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The Australian National University

Melanie Nolan

Position: Director of the National Centre for Biography and General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography

School or Centre: National Centre of Biography


Phone: 61252131

Location: HC Coombs Building, Room 2137

Website: My profile website


B.A. (University of Canterbury)

M.A. (Hons) (University of Canterbury)

Ph.D. (Australian National University, 1990)


Melanie Nolan was born in Reefton on the West Coast of Te Waipounamu, New Zealand’s South Island. She won a Junior University Scholarship in 1978 to attend the University of Canterbury (1979-1985) before being awarded an ANU PhD scholarship (1986-1989); her doctoral thesis was 'Uniformity and Diversity: A Case Study of Female Shop and Office Workers in Victoria, 1880 to 1939'. She taught for 16 years at Victoria University of Wellington (1992-2008), becoming Professor of History; she was Head of History (2006-2008). Between stints at university she worked in the New Zealand public service, including the State Services Commission (1984-1986), the Treaty Issues Unit of the Crown Law Office (1989), and the Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs (1990-1992).

Research Interests

As a labour historian, she researches changes in work and workers, connecting labour and class, gender and women, and (more recently) ethnicity in 20th Century Australian and New Zealand history. She has an abiding interest in the role of the state in Australasian history. She has been a long-serving member of both the Labour History Project (formerly the TUHP) in Wellington and the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (Canberra regional branch), being President (2010-2015). She is on the Advisory Boards of Labour History (Sydney), Labour History Review (London) & Journal of New Zealand Studies (Wellington). She convenes the Editorial Board, ANU.Lives, the ANU Press’ series in biography; she was on the judging panel of the Magarey Medal for Biography (2008), the selection panel for the Australian Prime Ministers Centre research & scholarship program (2008-2011) and judging panel for the National Biography Awards (2013-2015). She was a visiting scholar at CALTECH (1996), the ANU (2002), University of Cambridge (2013) and is an S.T. Lee Visiting Professorial Fellow, School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London (2016).


Suffrage and Beyond: International Feminist Perspectives (Auckland: University Press, /Pluto Press, Auckland & Sydney, 1994; USA publication of the book (New York: New York University Press, 1994) (Eds.)

Breadwinning. New Zealand Women and the State (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2000)

Kin. The Collective Biography of a Working-class New Zealand Family (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2005) won the 2006 ARANZ Ian Wards Prize and was short-listed for the 2007 Ernest Scott Prize

Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2005) (Ed.)

War and Class. The Diary of Jack McCullough (Wellington: Dunmore Press, 2009)

Unions In Common Cause: The New Zealand Federation of Labour, 1937-1988 (Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa, 2011) (Eds.)

Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 18, L-Z (1981-1990) (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2012) (Gen. Ed.)

The ADB’s Story (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2013) (Eds.)

Projects and Grants

Current Projects:

Tyranny of Proximity. Social Policy Debates in Australia and New Zealand

Orbiting the World of Reform: the Anglo-Antipodean Race for Entitlement, 1880-1950


Courses taught in reading, writing, researching and publishing biography HIST 8010 Biographical Practices: Reading biography.

HIST 8010 Biographical Practices: Reading Biography

HIST 8011 Writing Biography

HIST 8004 Biographical Research Project

HIST 8013 ADB Internship

Interest in supervising students in the areas of:

Biography; 20th century Australian and New Zealand social history; labour history with a particular interest in the politics of work; the transfer and diffusion of social welfare policies trans-globally.

Current Student Projects:

Brett Goodin, ‘Victims of American Independence: A collective biography of Barbary captives and American nation-building, 1770-1840’ (Supervisor)

Les Hetherington, ‘Vaillante Soeur: Marie Caroline Niau and her family in France, England and Australia, 1870 to 1933’ (Supervisor)

Elizabeth Hellwig, ‘Sisters in Service: The role and contribution of Lay Sisters to the mission of the Dominican Sisters in Australia’ (Supervisor)

Scott Stephenson, ‘Control and Conflict within the New South Wales branches of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) 1918-1939’ (Supervisor)

Pamela Lane, ‘Eirene Mort – Why Always the Bridesmaid?‘ (Advisor)

Nancy Opdyke, ‘A Biography of Lt Col Calvin Pearl Titus’ (Advisor)

Maria Haenga-Collins ‘The impact of Closed Stranger Adoption on Maori adopted into Pakeha families and their Maori families of origin, 1955-1985’ (Advisor)

Recent Completions:

Jacqui Donegan, ‘The Confectionery Kings: Robertson, Allen and Hoadley. A Collective Biography, 1880-1972’ PhD thesis, ANU, 2015 (Supervisor)

Chris Wallace, ‘The Silken Cord: Contemporaneous Australian 20th Century Political Biography and Its Meaning’ PhD thesis, ANU, 2015 (Supervisor)

Sophie Scott-Brown, ‘The Histories of Raphael Samuel: A Portrait of A People’s Historian’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2015 (Supervisor)

Shelley Richardson, ‘A Collective Biography of the Urban Middle-Class Professional Family in Australasia 1880-1930’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2013 (Supervisor)

Catherine Bishop, ‘Commence was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington’, PhD thesis, ANU, 2012 (Advisor)

Updated: 20 July 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher