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

Upcoming Burns Fellows 60th Reunion Spec Collections Exhibition

for it is only through imaginative thinking that society grows, materially and intellectually
Charles Brasch, ‘Notes’. Landfall, March, 1959

This year, 2018, is the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. It is the oldest and most prestigious literary art award in New Zealand. There is some mystery surrounding the people who helped set it up, but Dunedin’s own Charles Brasch certainly had a hand in it; it is thus fitting that many of the books on display come from his own collection, which is housed in Special Collections.

On the 7th of September the exhibition, Auld Acquaintances: Celebrating the Robert Burns Fellowship, will begin in the de Beer Gallery, Special Collections at the University of Otago. It will run through until the 7th of December.

The Robert Burns Fellowship was established as a way to foster nascent or already established New Zealand writing talent. Poets, novelists, short story writers, historians, scriptwriters, playwrights, essayists – no genre is excluded. Many of New Zealand’s most well-known writers have been Robert Burns Fellows – Maurice Gee, Janet Frame, James K. Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Witi Ihimaera, Roger Hall, Cilla McQueen, Michael King, Laurence Fearnley…the list goes on.

All of the Robert Burns Fellows will feature in the exhibition. Many of them have written their own paragraphs on how the Fellowship has impacted their lives, making the exhibition a very personal one. In addition and where possible, the publication that resulted from the Fellow’s tenure is on display. From the novelist Ian Cross – first ever Fellow in 1959 – to the Robert Burns Fellow in 2018, poet Rhian Gallagher, this exhibition is a piece of New Zealand’s literary history that everyone needs to see.

For a full roster of other events associated with the Burns Fellowship reunion, see the Department of English and Linguistics’ site.

Confessions of an Opinionated Bookseller–Sunday 2 September

The Centre for the Book is delighted to join with the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival and UBS and other sponsors to bring Shaun Bythell to Dunedin to recount his adventures as an irreverent bookseller.  The event is ticketed and tickets are available from UBS for $20, though for fans of Trainspotting a joint ticket to hear Shaun and Irvine Welsh both on the same day is available for $30.  It should prove a very engaging Sunday afternoon and evening with two lively authors with quite distinctive voices.  We do hope you can join us.

Shaun’s talk will be held at the Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum at 2 pm on Sunday, 2 September.  Ticket information and more details available on the DWRF website.

Public Lecture–Prof Tom Mole on ‘Books in the World of Things’

After his unexpected change of plans in March, we are delighted to be able to welcome Professor Tom Mole from Edinburgh University, a Professor of English and Book History, to deliver what promises to be a very lively lecture for the Centre for the Book.

Prof. Mole is the co-author with Michelle Levy of The Broadview Introduction to Book History (2017) and its accompanying Broadview Reader in Book History.  He also even more recently published a monograph, What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History (Princeton University Press, 2017; distributed by Oxford in the UK).  That book received commendation as one of the two best book history publications in the past year at the SHARP conference in Sydney just a fortnight ago.

Here is Prof. Mole’s summary of his talk to entice you to come along on Monday, August 6th in Archway 2 at 5:30 pm:

The book is our most durable and familiar communications technology. It’s an object that pervades our lives from before we can read and turns up everywhere in our education, our work and our leisure. But we hardly ever pay attention to the book as an object. We’re taught not to from an early age: learning to read means learning to stop looking at the book in front of us and start looking through it. As a result, we miss the messages books send, because we’re too busy trying to decipher the messages they contain.  Losing ourselves in the words on the page, we forget the object that encloses them.  But we use books for a lot of things besides reading.  They serve as badges of allegiance, signifiers of class, focal points for rituals and festivals, tokens shaping interpersonal relationships and more.  This lecture invites us to concentrate on the book as an object among others, and so allows us to examine the ways in which it features in our individual and collective life.

We certainly hope you can join us for this event.

Latest Special Collections’ Exhibition, “All the Year Round: Exploring the Nineteenth-Century Periodical”

The latest exhibition of the wonders of the University’s Special Collections opened last week and will be on display until 31 August.

All the Year Round: Exploring the Nineteenth-Century Periodical tells the story of the rise of the British periodical. The exhibition charts the rapid expansion of periodical publication from the early years of the nineteenth century, when writers like Lord Byron and John Keats were reviewed and reviled, to the last decades of Queen Victoria’s reign, when ‘decadent’ journals caused controversy, the Boy’s Own and Girl’s Own Paper catered to an expanding young readership, and Sherlock Holmes’s appearance in The Strand inspired a devoted following across all classes.

All the Year Round takes its title from Charles Dickens’s weekly journal, which reached tens of thousands of readers and featured many of his now classic novels. The exhibition’s strongest presence comes from the satirical London journal Punch, whose columns and cartoons mocked prominent politicians and celebrities and shaped middle-class attitudes. Colonial spinoffs, like Otago Punch, soon spread across the British Empire.

While the exhibition primarily features holdings from the University of Otago’s Special Collections and the Hocken Library, it also includes works kindly lent from the Dunedin Public Library and the Olga and Marcus Fitchett Collection.


Jane Austen talk this Friday, Burns 2, 4 pm

Although not strictly a Centre for the Book event, we know Jane Austen events have been popular in the past, so I’m posting this one.  The Department of English and Linguistics is pleased to welcome Professor Sheryl Craig of Central Missouri University to speak about “Jane Austen and the Women’s Rights Movement in Georgian England.”  Professor Craig is a member of both the English and Philosophy Departments at Central Missouri and is the author of author of Jane Austen and the State of the Nation (2015).  Here is how she describes her topic:

“Jane Austen was 17 years old when A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published, and the legal, financial, and educational inequalities Mary Wollstonecraft identified directly affected Jane Austen.  It is, therefore, not surprising to find Austen’s fictional characters discussing women’s rights talking points.  Unfortunately, modern readers, even twenty-first century feminists, may not fully appreciate the impediments Austen’s characters are struggling to overcome or the women’s rights’ positions they defend.”

We hope you can join us.

2018 Symposium Call for Papers

At long last, here are the details for this year’s symposium, to be held 1–2 November.  The attached PDF gives full details, so feel free to download it and broadcast widely.  I’ll be taking copies to SHARP in Sydney next month.

The thems is “Translation and Transculturation in, through, and by Print.”  Relevant topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • The impact of print in NZ in languages other than English
  • The impact of print in scripts other than the Roman alphabet
  • Collectors and collecting across cultures
  • How books travel from one language to another
  • Whether transculturation is separable from translation, e. can ideas travel irrespective of language?
  • The extent to which print communicates across cultures more or less effectively than other media
  • The effects of national language policies on the power of translation
  • Any aspect of technologies for cross-cultural printing and/or translating
  • The extent to which print records or distorts cross-cultural encounters
  • Motivations for translation (evangelisation, education, propaganda, support)
  • Whether translation inhibits or facilitates transculturation

Abstracts are due by 1 September, so put on your thinking caps.  We look forward to a lively occasion, as usual.

Donald Kerr on Dueling in NZ

Our very own Co-Director, Dr. Donald Kerr, was interviewed yesterday on Radio NZ.  Well worth a listen for a little-known aspect of NZ history.  Congratulations to Donald on his recognition.

Book Night NZ, Tuesday 22 May, 5:30 pm at Dunedin Public Library

Please join book-minded types from throughout Dunedin to admire some of the many productions that make Dunedin a UNESCO City of Literature.  There will be readings from the City of Literature books on display, as well as time to enjoy reading a selection or two silently.

The festivities will kick off at 5:30 on the fourth floor and continue as long as readers are keen.  The library closes at 8, so there is a definite terminus, though all are welcome to come and go any time during the event.

Thanks to the indefatigable Kay Mercer for organising this occasion.  We’ve attached a PDF poster with full details.  We hope you can join us.

150 Māori Books, this coming Thursday, 3 May, at noon

Please join us in the Hocken Seminar Room at noon next Thursday for a panel discussion by Jacinta Ruru, Jeanette Wikaira and Angela Wanhalla on “The Origins and Intent for Celebrating 150 Māori Non-Fiction Books”  Part of a larger project, Te Takarangi: Celebrating Māori publications, the aim is to highlight one non-fiction book per day for 150 days starting on 13 February and ending in September this year to coincide with Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori | Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week.

The Centre for the Book is always interested in how people perceive what books do in the world, and this seminar provides an ideal opportunity to hear from three very thoughtful scholars on the place of books in 21st-c bicultural Aotearoa.

For more information on the project, see Te Takarangi,

Public Lecture, Ryan Cordell on “Speculative Bibliography,” 23 April, 5:30 pm in Burns 5

Come find out what happens as bibliography moves into the 21st century and encounters mass digitisation.  Professor Cordell, author of the essay, “‘Q i-jtb the Raven’: Taking Dirty OCR Seriously” in the most recent volume of Book History, is a leading investigator of the advantages and challenges of digital sources.

Here’s how Ryan explains his lecture:
Scholars are outlining methods for describing the provenance and material-technical structures of mass-digitized texts. Computational methods help scholars trace textual structures largely outside the purview of traditional bibliography, such as the reprinted newspaper snippets we study in the Viral Texts Project ( The clusters of matching texts output by our algorithm are, in a sense, enumerative bibliographies: each cluster lists witnesses of a given text, along with the metadata (e.g. date, title) of the newspapers that reprinted it.

But not quite. Really, each cluster lists texts similar enough under our algorithm’s constraints, which shift as we alter parameters such as the length, number, or overlap of matching strings required for texts to match. Resulting clusters are generally reliable as witnesses, but there are inevitably false positives and false negatives (e.g. OCR error). Moreover, clusters include types of repetition beyond witnesses, such as extended quotations of one text within another. Given that our algorithm outputs millions of individual clusters—each comprising between two and several hundred matched texts—we will never have the funding or hours to check even a fraction.

This paper proposes “speculative bibliography” as an interpretive frame for understanding the objects created through computational, statistical, and probabilistic methods such as those described above or, to cite a more common example, the results of keyword searches. Beginning with Tanselle’s proposed definition of the electronic edition as “all copies resulting from a *single job of typographical composition*,” the paper will propose the speculative edition: all texts associated through a single computational process. Beyond naming existing practices, the paper will argue that conscious engagement with speculative editions will be increasingly necessary for grounding meaningful exploration amid conditions of mass digitization.”

5:30 pm Monday, 23 April, Burns 5 of the Arts Building, University of Otago