From distance learner to history lecturer


New history lecturer Dr Rachael Bell

New history lecturer Rachael Bell can understand the challenges her distance students face – she was once one of them. The mother-of-two joined Massey as an undergraduate student in 1998; but soon became hooked on history.

She completed her degree, an honours year, a master’s and, last year, a PhD all at Massey. Now she’s back as a lecturer in Massey’s School of Humanities and it is a natural fit.

“I love teaching. I particularly like extramural teaching because it’s so well suited for people going along the same journey that I had, where you’re juggling fulltime work and raising children and doing your study at the same time,” she says.

“I really like the flexibility that we offer here at Massey. I think it’s unique and important, and the students, certainly the ones I see in contact courses, really appreciate that because it would be out of their reach otherwise.”

Dr Bell is particularly interested in historiography – the process or ‘history’ of the writing of history. Her doctoral research investigated the historiography of the Official War History volumes produced by the Government following the Second World War.

“I did those official histories because they are biggest historiographical project ever undertaken in New Zealand. There were 48 volumes produced for a population of 1.2 million at the time,” Dr Bell says. “The Official Histories were a massive undertaking and a real test of historical method as it was practiced then. They contain some of the first, and still some of the best, of that style of public history.” 

Dr Bell, who was awarded a national top achiever scholarship for her PhD, looked at the methodologies employed by the War History Branch and what impact these had on the conclusions reached in the volumes. She used four cases studies and traced the legacy of this information as it worked its way into the broader national history over the years.

 Dr Bell is based at the Manawatu campus and is teaching New Zealand social history papers including New Zealand between the Wars and The Politics of Protest. She says learning history is rewarding. “It’s kind of addictive, you get to love the insight you get into everyday things, so your everyday life becomes richer.”

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