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

Donald Kerr Reveals All

For anyone who missed the recent Careers column from the ODT, here is a brief interview with Donald about his life as Director of Special Collections.  He’s a busy man of many talents (and the article does not even mention his drum-playing).


Special Collections Exhibition: “The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History”

‘As a class, women seem always to have been too busy to say much about themselves. And sometimes it has seemed that the more worthwhile their deeds the less they said about them. Few women have had Boswells, though many should have’.
                                                        –Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, 1937

A woman’s role in society, until recently, has traditionally been as wife, mother, and caregiver. She is often remembered in history, overwhelmingly written by men, for her looks, her body, or her scandalous behaviour. Women make up at least half of the world’s population, but they occupy less than one percent of recorded history.

On June 21st the exhibition, The Female of the Species: A Celebration of Women in History, opened in the de Beer Gallery, Special Collections at the University of Otago. It will run through until the 13th September.

Women have always been writers, inventors, mathematicians, health practitioners, artists, rebels, activists, and warriors, but their contributions to society have often been overlooked, fading into a background overshadowed by men. The exhibition will go some way towards addressing this lack of recognition for women in history.

Famous women appear, such as Cleopatra, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Curie, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Florence Nightingale, and Janet Frame. Other less familiar names are also highlighted, like Christine de Pisan, the 14th century proto-feminist; Boudica, Queen of the Iceni; Hypatia, the ancient Greek mathematician; Ida Pfeiffer, the Austrian traveller; Mary Somerville, the scientist; Ann Radcliffe, the writer; Margaret Sanger, the birth control activist; Teuta, the pirate Queen; Charlotte Guillard, the Paris printer; and many more besides.

Venue: Special Collections, de Beer Gallery, 1st floor, Central University Library

Exhibition hours: 8.30 am to 5.00 pm.

For further information, please contact the curator Romilly Smith (; Dr Donald Kerr, Special Collections Librarian (

[With apologies for the delayed posting; the blog editor has been on annual leave]

2019 Symposium Call for Papers, 14–15 November, 2 September Abstract Deadline

Nietzche quotationThink Plutarch’s Lives, Boswell’s Johnson, Holroyd’s Shaw, Herrera’s Frida Kahlo; Augustine’s Confessions, Stein’s Alice B. Toklas, John Cowper Powys’sAutobiography; Casanova’s Memoirs, Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, Anne Frank’s Diary….and of course much more in what is a very popular reading genre.

Considering the above titles, the University of Otago Centre for the Book is pleased to announce our eighth annual research symposium. The theme for the 2019 Centre for the Book Symposium is “Biography, Autobiography and Memoirs.”  The symposium proper will take place on the University campus all day Friday, November 15th. Details on the venue to follow.

Relevant topics of the theme might include, but are not limited to:

  • The differences among those three terms
  • The role of selection in shaping a more coherent narrative
  • Transitions among the three forms—memoir becoming autobiography, autobiography informing biography
  • The role of ghost writers in these genres
  • Scope of coverage for such works
  • Ethics of honesty in depicting lives – the truth?
  • Personal narratives as part of national or global narratives
  • Challenges and successes in publishing these forms
  • Reading personal narratives—what do we look for?  What do we allow?  How essential are indexes?
  • Motivations for writing a personal story
  • Personal stories in non-print formats—oral histories, video, xxx
  • Circulation of personal narratives and inclusion of group knowledge within personal stories

As usual, we will begin our symposium with a public lecture on Thursday, November 14th in the Dunningham Room, 4th floor, Dunedin City Library. In this instance, an experienced panel of biographers and memoirists will discuss the genre.

Important notice: The Centre for the Book Symposium will be free to attend, with delegates responsible for providing their own lunch. We do ask that those wishing to attend register on our website,, so that we can cater for morning and afternoon tea.

Call for Papers

The theme is an exciting one, and we can imagine a raft of slants and approaches that one can take towards this genre. All of the above topics are of potential interest for the Centre for the Book Symposium, along with others we no doubt have not yet imagined. So, sharpen that pencil, and email a 250-300 word abstract of your ideas to and set aside the middle week of November for a thought-provoking symposium.

Abstracts must be received by Monday, 2 September 2019, with a final programme announced by mid-September.  If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Donald Kerr ( or Dr. Shef Rogers (

For the Love of Books: Collectors and Collections

Opening this Friday , the next Special Collections’ exhibition, “For the Love of Books: Collectors and Collections,” offers a very selective overview of all the types of materials within Special Collections. It highlights the type of books amassed by collectors such as Willi Fels, Esmond de Beer, Charles Brasch, and the Rev. William Arderne Shoults, as well as those discrete collections such as the Scientific Expedition Reports, and the Pulp Fiction Collection.

In essence, the exhibition is a taster. A brief but illuminating glimpse into what makes up Special Collections. And in 2019, on the sesquicentennial (150 years) celebrations of the establishment of the University of Otago, it is fitting to acknowledge the generosity of both past and recent benefactors to Special Collections. Importantly, we encourage use, and it is pleasing to acknowledge that the different collections that form Special Collections are used regularly by students and staff of the University, by national and international scholars, and by individuals from the wider community.

The exhibition runs 8:30-5:00 Monday through Friday, 22 March to 14 June 2019.  Do call in to renew old acquaintances and discover new treasures.

Catch-Up Book Club back for a new season

The Centre for the Book is delighted to announce that UBS will be running a second season of the Catch-Up Book Group, once again featuring speakers from the English programme.  First up is Dr. Rochelle Simmons tomorrow evening, 19 March, on Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient.  Six weeks later, on 30 April, Associate Professor Simone Marshall will present Beowulf, and Dr. Paul Tankard will round off the season with the longest book of the year, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, on 21 May.

All the gatherings are at 6pm for a 6:30 start, winding down at 7:30.  Please come along to reconnect with friends old and new, friends in print and in person.

Sense of Wonder Continues at Dunedin Public Library

Exploring the topic of “Travelling in Time: Adventures in History and Portals to the Past,” the Continued Sense of Wonder group will gather on Wednesday evening, 13 March at 7pm on the 4th Floor of the City Library. Bring along an old favourite or a new discovery to share.

The event is free, but bookings are recommended: 474 3690 or
For more information contact

World Book Day Lecture and Dinner

The Centre for the Book is delighted to welcome Associate Professor Katherine Bode of the Australian National University to deliver the 2019 World Book Day Lecture.  The lecture will take place at 5:30 on Thursday, 7 March in Archway 2, followed by dinner at the Staff Club.  Those interested in attending the dinner should contact Donald Kerr to purchase a ticket.  The meal costs $43 incl GST, payable by cash or cheque, for a buffet dinner (menu) and great company.

Professor Bode is the author of A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018) and Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field (London: Anthem Press, 2012), She also created To be continued … The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database ( identifying over 21,000 works of fiction published in Australian newspapers.

Her topic for this year’s lecture is “Reading beyond the Book.”  She is a lively and engaging presenter who deeply loves her work and will convince you that you should too.  Do join us.


Postponed; New Date TBC (Talk about New Book on Truth in Media by Stephen Davis)

This talk has been postponed due to Stephen’s other commitments, but we hope to arrange an event later in 2019 to discuss this topical issue.

The Centre for the Book is delighted to host a provocative talk by investigative reporter, TV journalist and writer Stephen Davis at 5:30 pm on Thursday 4 April in Archway 1.   The talk is entitled Faking It:  Understanding the Modern World of Truth Prevention, Fake News and Conspiracy Theories, He will be speaking about his new book, Truthteller, to be published 2 April by Exisle PublishingThe book “is an essential guide to how governments and corporations cover up murder, corruption and catastrophe, for teachers, students and concerned citizens who want to know the facts, not fake news. Using exclusive documents and interviews from a career as an award-winning reporter, editor, foreign correspondent and television producer, Stephen Davis reveals shocking details of deceptions from Brazil to Antarctica, London to Los Angeles.”

Stephen Davis has been on the front lines of journalism for three decades as an investigative reporter in TV, magazines and newspapers and as a leading journalism educator, trying to uphold the ideals of the fourth estate, and to inspire his students to do the same.  Along the way he has encountered lying politicians and corporate con men, spies and special forces soldiers, secret policemen and scared scientists. Among those who have tried to dissuade him from reporting his stories: men with Kalashnikovs, government lawyers, corporate PRs in fancy suits, senior police officers, billionaires, and newspaper owners. Davis has worked for The Sunday Times in both London and Los Angeles, been a war and foreign correspondent, a TV producer for 60 Minutes and 20/20, a newspaper editor, a documentary film maker for the BBC and Discovery, and has taught journalism to thousands of students from all over the world. He has won multiple awards for his investigative reporting, including a silver medal at the New York film and television awards, and has designed and run journalism degree programs in London, Sydney and Melbourne.

We hope you can join us for a different slant on the issue of what print can do in the world.

Medical Marvels Exhibition, 14 Dec 2018–15 Mar 2019

In 1929, the historical collection of the University of Otago’s Health Sciences’ Library was established with the donation of the famed Monro Collection. The some 450 volumes in that collection were owned by Alexander Monro, father (primus), son (secundus), and grandson (tertius), who were successively Professors of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh, 1720–1846. Wonderful though the Monro Collection is, it comprises but a fraction of the total Health Sciences Library’s Historical Collections, some 100,000 plus volumes. These include 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century books and manuscripts, as well as the unique Preventive Medicine Dissertations.

This exhibition, Medical Marvels, highlights treasures from this Historical Collection, from pharmacy and phrenology to dentistry and disease. Of particular note is the anatomical flap book by Johann Remmelin, printed in Holland in 1667; a second edition of Andreas Vesalius’s The Fabric of the Body, printed in 1555; and Bernhard Albinus’s Tables of the Skeleton and Muscles of the Human Body, printed in 1746. Other noteworthy items include works by Edward Jenner, John Hunter, Francis Glisson, Thomas Willis, and William Smellie. For those interested in the history of medicine, the exhibition is a feast.

Many of the books have been chosen by University of Otago academic staff, students and librarians, who have used the books for their own research. We are particularly indebted to Professor Terence Doyle, Department of Medicine, and Professor Barbara Brookes, History Department.

The exhibition opens at Special Collections, de Beer Gallery, first floor, Central University Library, on 14 December 2018. It runs to 15 March 2019.  It is open Monday to Friday, 9–5.

2018 Research Symposium—Translation and Transculturation, 1–2 November

The program is now finalised.  Thanks to all who submitted abstracts.  Donald and I really happy with the program and look forward to seeing lots of people at the Thursday night plenary lecture and the Friday panels.

As usual, there is no fee for this event, but we would welcome signals of intention to attend to help us with catering the afternoon tea.  Also note that our Thursday lecture is not at the Public Library this year (Shef was too late trying to book it, but thanks to the Library for being willing if the Dunningham Suite had been available).  Instead, we’ll be in the Moot Court room of the Richardson Building on campus.  It is a great room for acoustics and conversation, with nice views as well.

We hope you can join us for this excellent lineup of papers.  You can grab a copy of the program here.  To sign up, just go to our handy Google form.