Disaster and digital heritage in New Zealand

One of the unforgettable scenes in The Bone People, Keri Hulme’s famous novel, brings the reader to the remains of a boat built by the Maori ancestors of Joe, which comes only to the surface after a minor earthquake. This week New Zealand has been forcefully hit by a major earthquake. People have been killed by it, many more people got injuries, houses and other buildings have become ruins or are severely damaged. How to rebuild lives and houses? How can one heal the wounds? What has become of all kind of things that form ties with the past, with New Zealand’s cultural heritage?

On my website for legal history the page with digital libraries is on the brink of becoming a separate section. One of its shortcomings is its organization along national borders, for frontiers have changed over the centuries. Colonial history has often destroyed older borders and memories of them. Luckily some digital libraries are the fruit of international cooperation. Looking at my list today I can at least see quickly which collections are important for New Zealand. The libraries I list for New Zealand happen to be not just important for legal history but for the history and heritage of this country at large. Australia, too, will show up in this post because of the historical connections within the former British Empire.

The Digital NZ – Á-Tihi Aotearoa of the National Library of New Zealand is a portal to digitized sources at several cultural institutions. Matapihi is a more general portal of New Zealand’s national library  to find digitized materials. The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University of Wellington has among its projects for example He Pātaka Kupu Ture – The Legal Maori Archive, with sources on Maori legal history. Early New Zealand Books, a digital library of the University of Auckland Library, presents online a number of digitized early editions printed in New Zealand. Sources pertaining more strictly to legal history are present in the digital collection for Colonial Case Law of the Macquarie Law School in Sydney. In fact it is a portal to several sites on historical cases, with a very useful links collection, also for New Zealand. It mentons for instance the New Zealand’s Lost Cases at the Victoria University of Wellington. The Oceania Digital Library is an international digital portal created by the University of Auckland Library, the University of California at San Diego Libraries and the University of Hawai’i Library for the cultural heritage of Melanesia, Polynesia en Micronesia.

One of the most remarkable initiatives for digital libraries I have seen is the New Zealand Digital Library at the University of Waikato. Behind this modest title you find in fact a portal to several digital libraries, not only for New Zealand but for other countries as well. The Greenstone digital library software is used in particular for a number of development initiatives and humanitarian services worldwide. Among the so-called “user contributed collections” is the website “Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project” concerning the hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005. At first it might seem wry to find among the projects also the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters. However, it shows also the outward bound mentality of New Zealand, and these efforts to help worldwide deserve respect and support. I could mention many more links. The website of the Christchurch City Libraries has a well-organized links section, with a special page for links on earthquakes.

Christchurch City Libraries also present a very useful set of legal links. You can follow their tweets for the latest news from Christchurch. For modern law cases the New Zealand Legal Information Institute is the first site to visit; the databases with cases on intellectual property go back to the late fifties and sixties. The Victoria University of Wellington houses an exhaustive website on Indigenous Peoples and the Law which reminds you that continents and subcontinents have a very distinct history before modern nations came into existence. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch gives on its library website an extensive guide to online resources for modern law in New Zealand. To round off for today, let us not forget the legal historians of Australia and New Zealand, united in one society. New Zealanders and Australians try to bridge gaps between a continent and an archipelago. Perhaps we can do something for them, starting with showing our sympathy with the people of Christchurch.

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