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Centre for the Book
Events and Opportunities related to Books at the University of Otago

Donald Kerr on the Current Exhibition

If you were not up late the other night and so missed Donald’s interview on National Radio, you can catch it again here.  Learn all about the current exhibition in Special Collections devoted to bookplates and other indications of ownership.  And then call by to check out the originals.

National Radio has been quite bookish of late, in fact, and while you are on the site, you might check out Paul Tankard’s discussion of the Alice in Wonderland illustrations by John Tenniel. also broadcast later in the evening following the Centre for the Book dinner.

Public Lecture on Important Science Book, Tuesday 10 March, 5:30 pm

The Centre for the Book is pleased to welcome Prof. John Christie, a historian of medicine in Dunedin to work with the Monro Collection.  Prof. Christie will speak on “Gender and Representation in Eighteenth-Century Science,” looking at, among other topics, Lavoisier’s Elements of Chemistry (1789; tr English 1790).  However, as you can tell from the title, his discussion will range widely and not require a deep knowledge of the history of Chemistry.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be a proper exemplification of Enlightenment.  The lecture will take place on Tuesday, 10 March at 5:30 pm. on the second floor of Mellor Laboratories, seminar room 2.15  All welcome.

World Book Day Lecture 2020

The CeProf. Sydney Shep, Wellingtonntre for the Book is delighted to welcome one of NZ’s own luminaries of the print culture world,  Dr. Sydney Shep, to deliver the World Book Day Lecture on Thursday, 5 March 2020 in Archway 3.  Her topic will engage book history in its fullest sense—looking at an important NZ book in its historical context but also challenging the ways book historians have traditionally talked about such texts.  It promises to be an exciting evening.

“If Books Could Talk.”
Bibliographers are trained in the forensics of the material book and speak in a language that appears at once arcane and quaint. Terms such as duodecimo, signatures, chain lines, catchwords, morocco, gauffering, collation formulae are liberally sprinkled throughout their conversations. But what if the books themselves could talk? As the German philosopher Walter Benjamin asked in 1916, “What would they tell us? Or are they speaking already and we just don’t hear them?” Join me for an excursion into object autobiography as I listen to a copy of Williams’ Māori Dictionary (1844) that travelled the world and eavesdrop on examples of contemporary letterpress printing that cross linguistic, visual and material boundaries.

Dr Sydney J. Shep is Reader in Book History and The Printer, Wai-te-ata Press | Te Whare Tā O Wai-te-ata at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. Her practice-based research involves the interdisciplinary study of transnational and cross-cultural book history and print culture, in the contexts of the history of empire, history of technology, and the history of reading. Topics of perennial interest include graffiti, ghost signs, generative art, and the digital handmade. Sydney is a Past President of SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing), a 2018-19 British Academy Visiting Fellow at the University of Southampton, and a government-appointed Kaitiaki | Guardian of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

You are also invited to join Dr. Shep and a loyal band of Centre for the Book supporters for the annual dinner at the Staff Club following the lecture.  Tickets are $50 and are available from Donald Kerr in Special Collections (cash or cheque).

Reading Practices Survey–Call for Participants

Now is your chance to contribute to international research.  I don’t know how much good the Canadian book token would do anyone in NZ, but the scholars organising the project really want input from New Zealand, so we’ve agreed to help them spread the word.  And who doesn’t like talking about what they’re reading? Please feel free to pass this on via social media or other modes; the more informants, the more accurate the results.

“We are writing to invite you to participate in our latest research project on reading practices. This time around we are looking to get a snapshot of what you are reading, how much you’re reading, how you find out about books to read, and about where you share what you’re reading.

Please help us. The survey will take no longer than 10 minutes to complete, and you’d be helping out a great deal. As a token of our appreciation, you can put your name into a draw for a bookseller gift certificate.

Here is a link to the survey:

Your responses are completely anonymous. At the end of the survey, there’ll be a link to put your name into a draw for a CD$100 (CDN) bookseller gift certificate, but your email address and your survey responses are completely separate from one another.

Thank you very much for taking our survey. Please forward this to your friends and family.

Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo”

Dunedin Rare Book School 2021 Information

The 16th year of Australasian Rare Book School will take place in Dunedin from 1–5 February 2021.  Details are now available on the School’s website:

Tell all your friends and start trying to decide now which course you will take.

Change of Plans for World Book Day

We’re sad to announce that for personal reasons Professor Maryanne Wolf will no longer be visiting Otago University in March.

Maryanne Wolf is the Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and author of four books about reading, the most recent of which is Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

We will hold a public lecture on Thursday, 5 March, the usual day for World Book Day, and announce a new speaker soon.

150th Celebration Printer-in-Residence Project Underway

Be sure to call by the Otakou Press in the Central Library to see how the printers are progressing.  This year’s is a very local project.  To celebrate the university’s 150th year, John Holmes andMarion Wassenaar are printing one hundred copies of a book of letters to the editor of the Otago Daily Times from New Zealand poet Charles Brasch.  The publication will offer insights into a less familiar tone of Brasch’s voice and shed light on the cultural history of Dunedin as debated in the pages of the ODT.  You can read more about the publication here.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, please contact Donald Kerr to be added to his list of contacts to notify when the book is completed.

A Timely Exhibition: Special Collections’ on the Year 1869

On 3 June 1869, the University of Otago Ordinance 1869 became law. This meant that the newly established University became a corporate body with power to grant degrees. This was a significant first for New Zealand. Two years later, with a building secured (the now demolished ‘Post Office’ building near the Exchange), and three professors appointed: John Shand, (Natural Philosophy); George Sale (Classics); and Duncan Macgregor (Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy), classes began. The first class was on 10 July 1871, with 81 students enrolled. The University of Otago’s rich history continues today. Its establishment and legacy form part of the current exhibition “1869: The Year That Was,” which begins on 20 September 2019 at the de Beer Gallery, Special Collections, 1st floor, Central University Library.

Of course, other events occurred in 1869, forming a then unwritten but much wider history. While the University Council were debating the administrational matters necessary to make the newly formed educational institution work, events were occurring on a local and international level. Each had their own particular impact. Some of the events of 1869 that feature in the exhibition include the formation of the Otago Institute; the first Fine Arts Exhibition in New Zealand; the first ‘Royal’ visit to New Zealand; the introduction of the New Zealand Cross; the births of Rasputin, Emma Goldman, and Gandhi; the opening of the Suez Canal; and the formation of Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev’s periodic table. Tolstoy’s War and Peace was published in 1869, as was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. ‘Contextualization is everything!’

All these moments and more are available for your viewing pleasure in Special Collections from 9–5 Monday to Friday.  Please enjoy “1869, The Year That Was.”

Children’s Writing Event—1 Week Left for Early-Bird Registration

Register now for the WILD Imaginings Children’s Writers’ and Illustrators’ Hui!

WILD Imaginings promises a scintillating programme delivered by some of the country’s most celebrated children’s book creators and influential industry professionals. Check out the WILD Imaginings programme here.

Discounted early bird registration is now open until 1 October for this national hui, which takes place in Dunedin on the weekend of 8-10 November, in association with Storylines.

Enjoy an invigorating weekend immersed in the world of children’s books, in the heart of New Zealand’s UNESCO City of Literature!
Register for WILD Imaginings

Follow the WILD Imaginings Facebook page

World Book Day a bit later in 2020

Due to an exciting opportunity to host a major scholar, we are deferring the annual World Book Day celebrations slightly next year.  So pencil Wednesday 25 March into your diaries, and look forward to a most interesting public lecture by Prof. Maryanne Wolf, and consider joining us afterward for a buffet dinner at the Staff Club.

Prof. Wolf is a scholar, a teacher, and an advocate for children and literacy around the world. She is the Director of the  newly created Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.  Previously she was the  John DiBiaggio Professor of Citizenship and Public Service and  Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University.  She is the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (2007, HarperCollins), Dyslexia, Fluency, and the Brain (Edited; York, 2001),  Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century (2016, Oxford University Press), and Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (August, 2018, HarperCollins). (More details at

Her visit is made possible by the Book Council of NZ and we are thrilled to be able to hear about Prof. Wolf’s work and deep insights about reading.