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Belich, James
Writer's File

James Belich

Belich, James
In brief
James Belich is a historian and academic whose writing has focused on reinterpreting nineteenth-century New Zealand history, particularly the New Zealand Wars. His scholarship on Māori and Pākehā relations has received critical recognition and his book, The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (1980), won the international Trevor Reed Memorial Prize for historical scholarship. He is a Professor of History, and in 2006 he was made an Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit.


Belich, James (1956– ), historian, is recognised as a writer of merit as well as for significantly reinterpreting nineteenth-century New Zealand history, especially Maori/Pakeha relations. His The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (1980) won the international Trevor Reed Memorial Prize* for historical scholarship, has sold over 20 000 copies and is the basis of a television documentary screened in 1998. (See also War literature: New Zealand Wars.)

I Shall Not Die: Titokowaru’s War, New Zealand, 1868–9 (1989) won the Adam Award for outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature 1989–90. Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders: From Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (1996) is the first of a projected two-volume history.

Belich’s writing is confident in its broad sweep and vigorous in its detail, whether he writes about Maori techniques of trench warfare or the courting rituals of the society elite of Tauranga in the late nineteenth century.

He was born in Wellington and educated at Onslow College, Victoria University (MA 1978), and, as a Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University (DPhil 1981).

He has been deputy editor of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, lecturer at Victoria University, Professor of History at the University of Auckland and now is the Professor of Imperial and Commonwealth History at The University of Oxford.


*Book Council note: the correct name of the prize is the Trevor Reese Memorial Prize


Paradise Reforged (2001) is the sequel to Making Peoples and is subtitled "A History of the New Zealanders From the 1880s to the Year 2000." Paradise Reforged was shortlisted in the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards

The book begins with the search for a "Better Britain" and ends by analysing the modern Maori resurgence, the new Pakeha consciousness, and the implications of a reinterpreted past for New Zealand's future.

In Replenishing the Earth: Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld 1783-1939 (Oxford University Press, 2009), Belich explores the movement that led to the explosive settlement of the American West and it's forgotten twin, the British West, comprising the settler dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

In 2011, Belich was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement: Non-Fiction.