Diary of a summer scholar: Sarah Heslin

21 February 2018
Sarah Heslin

Sarah completed a Summer Research Scholarship translating the diary of a German woman who wrote extensively on Germany's occupation and administration of Samoa.

This summer I had the pleasure of working alongside Dr Nicole Perry on her project translating the diaries of Frieda Zieschank, a German woman who wrote extensively on Germany's occupation and administration of Samoa in the early twentieth century.

My work consisted of translating a key 10,000 word section of the diaries from German into English, and providing explanatory footnotes with historical, cultural and linguistic references. I also did extensive research prior to the translation, specifically surrounding postcolonialism and gender as they relate to the South Pacific German experience.

My research contributed to an ongoing project supported by the Research Centre for Germanic Connections with New Zealand and the Pacific. The progress I made on translating the diaries will eventually result in a major critical edition to be published in the Research Centre's Germanica Pacifica series, published by Peter Lang International in Frankfurt.

The diaries were a unique lens into an important period in Germany's colonial history. They were full of fascinating details and opinions on Samoa's culture, social hierarchy, religion, and interaction with Germany — all from a gendered perspective.

The section that I translated contained rich descriptions of the domestic sphere, from the way homes were built, to the gender-allocated expectations within the home.

This excerpt also briefly touched on the beginning of the First World War, and the occupation of Samoa by New Zealand troops. It was a unique experience reading the personal, frightened views of the 'enemy' during this time, and the occupation negatively affected Samoan society.

Zieschank made many criticisms of Samoan culture, primarily from an 'anthropological' perspective. I use this term very loosely — she exhibited the Eurocentric ideals of the time period, which we can today deem as both unscientific and heavily socially influenced.

The excerpts that I was allocated had never been translated into English before, so they have only ever had a limited — and predominantely European — audience. Being able to explore this side of German history and talk about it with fellow New Zealanders has been very special — particularly as many of my friends and colleagues were unaware Samoa was ever colonised by Germany!

My experiences being a summer scholar have been so rewarding. I have been fascinated by German history since beginning my Bachelor of Arts, and gender issues have long been a passion of mine since learning of the discrepancies in the treatment of women by the New Zealand justice system through my Bachelor of Laws. I learnt how to efficiently perform archival work and unravel the intricacies of literary translation.

Nicole was a fantastic supervisor. Not only is she a fount of knowledge, she also provided me with guidance and advice on a topic she is so obviously passionate about. We both enjoyed working with each other so much that I have been privileged enough to be offered further research opportunities under her supervision.

My Summer Research Scholarship has been incredibly valuable. The skills I have learnt are applicable in my current BA/LLB degree, and will serve me well into the future if I endeavour into a field requiring research skills.

Find out more about Summer Research Scholarships