Revisiting James Cowan : a reassessment of The New Zealand Wars (1922-23) : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Philosophy in English at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Widely differing perceptions of the early twentieth century New Zealand
writer James Cowan have led to confusion over how he should be best remembered
– as a journalist, an historian, or a combination of both. Most of
the previous scholarly assessments of Cowan have focused on his greatest
achievement, The New Zealand Wars (1922-23), and not sought further connections
with his other works to reveal the existence of a coherent
historiography. This thesis fleshes out Cowan’s historiography by including
and reviewing three other books in his oeuvre, two written immediately before
the release of The New Zealand Wars (The Maoris of New Zealand and The
Adventures of Kimble Bent), and one shortly afterwards (The Maoris in the Great
War). All four books contributed in their own unique way to an early goal of
Cowan’s to write a history of Maori-Pakeha interaction and reconciliation
following the turmoil of the New Zealand Wars of the nineteenth century.
They also reveal a progressive attempt by Cowan to write history of a suitable
standard to ultimately earn him the dual status of firstly, ‘oral historian’ and
secondly, ‘public historian’, that is, ‘an historian writing outside academia’.
The terms did not exist in Cowan’s era, so his research methods must be considered
advanced for the time. My subsequent review of Cowan’s major work
The New Zealand Wars shows that his writing transcended journalism in its
creation, and has led to this reassessment of Cowan as a much more significant
writer for his era than has been accorded to him so far.