In his New Zealand: A Short History published in 1936. J.C. Beaglehole reflected that while the ocean joined the islands of New Zealand to the wider world, ultimately, 'in its midst they still lie alone - washed by its waves as they are, climatically conditioned by its proximity, the main outlines of the life they harbour determined by the cardinal fact of its existance'.1 Beaglehole went on to draw an analogy between New Zealand's 'verdant isolation' and the character of its 'national life': the nation's faults and virtues, he argued, 'rise, like its lakes and torrents, in its own heart'.2
This framing of island isolation and a contained, self-enclosed unfolding of 'national life' has come under scrutiny in recent years. But what of Beaglehole's recognition of the sea as a force in history? How did it condition, perhaps even 'determine' the lifeways that developed on these islands? What does it mean to say that the ocean matters in New Zealand history?