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Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement - Atholl Anderson

One of New Zealand’s most distinguished scholars, Emeritus Professor Atholl Anderson (Ngāi Tahu), has been honoured with this year’s Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in the Non-Fiction category.

Image of Professor Atholl Anderson, sourced from Bridget Williams Books' twitter feed.

A lifetime of research and writing about the distant past of Māori and Pacific peoples is acknowledged in this significant award.

Aroha Harris, President of the New Zealand Historical Association, worked with Professor Anderson on his most recent publication Tangata Whenua:  An Illustrated History; she has acknowledged him as ‘an outstanding archaeologist of international renown, and unsurpassed in his contributions to archaeological understandings of New Zealand’s past’.

Professor Tom Higham of Oxford University says: ‘I can think of few other New Zealanders who I would rate more highly on an international scale... His output is prodigious, widely recognised and respected’.

Tā Tipene O’Regan writes: ‘New Zealand scholarship is immeasurably richer for Atholl Anderson’s contribution over the last several decades.  … [He] has brought his distinguished research in archaeology and early New Zealand history to bear on some of the most critical questions that we consider about Te Ao Māori.’

Melissa Matutina Williams, author of the award-winning Panguru and the City, has commented on the way ‘he has built a bridge between archaeology and Māori history, bringing our people’s origins home to a history of intertwined tribal and shared Māori narratives’. 

Professor Anderson’s scholarship has contributed greatly to our understanding of the ancient past in these South Pacific Islands – and particularly to the early history of Ngāi Tahu and southern New Zealand, through books such as The Welcome of Strangers, and through his work on the Ngāi Tahu claim in the late twentieth century.  In 1993, he moved from a professorship at the University of Otago to one at the Australian National University; returning to New Zealand in 2005, Atholl Anderson committed several years to the big collaborative project Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, co-authored with Aroha Harris and Judith Binney.  This ground-breaking history, published in 2014, has won several prestigious awards confirming its remarkable contribution to knowledge of the Māori world.

Publisher Bridget Williams speaks of the warmth that has greeted news of this award: ‘So many people have acknowledged Atholl’s leadership in the fields he works in.  He is a scholar whose work takes us into different worlds – bringing the past into the present, connecting archaeology with Māori tradition, making links between science and history, introducing readers to the richness of the distant past.  Aroha Harris spoke for many of us when she wrote recently: “he is as generous as he is distinguished”. I feel privileged to have worked with him on the Tangata Whenua project, and am truly delighted that his lifetime’s work has been recognised by the Prime Minister’s Award.  At BWB, we all offer Atholl heartfelt congratulations on this wonderful occasion.’

About Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History

Published in late 2014, Tangata Whenua has sold 7000 copies, and has been placed in all New Zealand secondary and intermediate schools as part of BWB’s Books in School Libraries programme with the generous support of Peter and Sue Cooper, and Te Puni Kōkiri.

Awards include:

  • 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Illustrated Non-Fiction Category;
  • 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize;
  • 2015 Te Kōrero o Mua (History) Award at the Ngā Kupu Ora Aotearoa Māori Book Awards;
  • 2015 Copyright Licensing New Zealand Best Resource in Secondary Award
  • 2015 Pride in Print Awards

Melissa Matutina Williams: ‘As a fellow contributor, I was not only impressed with Atholl’s deep knowledge in the field of archaeology and tribal narratives, but also the breadth of his knowledge in nineteenth and twentieth century history.  It is not every day… that I find myself discussing with an esteemed archaeologist the relevance of Wayne (Buck) Shelford to the history of Māori All Blacks or the development of nineteenth-century marae architecture.’

Associate Professor Peter Adds, Victoria University: ‘[Professor Anderson] has been able to blend both the results of archaeological research and the study of Māori tradition to produce a piece of work that is not only inherently interesting, readable and fascinating, it is also required reading for a broad range of students interested in Māori history.’

Professor Tom Higham: ‘No one else could have produced such a sweeping and detailed narrative’.

Tā Tipene O’Regan: ‘For the first time, we have access to an authoritative history of Māori, written largely from a Māori perspective.  I had the privilege of reading Atholl Anderson’s chapters in first draft, and even at that early stage was able to describe them as “stunning”.


Updated on 12th October 2016