James Beattie

Associate Professor in Science and Society
Centre for Science in Society

Teaching in 2020

I mainly work offsite, so the best way to contact me is via email.


I am a historian of environment, science and gardens. Before joining Victoria University of Wellington in 2017, I was professor of history at the University of Waikato (2007-2017) and, earlier, ‘Asia New Zealand’ post-doctoral fellow at the University of Otago (2005-2007). I hold several research associate positions, including with the World Center for Environmental History (University of Sussex) and the Department of History, Division of Humanities, University of Johannesburg. I am also Honorary Curator, Dunedin Chinese Gardens, and work closely with colleagues at Sun Yat-sen University, People’s Republic of China. From 2017- 2019, I am President, New Zealand Asian Studies Society.


I am a leading historical researcher on the Asia-Pacific region, examining the nexus between environmental history, history of science, landscape history and health history. My work is especially focussed on exploring cross-cultural dimensions of exchanges of environmental knowledge, plants, climate change and conservation ideas. I collaborate with ecologists, geographers, architects and translators, and have led several international projects on environmental change. In addition, I work on Chinese art collecting and have an interest in museums and collecting.

Current research projects

  • Ecological Change and World Empires, 2500BCE to 2000CE, with Prof. Gene Anderson, University of California (Oxford University Press).
  • China, Migration and Environmental Change in the Pacific.
  • Overseas Chinese Gardens: Identity, Belonging and Cultural Exchange.
  • Environmental Change in Australasia—a Documentary History, with Andrea Gaynor (UWA) (Routledge).
  • Ecological Change in the Taranaki Ringplain since the last Ice Age, with Professor Bruce Clarkson (University of Waikato).
  • Medicine and the Chinese Diaspora, with Dr. John Fountain (University of Otago).


I am an experienced supervisor and welcome students to work on topics related to: environmental history, history of science, ecological history, landscape history, health history and garden history. I am especially interested in the role of China and Chinese migration in environmental change.

Current supervisions include


  • Anton Sveding – ‘Public Science: Forests, Conservation and the NZ Public’, PhD (History), 2018-.
  • Meera Muralidaran – ‘Environmental change in South India: trade and the Dutch VOC’, PhD (History), 2018-.
  • Alexander Sutherland – 'Silk Road Material Culture', PhD (Art History), 2020-, Canterbury University.


  • Karri Hartley – 'People and Plants on the Sub-Antarctic Islands', MSc (Botany), 2019-, University of Otago.
  • Louise Stevenson – ‘Science and Mission in China’, MA (History), 2019-.

Recent supervisions include


  • Joanna Bishop, ‘The use of Native and Introduced Plants in Colonial Health Care’, 2011-2014.
  • John Armstrong, ‘Trans-National Medical Connections, 1940-1970’, 2010-2013.
  • Maree Dawson, ‘National Fitness or Failure? Heredity, Vice and Racial Decline in New Zealand Psychiatry: A Case Study of the Auckland Mental Hospital, 1868-99’, 2010-2013.
  • Sandy Harman, ‘The struggle for success: A socio-cultural perspective on the French Marist priests and their Māori mission (1838-1867)’, 2010.


  • Zoë Heine – ‘Community Gardens and Climate Change’, MSc (Science in Society), 2020.
  • Alexander Sutherland, ‘Paving the Silk Road: Examining Silk Road historiography and material culture’, 2017.
  • Nicola Lemberg, ‘Gold-Rush Literature in Comparative Perspective’, 2015.
  • Courtenay Rayes, ‘Invasive Organisms: Ship-worms in New Zealand’, 2013-2014.
  • Annette Bainbridge, ‘Cultivating Gardens, Cultivating Friendships: Gardening Cultures in Colonial Canterbury’, 2014-2015.
  • Hazel Baker, ‘Modernism and Japanese Gardens’, 2009-2010.

Selected Publications



Curated Art Exhibitions

  • J. Beattie & R. Bullen, China: Open Empire, Canterbury Museum Travelling Exhibition, February 2018 to 2020.
  • J. Beattie & R. Bullen, Bringing China Home: Chinese Stories and Objects in Hawke’s Bay, 16 July 2016 to 7 June 2017, MTG Hawke’s Bay, Napier, 127 objects curated.

Documentary Films

  • Visions of Peace: A Kiwi Farmer in Communist China, scriptwriter and co-producer, J. Beattie, P. Millar & R. Bullen, post production.

Refereed Articles (since 2018)

Refereed Book Chapters (since 2018)

  • Beattie, J. & R. Bullen (2020). ‘A ‘present tendency…to possess “something Japanese”:’ Japonisme in New Zealand, 1870s-1940s’, in Exporting Japanese Aesthetics, pp.61-79. Eds. T. Kimuara & J. Harris. Brighton: Scholars Publishing.
  • Beattie, J. & R. Bullen (2020). ‘Embracing friendship through gift and exchange: Rewi Alley and the art of museum diplomacy in Cold War China and New Zealand’, in 34th World Congress of Art History Comité International L’Histoire de L’Art, section 6, pp. 585-594. Ed. S. Mcintyre. Beijing: Peking University & CAFA.
  • Beattie, J. (2020), ‘Chinese Resource Frontiers, Environmental Change, and Entrepreneurship in the Pacific, 1790s-1920s’, in Migrant Ecologies in the Pacific. Eds. E. D. Melillo & R. T. Jones. Honolulu: Hawai’i University Press, forthcoming.
  • Beattie, J. & E.N. Anderson (2020). ‘Environments and Empires in World History, 3000BCE-1900CE’, in The Oxford History of World Empires. Eds. P. Bang, C. A. Bayly, & W.ScheidelOxford: OUP, 2020.
  • Beattie, J. & P. Star (2020). ‘Global Influences and Local Environments: Forestry and Forest Conservation in New Zealand, 1850s–1925’, in Forestry in the British Empire, Ed. V. Damodaran. Delhi: Primus Books, forthcoming.
  • Beattie, J. & R. Bullen (2019). ‘Rewi Alley and the Art of Museum Diplomacy in Cold War China and New Zealand, 1949-1960s in China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and the Collecting and Display of Chinese Arts since the Cold War, pp.46-61. Eds. J. Beattie, R. Bullen & M. Galikowski. London: Routledge.
  • Beattie, J., Galikowski, M., & Bullen, R. (2019). ‘China and the Art of Cultural Diplomacy’, in China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and the Collecting and Display of Chinese Arts since the Cold War, pp.1-17. Eds. J. Beattie, R. Bullen & M. Galikowski. London: Routledge.

Click here for a full publication list: James Beattie publications.

Read more

Recent invited talks include:

  • ‘From Plunder to Archaeology and Antiques Markets: Collection, Exhibition, and Appreciation of Chinese artefacts in New Zealand, 1860-1940s’, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 30 April 2019.
  • ‘Chinese Resource Frontiers and Environmental Change in the Pacific, 1790s-1920s’, Sun Yat-sen University, September 2018.
  • ‘A Garden on a Plate: Willow Pattern and World History’, Dunedin Chinese Gardens’ 10-year anniversary Scholars’ Celebration, 8 September 2018.