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Exhibitions and featured collections

29 January 2024

The library has made a number of online exhibitions and featured collections available online. These include our Springbok Tour, Ernest Rutherford, photograph and print collections, and recent exhibitions. Learn more about our exhibitions and featured collections.


Published London: Alecto Historical Editions in association with the British Museum (Natural History), 1980-1990. Macmillan Brown Library Collection

In 2004, a valuable collection of sixty-five prints was discovered in the University of Canterbury archives. A project was established to begin cataloguing the collection in 2008, which has as a result uncovered some fascinating information about these rare and beautiful prints. Spanning the 17th to the 19th centuries, the collection has turned out to contain an eclectic mix of images. Far from being just pleasant pastoral landscapes, within the collection are scenes of shipwrecks, kidnap, betrayal, martyrdom, brutal death, curious foreigners and famous historical figures.

Amongst the many artists represented in the collection are some well known names, including Francesco Bartolozzi (Italian, 1725-1815), Anibale Carracci (Italian, 1560-1609), and Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720- 1778). Artists that feature most prominently in the collection include Jakob Frey (Swiss,1681-1752) with five engravings done after Italian artists such as Guercino and Albani. There are also 13 works from the series 'Seventeen Heads from the Far-famed Picture of the Transfiguration', based on the work of Raphael (Italian, 1483-1520).

Unfortunately the cataloguing project has been unable to shed any light on the provenance of this collection. Was it a gentleman’s collection put together as a memento of his Grand Tour, or a teaching collection used to help students of art learn about classical forms and symbolism? While we may never know how these prints have ended up here at Canterbury University, we are very proud to be able to present them now as a unique component of the University’s art collection.

Many thanks to Dr Emilie Sitzia and Rachel McConnell for their assistance in creating this resource.

View and search the European Prints Collection

This photographic exhibition was curated by art history student Lydia Butler, as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations marking John Macmillan Brown’s bequest to the University.

View and search Imaging and Imagining

This exhibition is based on a UC Summer Scholarship project co-supervised by the History Department and the Macmillan Brown Library, 2011-12. Postgraduate student Gregory Hynes investigated a collection of over 200 First World War photographs, donated to the library by the Canterbury Branch of the Victoria League of New Zealand. It documents the research process, history of the collection, and also provides a visual introduction to its hundreds of fascinating images of the British Empire at war. Many thanks to Dr Katie Pickles and Dr David Monger for their assistance in creating this exhibition.

View and search Imperial Legacies

This exhibition is based on a UC Summer Scholarship project co-supervised by the Art History Department (Dr Emilie Sitzia) and the UC Art Curator at the Macmillan Brown Library, 2011-12. Postgraduate student Alice Tappenden catalogued and researched a collection of over 200 art works by James Johnstone (1893-1977) and his daughter Ngarita (b. 1928), donated to the library by Ngarita Johnstone. The exhibition is composed of key art works chosen, researched and written about by Alice to provide a visual introduction to this stunning collection. It presents an overview and history of the collection, as well as providing a visual insight into the development of the Design Movement in Canterbury and the History of the Ilam School of Fine Arts.

View and search The Johnstone Collection

The University of Canterbury has long held a special place in the life of Christchurch, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the original buildings of Canterbury College. The new online exhibition Learning by Design gives a visual history of the town site, which is now home to the Christchurch Arts Centre.

Through a wealth of architectural drawings, photographs, books and archives drawn from UC’s Library collections, the exhibition shares the story of the buildings, and the people who lived and worked in them.

Starting with the University’s humble beginnings in 1873 as Canterbury College, Learning by Design traces the evolution of the institution through to 1973 when the University’s move to Ilam was complete and the site was gifted to the people of Christchurch. Learning by Design celebrates the formidable union between the University, architects, staff, students, and the wider Christchurch community that led to the creation of Canterbury College.

The exhibition shows that the buildings are more than just bricks and mortar – they form the foundations of UC and the exhibition showcases not only the early physical fabric of the University but also aspects of campus life.

View and search Learning by Design

Full length portrait of Ernest Rutherford in academic dress . Joyce Aris 1960Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) is one of Canterbury College's most accomplished alumni. Rutherford became a scientist of immense international stature and in 1908 won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his investigations into the disintegration of elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances. Rutherford's work was pivotal in forming the theoretical framework for 20th century nuclear science.

Rutherford attended Canterbury College from 1890-1894, obtaining three degrees (BA, MA with double first class honours in Mathematics and physics, and BSc) and carried out original research at the forefront of the electrical technology of the day during 1893-4. He was later granted a DSc and Canterbury College's first DSc (honorary).

This collection comprises digital representations of the majority of archival material relating to Rutherford held by the University's Macmillan Brown Library. Amongst other things the online collection comprises letters written by and to Rutherford, reminiscences of colleagues about Rutherford, a record of Rutherford's involvement with the Canterbury College Science Society and copies of Rutherford's certificates, scrolls and medals.

View and search the Rutherford collection

This digital exhibition investigates the Psychic Research Society of Christchurch, founded by Edgar Lovell-Smith, which attempted to investigate the truth of Spiritualist claims. The group was active in the 1930s and '40s, before mysteriously disappearing at the end of the decade. Working through the Scrapbook of the Psychic Research Society held in the Macmillan Brown Library, together with other séance records, an attempt is made to reconstruct the world of Christchurch Spiritualism, a fledgling discipline at the time, on the border between the empirical and extraordinary. The exhibition was a collaboration between the Macmillan Brown Library and the UC History Department.

View and search Southern Spirits

Anti-apartheid symbol from the HART papersAt the conclusion of the Springbok's Rugby tour of New Zealand in July-September 1981 members of the English Department of the University of Canterbury placed advertisements in a number of newspapers and periodicals throughout New Zealand asking for people's comments and experiences. These responses were compiled to form this collection. These items have been edited only to preserve the anonymity of the contributors.

View and search the Springbok Tour collection

In 2010, Miss June Sutherland, the daughter of John Macmillan Brown’s former housekeeper, kindly donated John Macmillan Brown’s own 19th Century Venetian Grotto Chair to the University.

Art History Postgraduate student Bryany Joslen spent a four week internship in the Macmillan Brown Library researching the history of the chair.

View and search The Story of a Very Special Chair

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