Mastering the land: mapping and metrologies in Aotearoa New Zealand

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The environmental history of New Zealand is one of the clearest and most recent examples of the way humans make a home for themselves in newly explored territory. New Zealand was the last major land area in the world to be colonised by people and, given its extraordinary natural history, the first settlers could hardly have been more surprised when they arrived in the thirteenth century. At the time of this first Polynesian settlement, New Zealand was a land not only without humans, but without any terrestrial mammals except for a few species of bats. In their absence the avifauna had proliferated, and in ecosystems developed with birds as the only large grazers, the flora had developed in ways not seen anywhere else, leaving only limited plant foods available for humans. This must have made New Zealand not only a challenging but also an initially incomprehensible land for newly arrived Polynesians as well as Europeans. This fact makes their success in forging cultural landscapes from the new land all the more interesting for students of environmental history.
As an example of such processes, New Zealand illustrates the way human newcomers learn to master an environment, change the land and its resources, and in the process change themselves. From the ‘fragile plenty’ of the first Māori to the cultural landscapes in which they lived at the time of the first European discovery, to the settler economy and the modern society of today, New Zealand is an example of the way a society develops on the basis of natural resources which change as the society itself changes. Newcomers to any environment meet it with a set of technologies and a culture which they bring with them and which changes continuously, as it aligns with experience gathered in that environment. The environmental histories told from a multiplicity of viewpoints in this volume are contributions to our understanding of this central dialectical relationship, which over time led to the creation of the landscapes and ecosystems of contemporary New Zealand.
This chapter picks up on a theme which has been touched on in most of the preceding chapters, but which has not been fully unfolded. It argues that while conditions and events changed the relationship between society and environments repeatedly, the history of New Zealand was always a history of spaces and of the ability of its inhabitants to control space and resources cognitively, socially and physically. With this perspective in mind the chapter outlines the history of production of spatial knowledge about the environments of New Zealand. This is not only to provide an overview of understandings of the environment, but also to investigate and illustrate the close ties between knowledge and practice: between understanding the environment and changing it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking a new land : environmental histories of New Zealand
EditorsEric Pawson, Tom Brooking
Number of pages18
PublisherUniversity of Otago Press
Publication date2013
Edition2.
Pages310-327
Chapter18
ISBN (Print)978-1-877578-52-6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - Anthropology of the moderns, metrology, New Zealand, Cartography, Historical geography
  • Faculty of Science - Land use changes, land use patterns, Land use systems, Landscape, Landscape management, Environmental management, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental history
  • Faculty of Humanities - Representation, Territory, Spatial competence, Territorial competence, State formation

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