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William Parker Morrell, photographed in 1930 while studying at Oxford. He was Professor of History at Otago 1946-1964 and wrote the centenary history. Image  Ref: 1/2-197548-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23023848

William Parker Morrell, photographed in 1930 while studying at Oxford. He was Professor of History at Otago 1946-1964 and wrote the centenary history. Image Ref: 1/2-197548-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23023848

The University of Otago has a tradition of producing histories to mark significant anniversaries. A history of the University of Otago (1869-1919) by G.E. Thompson came out to mark the jubilee in 1919, and The University of Otago: a centennial history by W.P. Morrell in 1969. No prizes for original titles there. I’m told that Willie Morrell considered a title along the lines of Southernmost university, but the University Librarian (who also served as editor of the University Press in those days) did a little research and discovered one further south, in Tierra del Fuego.

Morrell was instructed to include a discussion of every professor who had ever taught at Otago in the centennial history. Fortunately for the sanity of future readers, not to mention the writer, this will not be possible for the 150th anniversary publication. In 1969 there were 4880 students enrolled at Otago: today there are over 20,000 and the number of professors has increased accordingly. Squeezing in the details of all professors did not, in any case, keep the staff happy. I’m told that not a few people were offended because they were not mentioned in the book, as they had not reached the heights of a professorial chair!

As well as the two histories of the entire university, there is a wide range of publications about the history of various departments, faculties, residential colleges, and other aspects of the university, often published to mark significant milestones. The medical school is particularly rich in published histories. One very useful – and readable – book is Ritual song of defiance: a social history of students at the University of Otago (1990), written by Sam Elworthy for the students’ association. See the bibliography page of this blog for details of some of these works – and please let me know of others!

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