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CUP book

A New History: The University of Canterbury 1873–2023

21 November 2023

By John Wilson

A New History: The University of Canterbury 1873–2023

December 2023
520pp, casebound
260 x 200mm
ISBN: 978-1-98-850340-0

A century and a half now separate us from the founding of Canterbury College, the institution from which the University of Canterbury | Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha evolved. In A New History: The University of Canterbury 1873–2023, historian John Wilson offers a fresh interpretation of an institution that has played a central role in shaping the development of research culture and university education in Aotearoa New Zealand and that has been at the forefront of the shift to a postcolonial university world.

This account positions the University of Canterbury as a new window into the changing nature of both university education and wider New Zealand society. Wilson’s exploration of the University’s history ranges widely, from establishing its origins to tracing the consequences of the educational reforms of the 1980s, while also considering the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic. Focused through the lens of two key themes, the book situates the University within a continuing debate concerning the purpose of tertiary education in New Zealand and the challenges and opportunities presented by a unique bicultural environment. In examining the University’s development, Wilson highlights how the institution evolved as part of the community it continues to serve, while offering city, province and Aotearoa as a whole leadership and, on occasion, challenging expectations. The book also presents honest reflections on the University’s engagements with tangata whenua and Pacific peoples, arguing that in its recent efforts it has established a template for postcolonial universities.

Dr Wilson is joined by the University’s vice-chancellor, Professor Chery de la Rey, its pou whakarae, Professor Te Maire Tau, and representatives of the Pacific community led by Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva, each of whom provides further reflections on topics and issues raised by the book’s themes, exploring the past but also considering what this unique institution may offer the future. A prologue by Dr Chris Jones introduces the project and explores the challenges of writing university histories.

John Wilson MNZM was raised in Timaru and Christchurch and graduated from the University of Canterbury with an MA (first class honours in history) in 1966. He went on to study in the United States, earning his PhD in Chinese history from Harvard University. After his return to Christchurch in 1974 he worked as a leader writer for the Christchurch Press and as the founding editor of the magazine of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. He has written local histories of two Canterbury rural areas, Cheviot and Waikakahi, and of the Christchurch suburb of Addington. He has also written extensively about the historic buildings of Christchurch and Banks Peninsula. When ‘old Christchurch’ was largely demolished after the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010–11 he moved to Arthur’s Pass, where he had tramped and climbed in his youth. He was awarded the Canterbury History Foundation Rhodes Medal in 2002 and the J.M. Sherrard Award in New Zealand Regional and Local History in 1994.

Published with the support of the University of Canterbury Foundation

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