Otago hosted a brilliant hybrid conference this week, the “1869 Conference and Heritage Festival”. By “hybrid” I mean that it was the annual conference for the Australasian Victorian Studies Association, while also celebrating the University of Otago’s 150th anniversary, and sitting alongside the Dunedin Heritage Festival. While the Centre for Colonial Culture was a key sponsor, with Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla as one of the co-convevors (together with Kirby Hallum), a cross section of the university’s faculty was represented on the organising committee. The melange meant that most people engaged with papers that they would normally never encounter at their more usual disciplinary conferences, although this added to, rather than diminished, the event’s success. [See below for photos]
On Wednesday evening, the conference began with an all-women panel, looking at “Heritage through Words, Pictures and Threads”. Chaired by Kirby, the panel featured the novelist and academic, Tina Makereti, who discussed her latest novel, The Imaginary Lives of James Poneke; Lisa Chatfield, the producer for the BBC television adaptation of The Luminaries; Madeleine Seys, author of Fashion and Narrative in Victorian Popular Literature; and Otago’s Catherine Smith, an expert behind the science of traditional Māori weaving. This was a wonderful collaboration, exciting for those interested in the sumptuous garments of the Victorian era, but also drawing a number of different “threads” together. This was followed by a reception held in Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies.
1869 was formally opened in the Otago Museum on Thursday (26 September) with a mihi whakatau from Tuari Pōtiki representing both Kāi Tahu and the university, a short welcome from the DVC Research, Professor Richard Blaikie, and an amusing and uplifting speech from the Hon Grant Robertson, an Otago alumnus as well as the current (among other portfolios) Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. The PVC Humanities, Professor Tony Ballantyne then introduced the first keynote speaker, Megan Pōtiki of Te Tumu, who discussed how the school established in 1869 contributed to the demise of the speaking of te reo Māori at Ōtākou, just under 30 minutes drive from the city. However, in more recent years the concerted efforts of local people have seen the revival in the language at the kāik.
There are too many individual presentations to mention them all. Most were what one might expect at a history or literature conferences, but also sprinkled with a few science-orientated talks as well. Several stand out, such as the presentation by Dr Ian Chapman on the links between Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon with David Bowie’s Space Oddity – including a live band!; Lyndon Fraser’s swirling PowerPoint while discussing women’s wills in Victorian Canterbury; and Lyall Hanton’s physically animated talk on Joseph Mellor’s 16 million words on the Periodic Table. But the organisers were gratified at the high quality of all the panel presentations.
The conference highlights, of course, were the keynotes. On Thursday evening, people braved a dismal night to listen to Helen Pearson, editor of Nature, a journal that shares a 150th birthday with the university. Helen gave a wonderful talk on the past, present and future of this illustrious journal, noted not just for its academic papers but the science reporting and commentary. The “past” incorporated some of the journal’s many key publications, such as Francis Crick and James Watson’s groundbreaking paper on DNA in 1929, as well as a notable failure, an account on cold fusion. Helen also discussed Nature’s current situation, and how that may change with the growing demand for open-access publications.
Marian Thain, of Kings College London, was unable to make it to Dunedin for the conference, but nevertheless presented on“Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and the Politics of Parnassian Poetry (1860s-1880s)” on Friday. An exploration of how English poets adapted the ballade, a French poetry genre, the talk discussed how the Parnassian poets’ efforts spawned tensions between those who favoured a more international outlook and those who advocated for more British forms of verse. Marion pre-recorded her video presentation, and invited questions via Twitter both during and after its viewing, which worked really successfully. Indeed, the conference goers included a number of enthusiastic tweeps, with the conference at one point trending up to 5th place in New Zealand’s Twitter rankings. See #otago1869 and #avsa2019.
Conference goers were treated on Friday evening to a bus trip up to the historic Larnarch’s Castle atop the Otago Peninsula. On arrival, just before dusk, the swirl of bagpipes greeted us as we alighted the buses and entered the castle. After newcomers had undertaken a tour of the building and we had all had the opportunity to wet the whistle, we all entered into the banquet hall for a marvellous feast. The “entertainment” for the evening was Professor Liam McIlvanney, who gave a wonderful speech arguing that Rev Thomas Burns, the nephew of the great poet, the first clergyman of Dunedin’s Free Kirk settlement, and first Chancellor of the University, was perhaps not the “censorious old bigot” that secularist historians have labelled him.
Tilly Boleyn, the Curator of Science Gallery Melbourne, was our final keynote to round off the conference. Tilly discussed how hard it was to entice young people (18-25 year olds) into science museums, which are seen as boring and irrelevant. The answer has been to establish “science galleries”, and international network tied to local universities, but whose “displays” are about engaging the public with science and art. Melbourne’s science gallery opens next year, but in the meantime they have run a number of “pop-ups” to prepare the ground. An important feature of this new style of institution has been to allow young people themselves to decide what will be presented, and to employ young people to “moderate” the exhibits with the gallery visitors. This new methodology means curators giving up power, which Tilly states, is both challenging and rewarding.
At the final wrap-up, the AVSA president Mandy Treagus announced that the next AVSA conference will be held in Melbourne at Monash University in June, 2020.
And another viewpoint from the Women Historians Blog.
CfP. Encounters and Exchanges: Exploring the History of Science, Technology and Mātauranga (Indigenous Knowledge)
Our Centre is supporting this forthcoming conference linked to the Tuia 250 commemoration activities taking place across the country this year. Please consider submitting an abstract. Submission deadline is 8 May.
Call for Papers: Encounters and Exchanges
The University of Otago and the Tōtaranui 250 Trust announce a conference to take place in Blenheim, New Zealand from 1-3 December 2019 that will explore the global history of science, technology, medicine, and mātauranga (indigenous knowledge). The conference will be part of a sequence of national events in New Zealand titled Tuia – Encounters 250 Commemoration. These mark the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first Pacific voyage and the first onshore meetings between Europeans and Māori.
The conference is especially interested in analysing the implications for the global history of science, technology, medicine, and indigenous knowledge. The two major themes central to the Tuia – Encounters 250 Commemoration, ‘dual heritage-shared future’ and the importance of voyaging, pose a range of questions about knowledge, how it is generated, how it is communicated and translated, and how it is entangled with power. The emphasis on the important role of voyaging is consistent with a recent emphasis in the academic field of the history of science on ‘knowledge in transit’ or how science, technology, and indigenous knowledge – involving people, instruments, tools, communications, values, and epistemology – travel from one region to another and are transformed, reworked or contested. We welcome papers or panels that explore these kinds of questions, either within the specific contexts of the southern Pacific in the 1760s and 1770s, or in any other context where encounters and exchanges were integral to knowledge making.
Building on the ‘dual heritage-shared future’ theme of the Tuia – Encounters 250 Commemoration, conference participants will explore recent efforts to analyse reciprocal relationships, the places where exchanges, negotiations, trade, and transactions have taken place, and the important role of mediators or go-betweens in the history of science, technology and indigenous knowledge. Participants will be encouraged to discuss the value of models for interactions that emphasise such concepts as ‘cultural borderlands’, ‘contact zones’, and ‘trading zones’. The conference will be especially interested in exploring the complex role of indigenous people in the history of science. Recent scholarship has emphasised that local people in all parts of the world not only gathered information but also helped categorize and conceptualize the information. Distinctions between amateurs and professionals as well as producers and users are no longer sharply conceived. As a contribution to the recent emphasis on exploring history of science in a global context, the conference will encourage research covering all parts of the world. The organisers plan to publish selected papers in an edited volume on the global history of science, technology, medicine, and indigenous knowledge.
The conference will include keynotes from leading scholars as well as a programme of special public events in the evenings. Notable participants include Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University; Jane Lydon, Wesfarmers Chair in Australian History at the University of Western Australia; Peter Moore, author of Endeavour: The Ship and the Attitude that Changed the World (2018 book of the year by the Sunday Times); New Zealand filmmaker Lala Rolls, who will present her feature-length documentary film Tupaia’s Endeavour; Damon Salesa, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Pacific at the University of Auckland; Matariki Williams, Curator Mātauranga Māori, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; and critic and former Poet Laureate of New Zealand, Ian Wedde.
This gathering will be held in Blenheim, a small city with a rich cultural heritage and which is surrounded by vineyards and stunning scenery. It will be distinguished by the integral role of local iwi (tribal communities), and participants will have the opportunity to learn about and engage with the knowledge traditions and historical experiences of the tangata whenua (people of the land). This is particularly important as the conference will be a forum for a range of vantage points on how knowledge is created and shared and it will enable genuine and critical reflection on the often painful and contested legacy of Cook’s voyages and the histories of empire and colonization that followed.
To submit a proposal, see the instructions on the conference website
The deadline for proposals is 8 May.
To express an interest in the event or to ask a question, please contact: email@example.com
Travel grants will be available for postgraduate students at New Zealand universities and early-career scholars in New Zealand. If you are interested in one of these travel grants, send an expression of interest to the conference email address as soon as possible: firstname.lastname@example.org. More details will be available later about the formal application process.