In June of this year HistoryWorks Director Vincent O’Malley attended a conference on ‘Cooperation and Empire’ at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The conference, which was attended by scholars from around the world, was notable for a substantial New Zealand presence, led by James Belich, formerly at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, now Beit Professor of Imperial and Commonwealth History at Oxford University.
BernVincent’s paper explored the role of kupapa in the New Zealand Wars of the nineteenth century. He analysed how a term which initially meant those who stooped or remained low (that is, people who remained neutral in a conflict) had today come to assume almost entirely negative connotations. Dr O’Malley argued that the notion that kupapa were ‘Uncle Toms’ or traitors was fundamentally wrong.
Far from selling out their people, those Maori also referred to in English as ‘Queenites’, ‘friendlies’ or ‘loyalists’ were endeavouring to advance the interests of their communities through strategic alliance with the Crown. They did so, Dr O’Malley argued, out of a range of motives, few of which had much to do with whether they supported the imperial project. There was no such thing as blind adherence to the Crown or its cause.
Besides attending the conference, Vincent also had the opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Bern, whose historic old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
It is expected that the conference proceedings will eventually be published. [Added 27 July 2013]