‘Like Iron Filings to a Magnet’: A Reappraisal of Michael King’s Approach to New Zealand History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis outlines the development of New Zealand historian Michael King‘s writing career through an analysis of his main texts. King‘s texts have never been examined as a whole. This thesis endeavours to assess his place within the historiographical discourse of national histories in more depth than previously attempted. King‘s prolific career as a self sustained writer brought a degree of success. He became an authority for a generation of New Zealanders wanting to understand their past. Nonetheless, academic historians have been critical of his work. This thesis examines their criticisms and re-evaluates King‘s contribution. This reassessment of King‘s works discusses the differing literary devices he used to construct his observations on New Zealand history. Commentators have focused on King‘s affirmation of being Pākehā: an indigenisation of European identity in New Zealand. Yet, this was not the only device King used to explain New Zealand history. He also focused on a sense of belonging to the landscape and the writing of life histories as personal expressions of his observations of New Zealand history. King‘s combinations of new and old stylistic conventions were showcased in his last work The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003). In this as in earlier work, King demonstrated that the framework of the nation for writing histories was not redundant but could be a tool for including the individual in their own history and provided them with a familiar construction of place and belonging.