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The Australian National University

Professor Melanie Nolan

MA (Hons) (Canterbury, NZ), PhD (ANU)
Director, National Centre of Biography General Editor, Australian Dictionary of Biography
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Australian History (Excl. Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander History) 210303
  • New Zealand History 210311
  • New Zealand Government And Politics 160608
  • Pacific History (Excl. New Zealand And Maori) 210313
  • Biography 210304
  • British History 210305
  • North American History 210312
  • Gender Specific Studies 169901
  • Historical Studies 2103

Research interests

Labour, biography, gender, comparative


Melanie Nolan was born in Reefton on the West Coast of Te Waipounamu, New Zealand’s South Island. She won a Junior University Scholarship in 1978 to attend the University of Canterbury (1979-1985) before being awarded an ANU PhD scholarship (1986-1989); her doctoral thesis was 'Uniformity and Diversity: A Case Study of Female Shop and Office Workers in Victoria, 1880 to 1939'. She taught for 16 years at Victoria University of Wellington (1992-2008), becoming Professor of History; she was Head of History (2006-2008). Between stints at university she worked in the New Zealand public service, including the State Services Commission (1984-1986), the Treaty Issues Unit of the Crown Law Office (1989), and the Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs (1990-1992).

As a labour historian, she researches changes in work and workers, connecting labour and class, gender and women, and (more recently) ethnicity in 20thC Australian and New Zealand history. She has an abiding interest in the role of the state in Australasian history. She has been a long-serving member of both the Labour History Project (formerly the TUHP) in Wellington and the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (Canberra regional branch), being President (2010-2015). She is on the Advisory Boards of Labour History (Sydney), Labour History Review (London) & Journal of New Zealand Studies (Wellington). She convenes the Editorial Board, ANU.Lives, the ANU Press’ series in biography; she was on the judging panel of the Magarey Medal for Biography (2008), the selection panel for the Australian Prime Ministers Centre research & scholarship program (2008-2011) and judging panel for the National Biography Awards (2013-2015). She was a visiting scholar at CALTECH (1996), the ANU (2002), University of Cambridge (2013) and is an S.T. Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow, School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London (2016).

Researcher's projects

Tyranny of Proximity. Social Policy Debates in Australia and New Zealand

The Age of Entitlement: Embodying the Anglo-Antipodean World of Welfare, 1880-1950






Current student projects

Chair of Panel:

Les Hetherington, 'Vallente Soeur: Marie Caroline Niau and her Family in France, England, and Australia, 1870-1933’ 

Elizabeth Hellwig, ‘Sisters in Service: The role and contribution of Lay Sisters to the mission of the Dominican Sisters in Australia’

Scott Stephenson, ‘Control and Conflict within the New South Wales branches of the Australian Workers Union  (AWU) 1918-1939’ 


Pamela Lane, ‘Eirene Mort – Why Always the Bridesmaid?‘

Nancy Opdyke, 'A Biography of Lt Col Calvin Pearl Titus'

Maria Haenga-Collins ‘The impact of Closed Stranger Adoption on Maori adopted into Pakeha families and their Maori families of origin, 1955-1985’





Past student projects

HDR Students


Brett Goodin, Victims of American Independence: A collective biography of Barbary captives and American' nation-building, 1770-1840’ PhD thesis, ANU, 2016 (Supervisor)

Jacqui Donegan, ‘The Confectionery Kings: Robertson, Allen and Hoadley. A Collective Biography, 1880-1972’ PhD thesis, ANU, 2015 (Supervisor)

Chris Wallace,  ‘The Silken Cord: Contemporaneous Australian 20th Century Political Biography & Its Meaning' PhD thesis, ANU 2015 (Supervisor)

Sophie Scott-Brown, ‘An Intellectual Biography of the British social historian, Raphael Samuel (1934-1996)’, PhD thesis, ANU 2015 (Supervisor)

Shelley Richardson, ‘Family Experiments: Professional, Middle-Class Families in Australia and New Zealand c. 1880-1920’ PhD thesis, ANU 2013 (Supervisor)

Catherine Bishop, ‘Commence was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2012 (Advisor)

Victoria University of Wellington: 

Gerard Horn, ‘‘‘A loyal, united, and happy people’, Irish Protestant migrants to Wellington province 1840-1930: aspects of migration, settlement and community’, PhD thesis, VUW, 2010 (Advisor)

James E. Taylor, ‘’To me, Socialism is not a set of dogmas but a living principle’: Harry 
Atkinson and the Christchurch Socialist Church, 1890-1905’, MA thesis, VUW, 2010 (Supevisor)

Andrew Francis, ‘To Be Truly British We Must Be Anti-German: Patriotism, Citizenship and Anti-Alienism In New Zealand During the Great War’, 2009  PhD thesis, VUW, (Supevisor)

Vivian Rodriguez, ‘Running Away from a Labour System: A Case Study of the Egypt Plantation, Jamaica 1751 – 1766 and Thomas Thistlewood’s Journals’, MA thesis, VUW 2008 (Supevisor)

Tanja Bueltmann, ‘‘Brither Scots Shoulder tae Shoulder’: Ethnic Identity, Culture and Associationism among the Scots in New Zealand to 1930’, 2008 (Advisor)

Nadia Gush, ‘Cultural Citizens: Women and Beauty in New Zealand, 1880-1940’,  PhD thesis, VUW, 2007 (Supevisor)

Paul Christoffel, ‘Removing Temptation: New Zealand’s Alcohol Restrictions, 1881-2005’,  PhD thesis, VUW, 2006 (Supevisor)

Craig Spanhake, ‘Cabinet selection 1960 to 1997: an overview of political process in New Zealand’, 2005 (Supevisor)

Andrew Gregg, ‘Panic Attacks: The New Right, Media and Welfare Reform in New Zealand, 1987-1998’, 2004 (Supevisor)

Laura Burbery, ‘Taonga and the Politics of Display: A Case Study of an Exhibition on Hone Heke Pokai presented by Te Papa Tongarewa' , 2004

Helen Reilly, ‘Electrifying Wellington: How Street Lights and Trams Transformed the Capital, 1905-1930',  2003 (Supevisor)

Rosemary Mercer, 'Puponga Coal Mine: A Local History, North-west Nelson, 1895-1902', 2003 (Supevisor)

Elisabeth Meyerson, ‘A Comparison of the Women’s Movements in Sweden and New Zealand’, co-supervised Lund University, Sweden, 2003 (Advisor)

Joanna Burton, ‘New Zealand Industrial Relations in the 1960s; Stability, Personality and Influence’, 2001 (Supevisor)

Cameron Bayly, ‘To the Last Shilling and the Last Man: The Presentation of the 1909 Naval Crisis by the New Zealand Press’, 1999 (Supevisor)

Marinus Franciscus La Rooij,  'Political Antisemitism in New Zealand During the Great Depression: A Case Study in the Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy', 1998 (Supevisor)

Jonathan Satherley-Peacocke, 'Victoria's Gentlemen of Honour: Symbols, Rituals, and Conventions of Colonial Honours', 1997 (Advisor)

Delyn Mary Day, 'Education, Generation, and Gender: The Rural Youth Movement in New Zealand, 1920-1973', 1996 (Supevisor)

Philip Cleaver, 'Dealing With Death: The Pakeha Treatment of Death 1850-1910', 1996 (Supevisor)

Toni McWhinnie, 'Same Street, Different Worlds: Secondary School Years in Masterton, 1945-1960', 1995 (Supevisor)



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Updated:  15 December 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers