Nation Dates Signature Book

Nation Dates is an initiative of the McGuinness Institutea non-partisan think tank working towards a sustainable future for New Zealand.

The book aims to use hindsight to understand the megatrends that have shaped our past and are likely to impact our future. Interestingly, the people that came to New Zealand were adventurers and explorers looking to create a new life or type of utopia. Nation Dates reminds us of the people before us and how so many of them worked hard to create a better future for New Zealanders they would never meet.

When undertaking future studies, there are three sights that shape the dialogue: hindsight, insight and foresight. This book aims to provide a record of our country’s history. See diagram below.

The cone of plausibility

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the inspiration for Nation Dates?

Nation Dates is a book founded on our belief that, to understand where we are heading, we need to know where we have been. History cannot be separated from the future and this idea of threads running through time is central to our work. Accordingly, the book is actually the result of several years of research trying to answer the question ‘where is New Zealand going?’. We first put a timeline together when working on Project 2058 and soon appreciated the value in linking similar events through time with what we have called ‘threads’. Mark Twain’s famous line ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme’ continues to resonate, so Nation Dates lists the rhymes that have occurred in the past, and are likely to propel us into the future.

How were dates for the timeline selected?

Selecting the dates for inclusion was not always an easy task. Sometimes a significant date was determined by the establishment of a committee, a royal commission, a publication, a national tragedy or triumph, and sometimes just a moment of interest. There are also events that have a ripple effect, and at times we have noted both prior and subsequent related dates within a single entry in order to be concise. While writing the first edition, we distributed the first draft to the participants, consultants and speakers at our StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future event. We received a lot of positive feedback and suggestions for inclusions.

How are events in the timelines grouped?

Each of the 732 entries in Timeline 1: Historical Events is grouped thematically, under one of nine domains and 70 threads. Our nine domains are inspired by the ‘12 domains of wellbeing’ that form part of the New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework; the threads are based on entries sharing a common context or characteristic.

You can access the timelines in four ways: by chronological order, by domain, by thread and by the index.

Why does the timeline begin at 1769?

Although New Zealand has a rich history that predates 1769, this date was selected for the beginning of Timeline 1 as the symbolic birth of New Zealand as a bicultural nation. The date is the first recorded meeting between Māori and Pākehā when James Cook landed the Endeavour at Tūranganui River. This meeting marked the beginning of the relationship between the British Crown and Māori that would later be formalised by the Treaty of Waitangi. 

What else is in the book?

The book also contains 12 other timelines. They are: Heads of State, Governors and Governors-General, Premiers and Prime Ministers, political parties, political agreements, Royal Commissions, referenda, Treaty settlements, New Zealand Wars, overseas peace support operations, government net worth and COVID-19. In addition, the inside back cover contains three graphs illustrating changes in Aotearoa New Zealand’s population, land cover use and marine boundaries over the long term. We have included this information because we think it is an important record of our nation’s history and is not easily accessible in one place.

How are macrons used in Nation Dates?

We follow the example of the Māori Language Commission, which was established by the Māori Language Act 1987 to act as the authority on Māori spelling and orthography. The Māori Language Commission favours the use of macrons to stress long vowels in the Māori language. However, we have not introduced macrons where they were clearly not used in the original text such as in historical quotes and the titles of Acts and Ministries.

What symbolism has been significant for the book?

The first edition was published in 2011, an election year. This is why we chose orange for the cover design; orange is the colour of the overarching elections campaign and is not associated with a specific New Zealand political party. As the McGuinness Institute is a non-partisan think tank, this is very important.

Who will this book appeal to?

The book will appeal to anyone with an interest in New Zealand’s rich history. The book is data heavy, but is designed to be easy to digest and dip in and out of, highlighting linkages and patterns.

What have people said about the book?

‘To understand present-day Aotearoa New Zealand, it is necessary to know something about how our nation has developed and changed over time. Nation Dates has become the go-to reference for anyone seeking such an overview of significant milestones in our nation’s history. Amongst the new entries in the 2020 edition is the decision to introduce New Zealand history as part of the core curriculum. It is a welcome milestone indeed, and I have no doubt that our students will regularly turn to Nation Dates during their studies, and in the years following their departure from school. Future generations of New Zealanders will be better informed about who we are as a people and as a nation, and better placed to confidently assume the responsibilities and privileges of citizens.’

— The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, QSO

‘Anyone who wants to shape Aotearoa New Zealand’s future must start with our past. This book looks back over 250 years of our nation’s history, and it is my hope that it inspires New Zealanders to think about our long-term future.’

— Professor Sir Mason Durie

‘This meticulously researched book embodies the commitment and passion of
Wendy McGuinness’ work through the McGuinness Institute. Nation Dates includes events of real significance to New Zealand’s past and will become a key text for libraries, schools, universities and anyone with an interest in this country’s past and future.’

— Dame Dr Claudia Orange

‘In this book we can see the broad sweep of events that have contributed to our collective sense of identity as a nation. Charting the remarkable developments provides hope and inspiration to the reader for the social and constitutional change that lies in our future.’

— Dr Carwyn Jones

Nation Dates is an accessible and wonderful collation of important events in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand. To paraphrase a historical tourism marketing campaign from the 1980s, don’t leave home until you’ve read the country.’

— Roger Dennis

What sources are used in Nation Dates?

We endeavoured to find up to three sources that all verified the same information, then we used the best source in the references. In selecting the best source, we privileged NZ History online and Te Ara; these are both Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH) sites. We found both websites to be invaluable independent bodies for verifying facts and providing consistent and concise references; we wish to support these valuable resources and encourage our readers to use them.

We also used the James Duncan Reference Library, which is owned and operated by the McGuinness Institute. Just like Nation Dates, our library is designed to preserve a record of the past in order to set the context for thinking about New Zealand’s long-term future.

What are proceeds from the book used for?

The Institute is a not-for-profit organisation and money from the sale of the books goes toward covering the research and printing costs. There are other costs associated with the production of the book that we will not recover but these are absorbed by the Institute. The Institute believes this is an important reference for New Zealanders and our priority is to make it as widely available as possible.

Will there be more editions?

Yes. We will continue to update future editions to reflect events as they take place, as well as to capture any historical events that are brought to our attention after print. The fourth edition was published on 2 December 2020, the third edition was published in October 2017, the second in 2012 and the first in 2011. We are currently working on a 5th edition ideally to be published in August 2023.

How can I give feedback about
Nation Dates?

We welcome your feedback, including suggestions of dates to add to future editions; please email us at With past editions the feedback has been critically important. Thank you to all those who have contributed to making every edition of the book better, stronger and more dynamic.