Unlike in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere, urban history has never been sustained as a distinct field of scholarship in New Zealand. This is surprising, considering that since the early twentieth century most New Zealanders have lived in towns and cities – 86 per cent were urban in 2014. Yet we know surprisingly little about these urban dwellers and the spaces in which they lived.
The pursuit of city life is one of the most important untold stories of New Zealand. The Big Smoke is the first comprehensive history to tell this story, presenting a dynamic and heavily illustrated account of city life from 1840 to 1920.
It explores such questions as: what did cities look like and how did they change; why were women especially drawn to live in cities; in what ways did Māori experience and shape cities; how far was the street a living room and stage for city life; and why did New Zealand so quickly became a nation of townspeople?
At a time of national debate over housing and the growth of our cities, Ben Schrader’s superb new history reveals how our urban origins have shaped the people we are today.