A Visit to the Archives

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On Friday 24th of March, the History Honours students took a field trip down to Archives New Zealand, where we spent a couple of hours being shown around some of the wonderful archival rooms and seeing some amazing documents. This was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as an Honours student so far, and I feel so very lucky to have been given such an amazing opportunity.

If you don’t know what Archives New Zealand is, it’s the national archives where government records are kept. As well as holding and preserving a vast amount of documents from as far back as the 1800s, Archives also hosts exhibitions and offers public tours. The trip we took there would have been even more special, even essential, for the Honours students who are researching aspects of New Zealand history for their 489s. Because the topic of my 489 is a text written by a woman who lived in late medieval France, there isn’t really anything in the Archives that’ll be relevant to my research. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I had a truly amazing experience.

My highlight from the visit was without a doubt getting to see the original Treaty of Waitangi, which is very carefully stored in glass casing in a lowlit room along with other important and fragile documents whose preservation is paramount. These other documents included some of the original women’s suffrage petition to Parliament in 1893. It was signed by some 24,000 women in a bid to win the right to vote. I could hardly believe that I got to see these original documents with my own eyes, documents that were written and signed over a hundred years before my time! Especially the Treaty – one of the most important constitutional documents in the country, with a complex and tumultuous history spanning almost two hundred years. I looked and looked and looked at it, and could hardly believe I was really seeing it. It was a very moving experience.

Since I started this academic year, I’ve quickly learned how different the Honours programme is to undergraduate study – how much more rewarding it feels, how study and research begins to feel less of a necessity and more of an enjoyment, and of course the amazing privileges (like visiting Archives!) don’t hurt. I think I’m well suited to postgrad life. The only thing that could make it better would be if someone paid me to do all this research! Dreams are free.

If you’re in Wellington and have a free afternoon to fill, I highly recommend you visit the Archives. You may well find it as moving as I did, especially if you have a passion for history and get all emotional about seeing really old things.


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