Pacific Perspectives: Why study Europe’s Middle Ages in Aotearoa New Zealand?
It could be argued that the teaching of medieval history, while of intrinsic interest, is a colonial legacy that has very little relevance in the university curricula of a Pacific nation such as Aotearoa New Zealand. This chapter argues that, alongside the important role that an accurate understanding of Europe’s past has to play in discrediting erroneous modern arguments, the teaching of medieval history remains relevant in Aotearoa for two key reasons. The first is that it enables a better understanding of New Zealand’s colonial past and its legacies. The recent debate surrounding the naming of “The Crusaders” rugby team illustrates that understanding both the reality of the Middle Ages and the way in which the medieval was interpreted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is by no means unimportant. Similarly, the origins of New Zealand’s legal and constitutional arrangements underline the continued relevance of establishing a sound understanding of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, there is a second, possibly more important, reason for continuing to study the medieval in Aotearoa: the Middle Ages are, potentially, an excellent vehicle for better integrating Aotearoa’s official policy of biculturalism into university curricula. To fulfil such a goal would require adjusting the way in which medieval history is taught at university to integrate comparison with Māori culture and values. By adopting such an approach, however, the chapter suggests that teaching Europe’s Middle Ages will not only remain relevant to a society seeking to move beyond its colonial legacies but that it raises the possibility of introducing new and innovative approaches to medieval research.