Saturday, April 5, 2008

Historically Speaking

New Zealand is a young country, by modern standards. It's reportedly the last large land mass settled by human beings, and one of the last reached-for by the dubiously intentioned arm of western civilization.

As such, its history has a certain immediacy and relevance that even the USA's own young-country history doesn't have for me. This may be in part due to scabs formed around the wounds inflicted during the formation of a Sovereign New Zealand and the clawing and scratching at those scabs that continues to this day from both sides of the racial divide.

Joanne to a greater extent and I to a lesser extent have started to learn about New Zealand history. She picked up the book A History of New Zealand by Keith Sinclair and has been making her way through it. At the recommendation of Jim, a colleague and fellow expat, she checked out An Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi by Claudia Orange which she finds much more enlightening and interesting. In the Sinclair book, however, I managed to find an unexpected treasure. The book is a bit dry and historian-ish and its dedication page is full of other historians to whom this historian is in debt for their works. One of these historians has potentially the greatest name I've ever found:

J. C. Beaglehole.

For the last week or so, there's been a lot of "J. C. Beaglehole" talk around the Mariotti compound. I've been trying to slip Beaglehole references into our conversation on a regular basis. I've come up a set of new aphorisms that are very Beaglehole-based such as "There's a little Beaglehole in all of us" and "What would J. C. Beaglehole do?" Sometimes when Joanne or the kids are grasping for the right word, I quickly suggest "Beaglehole?" It's kind of an obsession at the moment.

So when Joanne got back from the Wellington Public Library with a bunch of kids' books and The Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi, she was able to slap this little gem into my hand:



It's a linen-bound light blue book that smells of age and has heavy, rough paper pages. It was printed in 1934 and is currently serving as my introduction to New Zealand history. I end each day now by sticking my nose into a Beaglehole and fighting my way through a few more chapters of his (short, so he says) account of New Zealand's history. I say "fighting" my way through because the entire book is written in a sort of flowery discursive style that buries the facts under a bunch of linguistic ornamentation and protracted tangents in the footnotes which often take up the majority of the page's real estate.

I enjoy the mental challenge, and no one ever said a Beaglehole was breezy.

2 comments:

Cathy said...

After a fit of laughing hysterically, I read the rest of this through tears...I can't wait to tell Ed! What a name for a pet -- maybe a beagle!
Love you guys.
Mom

Leslie said...

The book to read is Michael King's History of New Zealand..happy to lend it to you.