Tuesday, July 23, 2024

New book celebrates UC’s 150-year history

Celebrating its 150th year, University of Canterbury (UC) has captured its history and influence on the region in a new book.  

Written by independent, Harvard-trained historian and UC alumnus Dr John Wilson, A New History: The University of Canterbury 1873-2023 is a comprehensive account of the University’s development with contributions from Tumu Whakarae | Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey, Pou Whakarae Professor Te Maire Tau, the Pacific community led by Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva, and historian Dr Chris Jones. 

The University says the new publication builds on its previous centennial history and introduces themes such as accessibility to tertiary education for women, Māori, Pacific, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“These matters are now viewed as more important than they were in 1923 or 1973,” Dr Wilson says.

“The story I tell, along with other contributors, of the engagement of mana whenua and different communities with the University is of significant, mostly positive, changes happening through recent years.

“I was able to link the determination of University founders such as Henry Tancred – that Canterbury College would be open to people of all classes – with a 150th anniversary initiative of offering 300 Te Kakau a Māui scholarships to students from lower decile schools who might not otherwise have been able to pursue a university education.”

Dr Wilson explores both continuities and significant changes through the University’s history.

“The first period of major change was the two decades after the end of World War II, when the University grew substantially, became better funded, gave greater attention to research by academic staff, and moved to Ilam,” he says.

Having attended the University’s town site (now the Arts Centre) in the early 1960s, Dr Wilson was delighted to see today’s students enjoying “the attractive Ilam campus” and participating in the University’s well-known student clubs culture as enthusiastically as ever.

The neoliberal-inspired reform of the tertiary sector in 1989-90 was one of the more contentious issues among staff Dr Wilson talked to during his research.

“Telling the story of the changes of the past three decades proved an interesting challenge and stimulated my thinking about the purposes of a university – a topic that staff and students at Canterbury have discussed endlessly, from 1873 to 2023,” he says. 

“I also enjoyed exploring the University’s influence on Canterbury. The university has shaped critical thinking in society, but its influence has also been felt in many different spheres of the city’s life and by many thousands of people over 150 years.”

Dr Chris Jones, chair of the independent editorial board that oversaw the project, says Dr Wilson’s research offers a significant re-assessment of the University’s history.

“What makes this book different is that UC ensured that all those involved in the project, John especially, had the ability to act as the University’s critic and conscience.”

“The result is, intentionally, a long way from the ‘corporate celebrations’ that many such histories have become in recent years; instead, John’s book will be a starting point for genuine reflection on UC’s future development.”

A New History: The University of Canterbury 1873–2023 by John Wilson, published by Canterbury University Press, RRP $69.99, Casebound, 260 x 200mm, full-colour, 520pp, ISBN: 978-1-98-850340-0, is available for pre-order here, and in bookstores from 4 December.

About Dr John Wilson:  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.

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