Department of History

Jacob Pollock

Advisor: Pinar Emiralioglu
Doctoral Thesis: The Geographical Compass: History, Authority and Utility in the English Voyage Account, 1660–1730
Date of PhD: 2012
Current Position: Senior Historian, Office of Treaty Settlements; Wellington, New Zealand

Since finishing my studies at Pitt, I returned to New Zealand and became a historian at the Office of Treaty Settlements in Wellington. OTS is tasked with negotiating the settlement of the historical grievances of indigenous Māori on behalf of the Crown in a project that’s of national and global significance. These settlements involve various forms of redress, including cultural redress that recognises the cultural importance of an iwi (tribe) to its area, commercial redress meant to re-establish the economic base of the iwi, and acknowledgements of breaches of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi and an apology for the prejudice suffered by the iwi. The acknowledgements are based on a historical account, the text of which is negotiated and agreed between Crown officials and the iwi. As a historian, my core task is to negotiate the historical account and draft acknowledgements and apologies, but I am also involved in many other elements of the settlements. It’s a fascinating, difficult and rewarding job that involves historical research, careful policy analysis, and negotiation.

On the surface a PhD in early modern imperial history and the history of the book doesn’t have much to do with a job in Treaty settlements in New Zealand in the 21st century, and it’s true that I don’t write much about magnets or competition between late-17th Century booksellers in my day job. Nevertheless there’s much about my graduate training at Pitt that influences how I work. The foundation skills of my job are primary research, synthesizing secondary sources and drafting short pieces of writing clearly explaining complex problems, all of which I honed over six years studying at Pitt. Beyond that, I often reflect on the work we did developing oral argument skills when I’m trying to get my point across in a negotiation in a clear and concise manner. Likewise the TAing and lecturing opportunities at Pitt have transferred well into giving public presentations and mentoring junior colleagues.

I probably could have got this job without a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. Nevertheless I’m certain my graduate training has shaped my career outside of academia not only in the skills I developed, but also in the rich perspectives I bring to my work through a deep and broad knowledge of history, and what led us to this particular global and postcolonial moment.  

Photo: Pollock on top of Matakā, the sacred maunga of Ngāti Torehina ki Matakā, situated at the mouth of the Bay of Islands, during a Waitangi Tribunal Te Paparahi o Te Raki hearing week in June 2015.