NZHistory (www.nzhistory.govt.nz) was launched by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. Jack Elder, at a function at National Archives (now Archives New Zealand) in Wellington on 16 March 1999.
In 1998 staff members in the Heritage Group of the Department of Internal Affairs decided to embrace the brave new world of the Internet, primarily to promote the work of the group. This comprised the Historical Branch (responsible for publications about New Zealand at war and the history of government), the Heritage Operations Unit (responsible for national monuments, war graves and the administration of the Antiquities Act), National Archives and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB). In 2000 the renamed History Group became part of the new Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
One of the first topics on NZHistory, about the pioneer aviator Richard Pearse, featured a virtual 3D version of his plane. Another state-of-the-art feature was a moving river on the home page, which you can see in action here. In all the years this was up no one ever asked us why (luckily). Other early topics included Anzac Day, the Tangiwai disaster, assisted immigration, suffragists and the Radiant Living movement.
For the first few years all the technical work was done by one person who started out using a very basic web-editing tool (Netscape Navigator 3 Gold) but over the years learnt more sophisticated web techniques. In 2006 the site was completely redesigned and moved into an open-source content management system (Joomla!). By this time more staff were contributing content to a site which had grown to several thousand pages, including a Classroom area for students and teachers and a Calendar of New Zealand historical events.
In February 2007 the site was moved into the more sophisticated Drupal open-source CMS to accommodate changes required to incorporate the treatyofwaitangi.govt.nz website and to add further functionality.
NZHistory has stayed true to its original purpose of making New Zealand history accessible to a general audience. The scope of its subject matter has now broadened well beyond topics covered by the History Group’s print publications.
Check out the Wayback Machine website to see how far we’ve come since 1999.
NZHistory is now part of a suite of websites administered by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage:
- Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: the online version was launched in 2002.
- Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: the first theme, ‘New Zealanders’, was launched in 2005.
- Anzac.govt.nz: a guide to Anzac Day for New Zealanders launched in 2005.
- VietnamWar.govt.nz: launched in 2008 for people to contribute their memories of the Vietnam War.
- 28maoribattalion.org.nz: launched in 2009; dedicated to the men who served in New Zealand’s 28th (Maori) Battalion in the Second World War.
- Quakestories.govt.nz: launched in 2011 as a place for people to record and share their experience of the Canterbury earthquakes
- ww100.govt.nz: launched in 2012 to help people learn about New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War and encourage participation in the commemoration of its centenary.