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

Hazel Wilkinson speaks on “The Digital Life of Decorated Books,” 5.30 p.m., Wednesday 28 March

Come and hear Dr Hazel Wilkinson describe her work on “The Digital Life of Decorated Books” at 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday 28 March in Burns 5 on the ground floor of the Arts Building.

Dr Wilkinson, from the Department of English, University of Birmingham, is a scholar of eighteenth-century literature and print history and Principal Investigator on Fleuron. Fleuron (@Fleuronweb) is an open access database of eighteenth-century printers’ ornaments. It allows users to explore the history of print and publishing through the decorative elements used to adorn books of this period.

She has kindly provided the following summary and abstract:

Summary: This talk is about printers’ ornaments, the images made from inked wood- or metal-cut designs that regularly decorated printed books in the hand-press period. The talk will introduce an online database of printers’ ornaments, and discuss the growing importance of printers’ ornaments in literary studies and related fields.

Abstract: In 2016, ‘Fleuron’, a database of c.1.5 million eighteenth-century printers’ ornaments and related images, was launched online at This talk will begin by describing how ‘Fleuron’ was created, with an introduction to the digital methods behind the database (accessible to non-specialists). ‘Fleuron’ was originally built as a tool for bibliographers, particularly those working in the field of printer identification. The talk will show how printers’ ornaments can be used to identify unknown printers, and will address the advantages and pitfalls of doing this kind of work digitally. It will outline plans for the project’s future, including the use of computer vision and machine learning. Beyond its bibliographical applications, ‘Fleuron’ is an exciting tool for the history of art and design: printers’ ornaments are miniature works of art that have been sorely neglected, perhaps because they have fallen through the conceptual gap between “text” and “illustration”. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the conceptual difficulty posed by ornaments. How do we distinguish between the illustrative and the decorative? What roles might ornaments have played in the interpretation of hand-press period texts at their first appearance? How can we “read” printers’ ornaments? The visual turn in literary studies is leading textual editors to ask these sorts of questions, and we are beginning to feel the need for an interpretative vocabulary for ornaments, for both research and teaching. The creative use of digital tools will be integral to the shaping of this new critical vocabulary.

Keith Maslen, an Honorary Fellow of the Department of English and Linguistics here, is one of the top bibliographers to have studied ornaments for handpress printer identification, so it is a great pleasure to be able to hear from Dr. Wilkinson about where the future of such scholarship might lead.

A Middle Eastern Odyssey: Constantinople to Palmyra

        MS Qur’an (c.1846)

The latest Special Collections Exhibition opens today.  It was inspired by an inventory of Middle Eastern and Islamic language materials that was recently compiled by Dr Majid Daneshgar, former lecturer at Theology and Religion at the University of Otago, now the University of Freiburg, Germany.  Arabic, Persian, and Turkish books and manuscripts are on display, mainly from the collection of the Rev. William Arderne Shoults (1839-1887). Some of the printed books are scarce; the manuscripts unique. There are a few modern publications in the exhibition. These are mainly from the library of Charles Brasch (1903-1973), who was an archaeological field assistant at Tell el Amarna, Egypt, from 1933 to 1935.

Choice travel and history books are also on display that not only help contextualise the language-based items, but also convey a wider picture and greater understanding on this area of the world. Importantly, the exhibition has a largely historical focus, with items displayed grounded in a past stretching back to antiquity.

Some of the items on display include editions of George Sandys’s A Relation of a Journey begun An: Dom: 1610 (1615; 1632); David Roberts’ superb The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia (1856); Thomas Erpenius’s early Arabic grammar entitled Rudimenta Linguae Arabicae (1628); a first edition of William Jones’s A Grammar of the Persian Language (1771); Robert Wood’s stupendous The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the Desart (1753); Charles M. Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta (1933); and T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935). Language materials include a unique Qur’an (c.1846); a unique manuscript of Euclid’s Elements i n Arabic (c.1800); an Arabic Bible printed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1811); a Hebrew Bible printed c.1611; and Arthur Lumley Davids’s A Grammar of the Turkish Language (1832).

The exhibition runs to 1 June 2018.
Hours: 830am to 500pm, Monday to Friday

Regent Book Art Competition–Put your Bookish Insights on Display

This event looked too irresistible not to draw readers’ attention to it.  Deadline is 31 May and full details and application forms are available online from  And even if you don’t create a piece yourself, you may well wish to go along and purchase one, on Friday 8 June.

Launch of the Catch-Up Book Club at UBS from 20 March

The University Book Shop and the Department of English and Linguistics invite you to join other knowledgeable readers and a keen fan who will offer some reasons for title’s deserved reputation and spur conversation about why a neglected classic deserves your attention.  Fun evenings, great company in a lovely venue, and you might even learn something.  All welcome

Sense of Wonder Event at Dunedin Public Libraries next Tuesday

For anyone who needs more literary stimulation following Helen Bones’s talk, you can continue the conversation in the Octagon with their series, “Sense of Wonder.”

Helen Bones, “Throwing up the Sponge”: New Zealand writers and the Expatriate Myth – 5.30 p.m., Tuesday 13 March

Join author and expatriate Helen Bones for a fresh look at the received wisdom that New Zealand writers in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries had to leave colonial shores to find success. In this talk, entitled ‘”Throwing up the Sponge”: New Zealand writers and the Expatriate Myth’, Bones will draw on her new book, The Expatriate Myth: New Zealand writers and the colonial world (Otago University Press, 2018). What did it mean to be a New Zealand writer? What was the relationship between New Zealand and wider colonial and transnational networks? Join us on Tuesday 13 March at 5.30pm in Castle D Lecture Theatre to find out more.

This talk is also sponsored by Otago University Press. Copies of The Expatriate Myth will be available to purchase at the event for a special price of $30.00, cash only.

Dr Helen Bones is a New Zealander living in Australia, where she teaches history and researches with the Digital Humanities Research Group at the University of Western Sydney.

Update: World Book Day Lecture and Dinner – 5.30 p.m., Thursday 1 March

In our annual World Book Day lecture for 2018, Prof Mark Henaghan, Faculty of Law, Otago, will speak on: ‘What Books Mean to Me.’ Prof Henaghan is an engaging speaker, so this will be worth attending.

Those of you who heard Mark speak last year at UBS on Homo Sapiens know that he’s a well informed reader and enthusiastic about his reading.

Prof Tom Mole will visit the Centre in August and regrets having to change his plans.  So  we will still look forward to his lecture, but not for World Book Day.

The lecture will be held at 5.30 p.m. in Archway 2. A buffet dinner with cash bar will follow directly after the talk. If you wish to join us for the meal, please see Donald at the lecture.  We are currently at capacity, but there may be last minute cancellations.  The cost will be $40, cash or cheque payable to the University of Otago.


Otakou Press Letterpress Workshop a Success

Over the past two weekends, the Otakou Press of the University of Otago Library offered a very successful Summer School letterpress course. Five students undertook hand-printing exercises using a table-top Adana and the Vandercook Proofing press.

The very first piece was a name badge for each student printed on the Adana. The second was a pangram (a text using all the letters of the alphabet) to introduce the students to the ‘California’ layout of the tray, including punctuation marks, ampersands, pound signs, etc. That text was printed on the Vandercook on Zerkall cream paper. The most ambitious exercise was a Shakespearean sonnet, also printed on the Vandercook. Students chose their sonnet and type (mostly 14-point Garamond) and decorated it with an ornament printed in a second colour. The paper used for the sonnets was Freelife Kendo 200gsm. Another intended exercise had been to print a favourite recipe, and creating an 8-page sewn booklet. However, time ran out and this option was not started. One student did manage to print a haiku.

Throughout the two weekends the students were also shown samples of modern hand printing; inspirational press work from New Zealand, Australian, English and American press operators. In addition, they viewed a small number of early printed books with new eyes, appreciating not only the long tradition of hand printing but also the hard work involved in producing such masterpieces.

Overall, it was a very successful workshop led by Dunedin’s best handpress printer, Dr John Holmes, owner operator of his Frayed Frisket Press.

SHARP Conference 2018, 9–13 July, University of Western Sydney

This year’s Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing Annual Conference will take place in July at the University of Western Sydney and the State Library of New South Wales.

This is the first time in SHARP’s 25-year history that the conference has been held outside Europe and North America. Although the deadline for submitting abstracts has passed, the conference represents an opportunity to attend the largest book history conference in the world a bit closer to home. The conference theme is “From First to Last Texts, Creators, Readers, Agents” and the main talks will run from 10–12 July. For further information, and to register, visit the SHARP website.  We will post an update when the conference programme is released.

Moving to the Left: Special Collections Exhibition runs until 9 March

Visit Special Collections at the de Beer Gallery, University of Otago Library, before 9 March to see Moving to the Left: the Art and Development of the Frontispiece:

What is a frontispiece? When did they first appear in print? Where do they sit in relation to the rest of a book’s contents? These are just some of the questions that this exhibition addresses with the help of examples from the printed books in Special Collections, University of Otago.

The de Beer Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. It is located on the First Floor of the Central Library, 65 Albany Street, Dunedin.

Click here for more information on this and other exhibitions or to contact Dr Donald Kerr, Special Collections Librarian.