Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Building Stories: Oral History, Built Heritage & Numinous Fabric

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Version 1 2021-12-07, 14:34
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:43 authored by Williamson, Miranda

Carman and Sørensen’s book Heritage Studies: Methods and Approaches challenges us to reconsider and extend methodologies in heritage studies. This thesis takes inspiration from their book to ask how and why heritage practitioners and academics researching built heritage should use oral history as a useful qualitative tool in their research process. In the New Zealand context, researchers find it difficult to find information for the period that spans the Second World War to the present, due to the common practice of restricting access to recent official records and government documents, in most cases due to sensitivities about privacy, and the cessation of the Papers Past newspaper resource. This thesis asks if researchers could fill this gap by drawing on tools from the fields of public history and oral history and by doing this extend and refine the theory and practice of heritage studies and heritage management.  To test this approach, I have undertaken a case study of the historic building, Ngaroma, in Wellington’s Lyall Bay. The methodology I have followed involved first delving into the building’s history through library and archival sources; I then conducted nine interviews with people who have had a connection to the building. The data I have gathered about both the physical and social fabric of Ngaroma and its history has built up a picture of life in the building. Memory, senses and emotion have emerged as important aspects of my findings.  In analysing the results, I have extended the established binary understanding of the physical and social fabrics of the building and developed the concept of ‘numinous fabric’. In doing so I argue that we can identify the overlap between physical fabric and social fabric which can guide and inspire the way we can go about interviewing people by linking extant fabric with intangible things such as memories. This thesis finds that oral history can be used to tap into a rich source of material that adds depth and dimension to our understanding of the built heritage around us. It encourages all academics and heritage professionals researching historic buildings to undertake oral interviews as a central qualitative methodology and in doing so to bring together heritage theory and heritage management practice.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Museum and Heritage Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


McCarthy, Conal; Green, Anna