UC's treasures to be revealed

19 December 2011

Many seldom seen historical items belonging to the University of Canterbury are set to be showcased in an upcoming Canterbury University Press book, "Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library".

UC's treasures to be revealed - Imported from Legacy News system

Written by College of Arts intern Martin Moore

Many seldom seen historical items belonging to the University of Canterbury are set to be showcased in a soon to be published book, "Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library".

Thirty-seven people from around the University and Christchurch have worked together to create the illustrated book, which will be launched by Canterbury University Press in March 2012.

The book details the history and significance of about 60 of the historical items in the University collection, including historical photographs, books, and printed material which have been given by the public over the years.

The book's general editor and Senior Lecturer in Medieval History Dr Chris Jones (Humanities) said UC’s collection differs from that of many universities’ in that it had come in the form of many small donations over the past century, rather than the usual method of one large donation coming from a single donor.

“That’s often been regarded as a sort of disadvantage because it doesn’t give an obvious structure to the collection. But, actually, the great strength of this is that you can write the history of Christchurch and the whole community based on the items we've accumulated over the years.”

Another bonus is that it gives the UC collection a great range of items from diverse backgrounds. Dr Jones said they had not realised how rare several items were until they researched them for the book.

One of the discoveries was a 1494 Lubeck bible, the only one in the Southern hemisphere.

“There are some extremely unusual items. We have a fifteenth century English genealogical roll, which is 16 feet (almost 5 metres) long. It’s an unusual and unique item, a family tree written by hand from Noah down to the English king Edward IV.”

Another interesting item was the Tokyo War Crimes Collection, the only item, along with the Treaty of Waitangi and Women’s suffrage petition, that is recognised in UNESCO’s Asia/Pacific Memory of the World Register.

“Sometimes this sort of material gets hidden away and forgotten about. What we want to do here, particularly in the wake of the earthquake, is to say 'we've got this fascinating material right here at UC. Come and look at it’.”

The desire to increase public knowledge and interest in the University's collection was one of the main goals of the project.

“It’s not intended to be academic-light. It’s intended to be solid stuff but absolutely jargon-free, absolutely comprehensible. That’s the guiding principle.”

The book’s mid-April launch will also be accompanied by a three-month exhibition run jointly with the Canterbury Museum called Canterbury Tales which will run from April 20 to July 22. Dr Jones hopes it will help establish the importance of UC's collection.

“We're aiming to take some of these fascinating items out of our vaults, explain them to the public and say to people these are things that are uniquely Canterbury. Together they tell the story of both the University and the community.”

  • "Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library", edited by Chris Jones and Bronwyn Matthews with Jennifer Clement, published by Canterbury University Press, March 2012, RRP $40, paperback, ISBN 978-1-9277145-04-3.

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