‘Dead Letters’ wins the 2020 Bert Roth Award

Jared Davidson is the winner of the 2020 Bert Roth Award for Labour History for his book, Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920, published by Otago University Press.

The award was announced at the Labour History Project AGM on Tuesday 11 August.

Named for the late historian Herbert Roth, the award is presented annually to the work that best depicts the history of work and resistance in New Zealand published in the previous calendar year.

The award was judged this year by Paul Maunder, Cybele Locke, Claire-Louise, Ross Webb, and Mark Derby.

‘In his excellent book, Dead Letters, archivist and historian Jared Davidson introduces us to a range of extraordinary characters whose stories and struggles challenge the nationalist narratives of the war’, the judges found.

‘These historical characters, as introduced in the blurb of the book, include “a feisty German-born socialist, a Norwegian watersider, an affectionate Irish nationalist, a love-struck miner, an aspiring Maxim Gorky, a cross-dressing doctor, a nameless rural labourer, an avid letter writer with a hatred of war, and two mystical dairy farmers with a poetic bent”’.

‘What connects this cast of characters is that their activities, their letters, and in some cases their activism against the war, was of interest to the New Zealand state. The letters they wrote, to loved ones, friends, and comrades, were never delivered, but were intercepted by the state. They are now held at Archives New Zealand, in the Special Registry File, where Davidson discovered them 100 years later’. 

‘In telling their stories, Davidson not only provides a compelling historical narrative, he also contributes to our understanding of the First World War home front, to the early history of surveillance, to the history of political and industrial activism and dissent (often in the most surprising places!), and more broadly to New Zealand social history and the history of the modern state’.

2020 Runner Up

Tony Sutorius, Director, Helen Kelly – Together, 2019.

2020 Shortlist

Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns, Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance, Te Papa Press, 2019.

Barbara Brookes, Jane McCabe and Angela Wanhalla. eds., Past Caring? Women, Work and Emotion, Otago University Press, 2019.

Hilary Stace, JB Munro: Community Citizen, Wellington, 2019.

Caitlin Lynch, Director, Harriet Morrison – Fighting for Fairness, 2019.

Max Nichol, An ‘Organ of Student Opinion’? Alternative Print, Protest, and the Politics of Education in Salient, 1973-1989, MA Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2019.

Rachel Standfield and Michael J. Stevens, ‘New Histories but Old Patterns: Kāi Tahu in Australia’ in Victoria Stead and Jon Altman, ed., Labour Lines and Colonial Power: Indigenous and Pacific Islander Labour Mobility in Australia, Canberra, 2019. 

Toby Boraman, ‘Indigeneity, Dissent, and Solidarity: Māori and Strikes in the Meat Industry in Aotearoa New Zealand During the Long 1970s’, International Review of Social History, 64, 1, 2019, pp.1-35.

Past Winners of the Bert Roth Award

2019 Winner: David Haines and Jonathan West, ‘Crew Cultures in the Tasman World’ in Francis Steele, ed., New Zealand and the Sea: Historical Perspectives, Bridget Williams Books.

2019 Runner-up: Caren Wilton, My Body My Business: NZ Sex Workers in an Era of Change, Otago University Press

2018 Winner: Helen McNeil, A Striking Truth, Cloud Ink Press.

2018 Runner-up: Renée, These Two Hands: a memoir

2017 Winner: Tearepa Kahi, Director, Poi E: The Story of our Song

2016 Winner: Melissa Williams, Panguru and the city: Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua: An urban migration history, Bridget Williams Books

2015 Winner: Nicholas Hoare ‘Imperial Dissenters: Anti-Colonial Voices in New Zealand, 1883-1945’, MA, Victoria University of Wellington.

2014 Winner: Rebecca Macfie, Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and why 29 Men died, Awa Press.