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UC English professor wins 2022 Royal Society award for humanities

23 November 2022

University of Canterbury Professor Paul Millar is the recipient of the 2022 Pou Aronui Award, for distinguished service to humanities-aronui, announced last night by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.


The annual award for distinguished service to aronui humanities is awarded to Professor of English Literature and Digital Humanities in the School of Humanities and Creative Arts Paul Millar, especially for his commitment to growing capacity and expertise in the digital humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Professor Millar’s commitment to growing digital humanities (DH) dates to the 1990s when he began researching text digitisation to teach out-of-print books. In 2001 he secured funding to establish the NZ Electronic Text Centre. In 2011 he co-created the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive and in 2016 established the UC Arts Digital Lab. During his career he has obtained $2.42 million in funding for DH projects, created nationally significance archives, promoted DH teaching, championed post-disaster humanities research, and served as the first New Zealand President of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities.

This year, the Royal Society’s celebration of research, scholarship and innovation (Research Honours Aotearoa), was split over three regions, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin, with two of the 10 awards being presented to University of Canterbury academics in Wellington on Tuesday evening (22 November).

The Royal Society Te Apārangi selected the following two University of Canterbury researchers for special awards this year:

  • Professor Paul Millar as the winner of the 2022 Pou Aronui Award, for distinguished service to humanities-aronui over a sustained period of time.
  • Professor Ann Brower for the 2022 Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement, for the protection of the New Zealand environment. (Professor Brower also won the 2022 UC Innovation Medal.)

About the Pou Aronui Award winner

Professor Paul Millar is a scholar of Aotearoa New Zealand writing whose contributions to this country’s literary culture include acting as the literary executor for the Māori writer JC Sturm. Professor Millar has shown commitment, beyond his core discipline, to growing capacity and expertise in the digital humanities (DH), a branch of scholarship involving the intersection of digital technologies and humanities disciplines.

In 1994, at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), Professor Millar began researching text digitisation to teach out-of-print NZ books. Funded in 1996 to create a pilot digital library, he produced a website that included digitised editions of Bill Manhire’s Zoetropes and Milky Way Bar. In 1999 Professor Millar joined the NZ Book Council board (now ReadNZ), and created their first website, designing its ‘Writers Files’ section as a potential gateway to digitised NZ texts and ensuring its value to the literary community by securing funding to re-publish entries on 150 of New Zealand’s most significant writers from the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature.

In 2001 Professor Millar secured funding to establish VUW’s New Zealand Electronic Text Collection (NZETC) and initiate cornerstone collections of NZ and Pacific material. The NZETC’s digitised collections include war histories, literary and historical texts, significant Māori and Pacific collections, and science and natural history archives. Professor Millar served on the NZETC board until moving to the University of Canterbury (UC) in 2009. Twenty years after its founding, the NZETC remains a valuable national resource of over 15,000 texts, attracting some 250,000 monthly users.

At UC, he developed the Humanities Computing Unit to support digital teaching and research. In 2011 he co-created the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive [] and introduced NZ’s first DH teaching programme. CEISMIC received international acclaim, with Professor Millar being hosted by the Japanese Diet Library in 2014 to speak on post-disaster archiving. In 2012, CEISMIC and the NZ Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour at UC recorded 750 earthquake narratives using the QuakeBox, a transportable recording studio. A Marsden grant funded the re-recording of a subset of QuakeBox participants after seven years for a comparative longitudinal study of post-disaster narratives. In 2021 CEISMIC partnered with Te Hiranga Rū QuakeCoRE to study cultural and social factors shaping earthquake resilience. In October 2022 Professor Millar presented on CEISMIC as part of a ‘Documenting Disasters’ seminar series hosted by the Lviv Centre for Urban History in the Ukraine. In 2016 Professor Millar also established the UC Arts Digital Lab to accommodate an expanding number of DH projects.

In 2018 Professor Millar was elected first NZ president of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH), representing the region on the board of the international Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations []. In 2021, in response to COVID, he hosted at UC the aaDH’s first fully virtual conference.

Over the last three decades Professor Millar has secured $2.42 million of funding for DH projects, created facilities and archives of national significance, promoted DH research and teaching, championed post-disaster digital research in the humanities, created opportunities for hundreds of scholars and students to develop DH expertise, and assumed international DH leadership roles. For innovative work of outstanding merit in promoting the digital humanities he is a worthy recipient of the Humanities Aronui Medal.

Paul Millar Royal Society Professor Paul Millar with his whānau.
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