New Zealand History

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The Red Cross Lens on New Zealand Social History

August 22nd, 2013

Seminar presented by historian Margaret Tennant at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage on 3 July 2013.

While writing an institutional history requires attention to the framework of the organisation itself, its membership, leadership and changes over time, it invariably provides a lens into broader historical themes and how they are played out within particular local and national frameworks. In the case of the New Zealand Red Cross, we have the example of a transnational organisation which, in New Zealand, emerged within an imperial framework, but operated in minutely local contexts - it links with the history of high diplomacy and nation states, but equally embraces the iconographic wartime sock knitter, the home nursing class, neighbourly social caring and school-room pen pals.

The wide range of activities undertaken by the Red Cross during its history sheds light on such areas as disaster relief, children's voluntarism, the militarisation of charity, the business of fundraising, the policing of professional boundaries and the relationship between government and non-profit formations. Margaret's presentation will explore some of these themes while commenting on the tension between the requirements of a conventional, largely chronological institutional history and the desire to 'dig deeper' in pursuit of wider historical questions.

Margaret Tennant was formerly Professor of History at Massey University, and is currently working as a contract historian. Margaret is the author of The Fabric of Welfare. Voluntary Organisations, Government and Welfare in New Zealand 1840-2005, Children's Health, the Nation's Wealth, and numerous articles on women's history and the history of health and welfare in New Zealand, the most recent being 'Fun and Fundraising: the Selling of Charity in New Zealand's Past' (Social History, 2013).

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