History’, Dunedin Chinese Gardens’ 10-year anniversary Scholars’ Celebration, 8 September 2018.