New scholarship helps Arts students uncover Auckland’s history

A passion for history, along with a desire to give back led to the establishment of the Jonathan and Mary Mason Summer Scholarship in Auckland History.

Jonathan and Mary Mason
Jonathan and Mary Mason

History shapes our lived environment. This is what Jonathan Mason, an American adjunct professor in the Business School, thinks about as he moves through Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland.

Having lived in Aotearoa / New Zealand for 20 years, his long-standing passion for history and for Auckland, along with a desire to give back is what lead Jonathan and his wife to establish the Jonathan and Mary Mason Summer Scholarship in Auckland History in the Faculty of Arts as part of the For All Our Futures philanthropic campaign.

“My father’s a historian. I loved history but was also very interested in economics so I decided to major in that while taking as many history papers as I could. I remember at graduate school, I designed my homework so that history was last, as a reward, because I just loved reading. Studying history is one way to tap into great readings,” says Jonathan.

In the last few years, he completed a postgraduate degree in history, which focused on the New Zealand economic reform. He says that one of the benefits of being in such a small country is being able to connect with people you might not have access to otherwise.

“I was able to have lunch with Roger Douglas for my research, so I really enjoyed that.”

The Jonathan and Mary Mason Summer Scholarship in Auckland History is an important contribution to the University’s suite of Summer Research Scholarships. Thanks to Jonathan and Mary, their scholarship enables undergraduate and honours students to do research that supports the Auckland History Initiative (AHI) – a collaborative project that seeks to engage with the social and cultural development of Auckland and its importance to life in New Zealand and beyond.

Professor Linda Bryder, one of the main founders of the AHI says, "Auckland history is an area that has been largely understudied and is of huge significance. One of the central goals of the AHI is to get students directly involved with Auckland history by working with local archives and sources within their communities like libraries, museums and local government. The Jonathan and Mary Mason Summer Scholarship in Auckland History enables our students to do this and they also get to present their research in talks given at the city library and at our annual AHI symposium."

Nathan McLeay, one of the first to be awarded the Scholarship says he "found it to be a very useful and enjoyable introduction to the process of independent scholarly research.’ He also ‘appreciated the opportunity it provided to work with Auckland Council, and conduct historical research in a public sector, rather than a solely academic context."

Nathan McLeay

Nathan’s research looked at the history of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. He says, "the bridge has been criticised as a symbol of the pitfalls of autocentric urban design, austerity, and short-term planning. I aimed to investigate why that might be so, and hoped to draw relevant contemporary lessons from my research." During his study, he discovered some early concepts for the Auckland Harbour Bridge and says there are some fantastic illustrations of prospective designs.

Nancy Mitchelson utilised her Scholarship to research the efforts to pedestrianise Queen Street in 1979. This aligned with her interests in "urbanism, the built environment, how cities come to be shaped by people (and vice versa), and accessibility in history." She says it also "seemed like pertinent research with the 'Access 4 Everyone' team at Auckland Council looking to pedestrianise much of the city centre, including Queen Street, in 2020."

Nancy Mitchelson

I think we tend to look back at the second half of the 20th century in Auckland as a time when car culture dominated, when public transport was on the slow decline, and when environmentalism and accessibility weren't primary objectives of Auckland Council. It was nice to have some of these preconceptions challenged through my research.

Nancy Mitchelson

For Nancy, the Summer Scholarship gave her the opportunity to meet and talk to some really interesting people. She says, "I’m very thankful to Jonathan and Mary Mason that I was able to spend a summer doing what I love to do, and not have to find other summer work on top of that. It was an invaluable experience!"

Current recipient Brooke Stevens is focusing her research on women in local government. Brooke says, "being able to study the impact of two women in particular, Mere Newton and Mary Dreaver, has opened my eyes to the wide influences of women in the 1930s. Being given the opportunity to draw attention to these achievements is something that I am very excited about. I believe it is important to recognise the people who shaped and impacted many lives through their social and government work."

Brooke Stevens

"Women have held more influence and power in local government than what the general population might presume. Women were often a powerful force for change. Doing research on Auckland locals, and being able to ground their experiences in what I see from where I grew up, makes learning about where you live so special."