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

Biography, labour,  gender, transnational


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). In 2008 she was appointed Professor of History, Director of the National Centre of Biography (NCB) and General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) at the ANU.

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) and currently is Vice President. She is on the Advisory Boards of Labour History (Sydney), Labour History Review (London) and Journal of New Zealand Studies (Wellington); and is a member of the editorial team of Australian Journal of Biography and History. 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 was an S.T. Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow, School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London (2016). In 2016 she was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (FASSA). 

Researcher's projects

Orbitals: The historical role of groups in the policy race to institute welfare states

Tyranny of Proximity. Social Policy Debates in Australia and New Zealand (series of papers)




Current student projects

Chair of Panel:

Jenni Bird, ‘Robert Edward Knox – The ‘Flash Fighting Man’: One infamous convict’s journey through the New South Wales colonial penal system, 1829-1869’

Matt Cunneen, 'Transportee Travellers: The Lives and Life Courses of Convicts that left Australia'

Nichola Garvey, ‘Second Fleet Women, First-Rate Survivors’

James Josceline Watson, ‘ Fibro Modernity The Making and Unmaking of Asbestos Australia, 1878-2024’


Michele Horne, 'Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop and his role in the national narrative'



Past student projects

HDR Students


Joshua Black, ‘Bleeding Off the Page: A Cultural History of the Political Memoir in Australia', PhD thesis, ANU, 2023 (Supervisor) 

Michelle Staff, 'Women’s Rights on the World Stage: Internationalist Feminism in Britain and Australia, 1919–1939', PhD thesis, ANU, 2023 (Advisor)

Elizabeth Hellwig, ‘Sisters in Service: Dominican Lay Sisters, Eastern Australia, 1867-2019'PhD thesis, ANU, 2021 (Supervisor)

Alexandra McKinnon,  'Hereafter: Memory, Commemoration, and the Great Warat the Australian War Memorial in the Interwar Period',MPhil thesis, ANU, 2020 (Advisor)

Scott Stephenson, ‘Oligarchy Contested and Interconnected. The New South Wales Labor Party and trade unions from 1910 to 1938’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2017 (Supervisor)

Pamela Lane, ‘Eirene Mort: Artist, Artisan and New Woman’, MPhil thesis, ANU, 2017 (Advisor)

Maria Haenga-Collins, ‘The impact of Closed Stranger Adoption on Maori adopted into Pakeha families and their Maori families of origin, 1955-1985’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2017 (Advisor)

Niki Francis, ‘"My own sort of heaven”: Rosalie Gascoigne's stellar rise to artistic acclaim’,  PhD thesis, ANU, 2017 (Advisor)

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 (Supervisor)

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

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 (Supervisor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (Supervisor)

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

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 (Supervisor)

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 (Supervisor)

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

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



Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  15 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers