The History of the History Society
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
Although the current University of Auckland History Society is a relatively new organisation, we have a long history. From an exclusive graduate club to one with a membership base of over 300 students from all levels of study, the history society has an interesting past.
The first iteration of the history society began in 1958 with the University of Auckland Historical Society. Their main event was a Reading Party which was first hosted at the Alpine Sports Club in the Waitakeres. The social events that the Historical Society organised were an excellent opportunity for postgraduate students to network with each other and develop a sense of community. While there wasn’t a formal restriction against undergraduate students, they would certainly feel out of place at the Historical Society events.
However, undergraduate students were involved in the publication of the University of Auckland Historical Society Annual, which began in 1967. The first History Annual contained a variety of essays written by students in 1965 and 1966, which the staff had selected as being of the highest quality. Three of the essays in the 1967 Annual were from third-year courses, while the other four were from postgraduate courses. Over time, the purpose of the History Annual became threefold: to publicly recognise the success of the students who are selected for publication; showcase the excellent research produced by the Department of History; and to act as an exemplar for students trying to improve their essay writing skills. The publication of the Annual was financed by the University Council and is available to read in the University of Auckland General Library. The series was published until 1999, and in 2002 it was reborn under the name Histeria!, which was published in hard copy format until 2012. Histeria! is now published online, but is organised by the Department of History.
In the 1990s the History Students Association was an active organisation with a high level of involvement from the Assistant Lecturers, as postgraduate students undertaking tutoring were called. The highlight each year was the Reading Party, a weekend of lectures, talks and socialising held out of Auckland and attended by the students and some staff. Most years, a feature of the weekend was Professor Nicholas Tarling’s mulled wine, meticulously prepared and consumed in great quantities. However, things went quiet in the next decade for a number of reasons including the end of the assistant lecturer role and students having more work commitments on weekends. The decline of the history society was also due to personal reasons, including a deterioration in people’s enthusiasm for organising the reading parties.
The current University of Auckland History Society was founded in 2016. It began as an idea formed by David Cole, Sam Denny and Marco de Jong, three students taking the Stage III course HISTORY 300: Thinking History - Approaches to the Past in 2015. One of their class seminars ended at 5pm on a Friday, and so after class, they would go to Shadows Bar to discuss the ideas in the course. David was eager to restart the history society, although the others were apprehensive - they saw many of the Arts clubs as being cliques dominated by postgraduate students, and thus have little reach. The desire to restart the history society was largely spurred by the serious decline in enrolments in History in 2016. The effects of this were keenly felt - a BA(Hons) course was cancelled because a lack of enrolments equalled a lack of discretionary funding to pay tutors, and the lecturer’s time was therefore severely restricted. Disheartened by the falling enrolments, David, Sam Denny, Marco and Sam Jaffe, now BA(Hons) students, became determined to try and fix the problem. They decided to restart the history society with the explicit mission to boost the number of students taking history and make studying history a better experience for students of all levels. To do this, they wanted to create a better community for history students at the University of Auckland, and engage students at all levels of history.
The University of Auckland History Society debuted in Semester Two of 2016. They had official t-shirts, banners, bookmarks and more - they “wanted to give the appearance of being a mass movement without it actually being a mass movement” (Marco de Jong). Using established motifs gave an air of legitimacy to a society that had only been born a few months ago, with its only members being its executive committee. The first year was a major success for the society - they had hundreds of new members, and they were finalists for the Best New Club of the Year category at the university’s club awards ceremony.
In 2017, the History Society published Ngā Tohutohu. As history students at the University of Auckland, they recognised the need to develop an informative resource which would be valuable to students during the essay writing process. As a result, they decided to create Ngā Tohutohu. This resource provides students with examples of high-quality essays which are then deconstructed to demonstrate how a student might go about getting that grade. They also included areas where students might be able to improve. Ngā Tohutohu is a useful resource for students, particularly those who may be taking history as a general education paper or without previous experience studying history.
One of the key initiatives begun by the History Society was the schools outreach programme. This involved going into high schools around Auckland and encouraging students to study history. They visited over 50 schools in 2017 and were soon travelling to schools across the North Island with the message of the importance of studying history. At these visits, they espoused the value of studying humanities, while also giving students the opportunity to present their research in new and exciting ways.
O-Week 2017 saw another major success for the History Society: their O-Week debate had over a hundred attendees. Their formula for engagement, which tried not to make events too serious so that it attracted more people to come, proved successful. The debates between lecturers have since become a staple part of the society’s event calendar.
The year 2018 saw the Society continue to grow and expand under the new president Emma Wordsworth, with one of the highest points being the Polynesian Panthers event (organised by KDee Aimiti Maiai) which was sold-out. The Society started to change demographically, with more undergraduate students joining the executive committee.
In 2019, the Society launched their new website, Tāhuhu Kōrero. Founded by MA students Kathryn Cammell and Michaela Selway, Tāhuhu Kōrero aims to improve the accessibility, relevance and inclusivity of history by engaging people through a variety of mediums. Staff, students and alumni can contribute to the website by writing blog posts or joining Michaela on the podcast. So far, engagement with Tāhuhu Kōrero has been high, and we look forward to seeing it grow in the future.
From the History Annual to Ngā Tohutohu, Reading Parties to debates, the History Society at the University of Auckland has always had a vibrant culture and an executive committee dedicated to making the student experience the best possible.
Want to get involved and make your mark on the history of the History Society? You can join our executive committee for 2020! Join us at our Annual General Meeting/Pub Quiz on Thursday 29th August at 5.30pm in Shadows Bar.
Kathryn Cammell is the co-founder of Tahuhu Kōrero and a Master of Arts student in History at the University of Auckland, studying New Zealand history. Thank you to Professor Linda Bryder, Associate Professor Malcolm Campbell, Raewyn Dalziel and Marco de Jong for their valuable contributions to this post. All posts by contributing authors reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of the University of Auckland History Society.