Academic team player recognised with award

Watson named Local Historian of the Year

Judith Lacy





Dr Geoff Watson’s daughter is increasingly asking him questions about history. He is well placed to answer 7-year-old Nadia as he is an associate professor in history at Massey University. And he is the Palmerston North Heritage Trust’s Local Historian of the Year. The citation said Watson is also a historian of national and international standing in the field of sports history. “It’s to Geoff’s enormous credit that he has managed to bridge the local, national and transnational so productively over the course of a career.” Watson was a co-editor of and writer for City at the Centre: A History of Palmerston North. He shared in writing the introduction and conclusion plus a chapter on politics and solely produced one on sport and recreation. He has written for the Manawatu¯ Journal of History and given many talks to local groups while using Manawatu¯ examples in his presentations to academic conferences. “Geoff has long been a team player not only on the field, but in academic contexts where he has co-published across disciplines, giving historical credibility and empirical rigour to the work of others,” the citation said. “He’s also generous in reviewing other people’s work. As an awardwinning supervisor, he’s encouraged postgraduates and early career researchers, steering some of them towards such locally rich topics as the history of the flax industry, colonial textile cultures and urban locations like Coleman Mall.” The citation described him as a stalwart of the historical community in Palmerston North and a bridge between its academic and community arms. “We were delighted to recognise his staunch and long-term contributions as well as his wider standing as a historian.” Heritage trust chairwoman Margaret Tennant said Watson was a former student of hers and later a colleague and collaborator. She apparently terrified him in tutorials. Watson was always a lovely colleague who pulled his weight on so many fronts. Noting Sunday’s presentation was held at Caccia Birch House, Watson said as a youngster he played cricket on the front lawn and the room he was giving his speech in was where his wedding reception was held. Caccia Birch was a great asset to Palmerston North. He said there had never been a better time to be a local historian with increased interest in the topic and the new school curriculum’s focus on Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories. Watson recalled how his 7th form history class at Awatapu College studied Tudor and Stuart England and European history. Watson said his daughter’s questions were making him think. He grew up on Albert St, which used to be called Scandia St reflecting the city’s Scandinavian settlers. It’s a great thing the current generation has the opportunity to learn things about history he didn’t understand growing up. For example, what was then called Pork Chop Hill but is now more widely known as Te Motu o Poutoa and is significant to Rangita¯ne as it was once the site of a pa¯. Poutoa was an ancestor of Rangita¯ne. His descendants include the Paewai, Te Awe Awe, and Te Rangiotu wha¯nau. Tennant reinforced Watson’s comments about studying the local. She grew up in Feilding and moved to Palmerston North to attend Massey University. The former history professor said one of the lovely things about being retired was having a second history career finding out about the place where she lives. Watson’s wife Haklyka and his parents Ian and Patsy also attended the ceremony. Watson wore a University of Malaysia tie that was given to Ian when he was part of a visiting delegation led by Winston Peters in the late 1990s. Professor Emeritus Watson was Massey Albany campus’ first principal.