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New Zealand Studies: A Guide to Bibliographic Resources

1. Introduction

1. Introduction

To those who see us from abroad the bibliographic infrastructure necessary to support New Zealand studies may appear close to perfection. A retrospective national bibliography has been published in five physical volumes covering monographs (including pamphlets) from 1663 (Thevenot's Relations de Divers Voyages Curieux, just 21 years after Tasman) up to 1960; from then on a current national bibliography lists the national printed output plus publications relating to New Zealand published elsewhere. Bibliographical control of the mainstream of monographs has been achieved, and with a central national union catalogue of monographs dating back to the late 1930s; a national interloan system based on the National Library as a first resort; a liberal compulsory deposit law which is firmly enforced; a division of the National Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library, designated as the national collection of last resort for New Zealand monographs; and with the National Library holding in its collections over 90 per cent of the monographic items listed, universal availability appears within our grasp.

To the New Zealander the perspective, and thus the view, is different. It is acknowledged that there are some excellent broad public highways — that is the published bibliographical literature like the National Bibliography, Index to New Zealand Periodicals, Union List of New Zealand Newspapers, Union Catalogue of Higher Degree Theses — but they traverse a landscape with a precariously thin covering of books. The assumption that one can readily make in an older country, that most things worth knowing can be found inside the covers of a book or periodical, cannot yet be made in New Zealand studies.

To get to the real heart of the country one must still travel the private roads — the unpublished catalogues and card indexes in the major research collections — and make substantial use of the byways, the cart tracks, bush roads and walking tracks of bibliography.

Some comparisons will help. The Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction (OHM) estimates that the total count of monographs (including pamphlets) published in Canada or relating to Canada from the beginning to 1900, some four centuries, will be about 50,000 items. For the comparable New page 7 Zealand period, 226 years from 1663 to 1889, the count is 6,229. Just over half the time-span, but only an eighth of the Canadian total. For the period from 1663 to 1960, the full Bagnall period, 297 years, the count is still only 37,000 items.

It is necessary (even though one will appear to be statistically naive) to pursue some further comparisons to assist those whose experience is with a research culture that is almost entirely book based, to make the imaginative leap to a research culture that is substantially not yet book based. New Zealand's land area is 103,736 square miles, an area of the same order as the British Isles. The density of the national literature for New Zealand was, therefore, at 1960, one book to every 2.8 square miles. Or, on a population basis, in 1960 there was one item of the national literature to every 64.8 persons. Or, in the 297 years from 1663 to 1960, there was an average of 124.5 items per annum. When reflecting on the implications for scholarship of this low bibliodensity, one has in addition to bear in mind Keith Sinclair's harsh verdict, delivered in 1966, on the historical literature published during the Bagnall period: 'only a small proportion of the very considerable number of books written on New Zealand history . . . are of scholarly interest. Most of them have been inspired by a local or ancestral piety and written by amateurs .... Academic history is quite new. Until the 1920s virtually no thorough research had been carried out. . . Almost all of the first generation of professional historians are now living .... There are now more historians at the University of Auckland (some sixteen) than there were in the country twenty-five years ago.' Sinclair further comments that 'Because of the small market, few monographs on New Zealand history are published and the pressure on historians is to write even more general histories . . . It is truer of New Zealand's than of most history that its public appearance is a visible iceberg, capping submerged depths of theses, and dissertations.'1

To the casual observer in a New Zealand bookshop the current volume of publication of New Zealand books is impressive. Recent figures indicate that New Zealand titles now account for some 30 per cent of retail sales through bookshops in New Zealand. In the past ten years the national monograph imprint, as measured by the National Bibliography, has varied between page 8 1,588 and 2,850 items. But because of the smallness of the market (our population is now 3.25 million) and the large number of publishers a high proportion of the output is general and popular. A recent estimate of United States book production suggested that academic presses accounted for 10 per cent of new titles and 1 per cent of retail sales: in New Zealand the scholarly titles would account for little more than 1 per cent of annual production and much less than 1 per cent of total sales.

Sinclair's image of the iceberg is even more apt than he suggests. Monographic resources for New Zealand studies make but a small 'public appearance'; the bulk of the scholarly resources are still submerged below the codex line in manuscripts, archives, paintings, drawings, photographs, and other primary materials. There are notable exceptions: the literatures of horse-racing, cricket and rugby football, and to a lesser extent poetry and fiction, and the records for the two world wars, have a relatively high bibliodensity.

1 The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth.. . edited by Robin W. Winks (Durham, 1966). 'New Zealand': pp. 174-196.