Woman Nolan, Melanie (1960 - )

Reefton, South Island, New Zealand

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Melanie Nolan is a leader in Australian history in her positions as Professor of History, Director of the National Centre of Biography and General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the School of History at the Australian National University.

Melanie Claire Nolan was born in1960 at Reefton, on New Zealand's West Coast of the Te Waipounamu, the South Island. Her parents were New Zealand-born couple, Paul Nolan, a labourer and the youngest of 13 children, and Alison Coad, the eldest of eight. She attended many schools as her parents followed work, including Villa Maria College, Christchurch (1967-1971). She was a boarder at times at Mercy College, Timaru (1971) and Teschemakers Dominican College, Oamaru (1974-1975), becoming dux of Mount Maunganui College and winning a junior New Zealand University scholarship in 1978. She attended the University of Canterbury (1979-1984), graduating with a BA in 1982 and an MA with first-class honours in 1985. She won a scholarship to the Australian National University in 1986 and graduated with a PhD in History in 1990 for her thesis Uniformity and Diversity: A Case Study of Female Shop and Office Workers in Victoria, 1880 to 1939.

Around engagements 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). She taught for 16 years at Victoria University of Wellington (1992-2008) supervising 20 postgraduate history theses, being promoted to Professor of History in 2007 and serving as Head of History (2006-2008).

In 1993 with funding from the Suffrage Centenary Year Trust and the Bank of New Zealand, she organized the Suffrage and Beyond international conference commemorating New Zealand women's suffrage in 1893, perhaps the best financed history conference ever in New Zealand. It led to a co-edited collection of papers, Suffrage and Beyond: International Feminist Perspectives (1994). That year she also organised the Women and Work Exhibition for the Trade Union History Project (TUHP) which began in Wellington and later toured the country. She has been a long-serving member of both the TUHP and the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (Canberra regional branch). She is also a member of the editorial boards of both Labour History (Sydney) and Labour History Review (London).

Nolan's work also includes Breadwinning (2000), a history of women and the state, Kin: a collective biography of a working-class New Zealand (2005) which won the 2006 Archives & Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ) Ian Wards Prize and was short-listed for the 2007 Ernest Scott Prize. She has edited six collections, most recently as general editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 18 (2012) and co-editor of a history of the ADB (2013); and four collections of conference proceedings, including Fifty Years of Struggle: The Story of Equal Pay (1998). She is currently writing Bad Luck and Trouble: People and Policy in the 20th century British World.

As Director of the National Centre of Biography, Nolan co-ordinates the Masters of Biographical Research and Writing and chairs the Editorial Committee of ANU ePress series in biography, ANU Lives. She was on the judging panel of the Magarey Medal for Biography (2008), the Australian Prime Ministers' Centre research and scholarship programme (2008-2011) and the National Biography Award (2013). She serves on the advisory committees of the Dictionary of the Australian Senate and the Australian Dictionary of Biography, where she has shown keenness to increase women's representation in the historical record.

Melanie's partner of three decades is Kim Sterelny, ARC Laureate Professor of Philosophy in the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU. Their daughter, Kate, was born in 1998. Between 1998 and 2008 Kim was half-time at the ANU and Victoria University of Wellington and was a trans-Tasman commuter.

Additional sources: Personal communication between Melanie Noland and Patricia Grimshaw, October 2013.

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