About our History research

Find out how we explore history through objects.

Publications and digital media

Research areas

Material culture: Exploring history through objects

Te Papa’s historical research is grounded in material culture – the study of the relationships people have with objects, as makers and consumers. As Delaware Professor Lance Winn puts it, ‘The things we make reflect our beliefs about the world; the things around us affect the way that we understand the world.’

We collect and investigate objects to explore the past and the present, revealing insightful stories and connections relating to New Zealand’s societal and cultural development. This enables us to improve knowledge and understanding about the lives of New Zealanders, events that have shaped our society, and our place in the world.

What we study

  • Aspects of everyday life

  • Costume and fashion

  • Conflict and identity, including experiences of war, protest, and reform

  • Creativity and innovation

  • The cultural diversity of Aotearoa New Zealand

Mikaere Haumaha, 2012. Photograph by Ken Downie.

Making history accessible

We interpret material culture and history for the public, making our collections and research relevant, accessible, and useful to a wide variety of audiences. We do this through a variety of platforms, from exhibitions to online projects.

Our collections are also used for teaching and as an inspirational resource for external researchers, writers, makers, and students from varied disciplines.

Collection development

We research and develop strategies to ensure that Te Papa’s History Collection evolves to reflect social and cultural shifts in Aotearoa New Zealand.

To do this, we work with a range of partners, from community and special-interest groups to research institutions. For example, our Collecting Childhood project is part of a study by Auckland University called Growing Up in New Zealand.

Collecting Childhood project – find out more

Sharing our processes and learnings

We document, evaluate, and publish on various aspects of our curatorial practice for the wider museum community.

Topics covered by our articles and conference papers include:

  • collection and exhibition development

  • community participation

  • the practice of mana taonga – connecting with communities through cultural treasures

  • the impact and influence of biculturalism on Te Papa’s work.


See our history experts