Kate Stevens

Scholar in History, New Zealand

Kate Stevens is a lecturer in History at the University of Waikato. Her research and teaching focus on comparative histories of cultural, environmental, and economic exchange in the colonial and postcolonial Pacific, focusing on the legacies of French and British imperialism in the region. She has published on mixed descent whaling communities in southern Aotearoa New Zealand, sexual violence and colonial criminal justice in Vanuatu and Fiji, and coconut commodities across French Polynesia, Wallis et Futuna, and France. She completed her PhD at University of Cambridge in 2015 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago before joining Waikato in 2019.

Monoi at the Papeete Market, 2020 © Kate Stevens

De/odorizing history: tracing the terroir of oil and soap from French Polynesia to France

The movement of coconut oil from the Pacific to France increased from the late 1800s, as deodorization of agricultural oils enabled their use as ingredients in soap and food. This transformation supported Marseilles industry while making oils interchangeable across the empire. Contemporary marketing for oils and soaps has drawn consumer and scholarly attention back to smell. During her residency, Kate Stevens will examine the history of odor across the French colonial empire through two local products transformed by colonialism, industrialization and global trade: Monoi de Tahiti and Savon de Marseille.