I was asked to write something about my use of the A2Js which are being digitised on the web.
Keywords: Political Economy & History;
In 2008 I was the Robert Stout Fellow with a room at the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies. It was common for me to pop across to the university library, as often as not to use the Appendices to the Journals. Even so the bound volumes of the A2Js are not easy to use, but at least I had ready access to them.
Unfortunately, I cannot always read my own scribblings, so that on more than one occasion I had to pop back to find out what I really wrote down. Additionally, I dont take copious notes and sometimes I would get a ‘nagger’, something you noticed but did not record and later becomes of significance; off to the library again.
Why was I using the A2Js? The fellowship was to enable me to write a New Zealand history from an economic perceptive up to 1882. (I got a little further than that, but the project plans are to stop the narrative some time in the next decade, if I can get further financial support.) The A2Js are an invaluable source of data, especially nineteenth century data. There are others, including the Official Year Books which start in the 1890s but are not as detailed, and the Blue Books of Statistics which often record the same data as in the appendices and are just as clumsy to use.
You are entitled to say that all this better access is fine, but was it any use? Or did I just accumulate minutia which perhaps thickened the narrative but gave no new major insights. At this stage in the writing one can overlook the new ways of thinking which the narrative is creating. However I am certain I stumbled across one finding which ought to change our view of nineteenth century economic history; it is the ‘Taupo Line’.
I can not quite remember how I found it although, based on different responses to the Long Depression (from 1888 to about 1895), I had long been suspicious that Auckland and the south were almost separate economies. And so it proved. There were virtually no sheep north of Lake Taupo (East Cape aside), and so the economies were very different – Auckland remained a quarry economy long after its south had moved on to the more sustainable sheep farming.
Since two thirds of the Maori lived north of the line, it meant they were cut out of the sheep staple which drove much of the southern New Zealand economy in the late nineteenth century. This substantially modifies our understanding of Maori economic development. It turns out that on a per capita basis the Maori flocks were as large as the Settler ones. It was just that there were hardly any flocks where the Maori were most numerous.
The northern soils could not take sheep because of foot-rot and bush sickness, mainly as a result of the Taupo eruption of about 220AD. Probably no single event had as much impact on the economic configuration of the nineteenth century – despite occurring 1600 years earlier.
Unfortunately there were no A2Js of at that time, so one cannot be precise – and we are getting away from the point of this note. Had I not had such good access to the A2Js and other official publications I would have not got to the detailed data which underpins the story.
The good news is that because they are on the web now everyone has even better access to the A2Js than even I had at Victoria University in 2008. The disappointing news is that web access is only up to 1870. Roll on the up-to-date.