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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa



We in Aotearoa New Zealand are culturally defined in many ways: through our relations with the environment and with each other, through our systems of belief and forms of government, and whatever else we have brought here or developed here. One quality in this many-stranded culture is so ingrained and widespread as to be easily overlooked. This is our dependence on the technology of printing. Printing, in all its phases of production, distribution, and reception influences our lives at every turn from cradle to grave. By means of printing we communicate, express ourselves, and store information. For Māori, print has been the most dramatic challenge to a 900-year oral tradition. To belong to our modern society is to have to cope with the printed word in all its forms. Schools teach us multiple uses of print, libraries are its storehouses. The producers of print, the printing and related industries,are of major importance to our New Zealand economy. Without printing we could not be governed. All these causes and effects are covered by the term 'print culture' which is the subject of this guide. The aim of this book, simply stated, is to explore the impact of printing on our New Zealand culture.

So long familiar and so pervasive is the printed word that we have tended to take it for granted, leaving the study of particular aspects to specialists. Only in the second half of this century have these discrete studies begun to integrate and move mainstream. In the 1980s and early 1990s national projects for the history of print culture, or the history of the book—the terms are more or less interchangeable—have been set up in a dozen countries overseas, including Great Britain, the United States, and in most countries of western Europe. Closer to home, the History of the Book in Australia project (HOBA) has recently instituted a concerted programme of research, encouraged by the holding of conferences, workshops, and the like. Plans are well advanced for a three-volume History of the Book in Australia to be published at the beginning of the new millennium.

New Zealanders, too, are rising to the challenge. The initial move towards our own national project in the spring of 1993 is noted in Keith Maslen's 'Towards a history of the book in New Zealand', published appropriately enough in the Australian-based Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, in its last issue for 1993. As the work before you is witness, much has been achieved since 1993.

Several reasons may be given for the rise of this new historical awareness. During the 20th century there has been a steady broadening in the scope of historical research. In France, the powerful movement towards more inclusive kinds of history, combining socio-economic and intellectual as well as political factors, is associated with Lucien Febvre and his so-called Annales school, named after the journal founded in 1929. From the 1950s, disciples of Febvre began to apply the same spirit of all-embracing historical enquiry to what the master had called l'histoire du livre (the history of the book). Scholars in the English-speaking world were moving along similar lines. The very title of Elizabeth Eisenstein's influential book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) indicates the widening of focus. Bibliographers previously intent on the book itself came to see the value of the collateral evidence of book trade records, prompted by the work of the New Zealanders D.F. McKenzie and Keith Maslen, among others. J.E. Traue in his distinctive way has pressed the need for deeper and wider study of the book in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, modern literary theorists for their part were insisting that the meaning of a literary text cannot be appreciated in isolation from the means of transmission and the society to which it belongs. Textual meanings, they argued, are the collaborative creation of all who participate in the processes of transmission. A text cannot therefore be properly understood without an enquiry into the conditions in which it is conceived, produced, and received.

All these things have led specialists in the many branches of the history of the book to see themselves as belonging to a wider and more unified field of enquiry. However, another pressure has been felt. Urgency has been given to such work by the acute sense that the rise of the new electronic media is rapidly revolutionising our traditional means of communicating through time and space. The long familiar means of producing print on paper are changing faster than the trade, or society at large, can cope. The death of the book is predicted. Libraries are full of computers and CD-ROMs. People have become used to speaking, hearing and seeing at a distance by means of the telephone, radio, television, and the computer. We use our personal computers to read, and to print and publish for ourselves, on paper, or, thanks to the Internet and the World Wide Web, on someone else's computer screen anywhere in the world.

It is time therefore for us to take stock of the traditional technologies and the ways they have affected our lives before the world we have lived in but not clearly known is changed and gone for ever. The need for a concerted effort to study the history of print culture in New Zealand is obvious. Elements of that history may be found to be similar to those being discovered in other countries, perhaps especially in other formerly British territories, such as Australia. However, what these similarities are will not be known until we look for ourselves at our own history. There are also bound to be significant differences, for our time and place is distinctively New Zealand. Above all, the meeting of an imported culture based on printing with the oral culture of the tangata whenua forms a special and fascinating part of our island story.

A major history is some years away. Such a work of synthesis must be based on a sufficient foundation of systematic research, and this foundation has yet to be laid.

Leading to this goal, but providing a valuable achievement in itself, Book & Print in New Zealand is the first comprehensive attempt to chart the many ways in which print culture in all its aspects has influenced our lives. The aim is primarily to introduce readers, general and specialised, to this rapidly developing subject by surveying the territory, noting work already done and indicating areas still to be explored. What is offered is a beginning, assembled with more haste than scholarship prefers. There is more to be said, even at the present level of broad survey. If this work elicits critical comment and additional insights and information, it will have achieved part of its aim.

The concept of a guide is simple, yet novel. No overseas models exist. In France and England well-funded programmes of research are linked to ambitious schemes for publication of massive histories. The Histoire de l'édition fraçaise is in four great volumes; the History of the Book in Britain is to be in seven. In early 1996, while the three editors of this guide were planning a large and long-term project on the overseas pattern, Don McKenzie urged the early publication of a necessarily more modest work. The suggestion that this be a guide was made by Rachel Salmond. The editors readily agreed. The example of G.A. Wood's Studying New Zealand History, originally entitled Guide for Students of New Zealand History, first edition 1973, was most instructive. In those days Dr Wood could take for granted his readers' broad understanding of the usual kinds of history then being practised. Our guide, as Dr Wood shrewdly noted, would have to create in the reader's mind a sense of the subject.

The breadth of the subject was formidable—no less than all phases of the production, distribution, and reception of the printed word within New Zealand (not forgetting its overseas territories). The work would begin with the coming of print in 1769 and its interaction with a purely oral culture, and end in the electronic present, a period of scarcely less dramatic change.

Developing the logical threefold scheme of production, distribution, and reception into the more numerous manageable sections of a book proved less easy. The transfer of meaning from author to reader calls for the services of intermediaries, each contributing to the total act of creation. The key functions are those of printer, publisher and distributor, it being understood that these labels cover any number of specialities. So far, so good. However, in the relatively small and unspecialised New Zealand economy, one person or one firm may play many parts. Functions, though neatly divisible in theory, tend in practice to be interconnected and overlap. This was especially true in the early days, but has not ceased to be so. For example, Henry Wise began in Dunedin in the mid 1860s as printer and binder, as well as a retailer of a range of stationery and other goods. Such diversification was required of the pioneer business person, and vertical or horizontal diversification is still an option for the ambitious—the Whitcombes for instance—as well as for those, especially in small towns, who struggle to survive. Where then should Wise be slotted in, under production or distribution? The answer is under publishing, for Wise later became well known throughout New Zealand and then Australia for his series of business directories. This does not mean that Wise is not worth studying in his lesser roles. Rather it should be remembered that an historical phenomenon is capable of being looked at in various lights. An historical study of the New Zealand book trade, based on other principles —say as an investigation of economic growth—might better serve to highlight the interrelations between parts. But it remains true that in order to develop a sense of a whole one is well advised to look closely at the parts.

This book was finally divided into six main chapters:

  • Chapter 1 (Transitions) is in two parts. The first, 'From Māori oral traditions to print' deals with the impact of an imported print culture on the existing Māori oral culture, and gives an overview of printing and publishing in the Māori language. The importance of this complex topic is by no means purely historical, for knowledge of the past has implications for language survival in the future. The second part is concerned with the development of an identifiable printed (and written) New Zealand English language.

  • Chapter 2 deals with printing and production (loosely interchangeable terms covering a host of processes, functions and agencies) from the 1830s up to the present day. The topic is treated under four main headings: technology, trade personnel, economics, and private or non-commercial printing.

  • Chapter 3 is on publishing. The term basically means 'uttering to the public' and is capable of the widest application. However, nowadays publishing is normally understood in a rather more limited sense, covering the choice of work to be printed, design and editorial activities leading up to production, the securing of finance, and lastly the initial phase of the distribution process. Most—though not all—modern publishers content themselves with wholesaling, leaving the final retailing stage of distribution to others. There are four main sections: the process of publishing, the publishers, general and regional studies, and categories of publications.

  • Chapter 4 (Distribution) contains three distinct topics and sections. The first two—bookselling and libraries—are concerned with the need to get printed materials to their final consumers. Libraries may be thought of as storehouses and centres of distribution, situated somewhere between bookseller and reader. In the third, attention is focused on book buyers and the book trade in general and on book collectors in particular. The latter are not only end users, but often remarkable gatherers of printed materials for the use of posterity.

  • Chapter 5 on readers and reading opens up a large topic: the development of attitudes to reading and literacy, including activities to increase interest in printed material and meet special needs. Book reviewing, literary criticism, and awards are also considered. A final section, 'Access tools', is a practical guide to the key reference works which support further print culture investigation.

  • Chapter 6 deals with print culture in languages other than English and Māori. There are two parts, the first dealing with the print culture of those Pacific Island languages with a New Zealand connection, the second with other languages brought into New Zealand from further afield.

If it was quite a task for the editors merely to outline so encompassing a scheme, the next was even more challenging. This was to find expert contributors, willing and able to construct a text on the foundation so laid. Wide consultation gradually identified suitable contributors. Those who accepted—and they were most of those first approached—showed a remarkably quick appreciation of what was being proposed, and a gratifying willingness to play their part, large or small. For the contributors perhaps the hardest job was to reduce large and often complex fields of knowledge into a relatively small space, without sacrificing clarity or precision of detail. In areas where little research had already been done, and contributors had themselves to engage in pioneering work, it was necessary, especially given the constraints of time, to divide up the tasks into more manageable units, and allot these to a larger number of people. This was the especially so for the Publishing and LOTEs (Languages Other Than English) chapters. It became clear that such smaller contributions should be allowed to retain much of their individuality, though within the general scheme, rather than for them to be forced into a stylistic and methodological straitjacket. It is hoped that the effect of varied approaches and styles, in broad conformity with the overall plan, will prove stimulating, for no one approach can give a rounded view of any subject. The result all in all should be seen for what it is: a work of very considerable originality, authority, and usefulness.

This book may be regarded as a report on the state of research into fields covered by the broad concept of print culture in New Zealand. What lessons are to be learned must largely be left for the reader to supply. There exists at present little or nothing in the form of major general studies, grounded on thorough research, and conducted to a professional standard. Print culture as an historical discipline may be judged not yet quite to be of age in this country. As for more particular studies, existing typically as pamphlets or articles in periodicals, there is often surprisingly much. The aim has not been to list all and every such piece, but to offer a broad view of each topic, and to select and report on the best or most modern studies in that area.

Now that this book is a reality, what next? The Humanities Society of New Zealand for its part is planning a range of research projects to build on the foundation so laid. It is hoped that others will follow. A pattern of annual conferences has been established to stimulate continuing work and present research findings to the growing community of interest. Readers who are surprised and pleased to learn how much has been achieved, should be delighted at the many enticing prospects of future discovery.

Penny Griffith
Ross Harvey
Keith Maslen