Chinese history and archaeology expert to receive honorary doctorate

A world authority in the field of early Chinese history and archaeology, Dr Noel Barnard, is to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature at Victoria University of Wellington’s December graduation.

Chinese history and archaeology expert Noel Bernard

Dr Barnard completed his undergraduate studies in History and Geography at Victoria University. He then moved to Sydney and was awarded one of the first PhD scholarships offered by the Australian National University (ANU), specialising in Chinese studies, going on to become the University’s first graduate in Chinese history. He enjoyed a highly successful academic career at this institution for more than 50 years.

The 92-year-old will be travelling to Wellington from his Canberra home especially for the graduation ceremony on Thursday 11 December.

“Dr Barnard is an outstanding scholar of international standing who remains productive to this day, and we are extremely proud to count him among our illustrious alumni,” says Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford.

Over the years Dr Barnard has become internationally renowned for his knowledge of early Chinese history and archaeology, in particular metallurgy. His focus has been on the interpretation of inscriptions, especially those found on the bronze vessels of the Zhou dynasty (110-221 BCE). 

He has published more than 70 research articles and papers, including 13 publications of monograph or book size. In 1970, in recognition of the extensive contribution he made to his field, he was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities. Dr Barnard’s forthcoming book Inscriptions of Chin and the San-Chin, Chung-shan and Yen represents the culmination of seven decades of research.

An expert in the Cantonese and Japanese languages, Dr Barnard began his study of Cantonese while still at high school by enlisting the help of the local Chinese community. He went on to gain a reading ability in classical Chinese while completing his PhD at ANU, and then to acquire skills in pre-Han archaic scripts before concentrating on Chinese archaeological documents. Dr Barnard first learnt Japanese from Japanese prisoners of war during World War II when he served as a translator and interpreter of Japanese at the Featherston Prisoner of War camp in the 1940s.