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Archives / Manuscripts

Information about archives and manuscripts at the University of Otago Library, and how to access them.

Defining archives and manuscripts

Archives and manuscripts are a key source of much of our social and personal memory. Archives can be things like letters, emails, diaries, unpublished memoirs, and other personal papers; or they can be the minutes, membership records, databases and registers of community organisations like clubs, churches and associations, or they can be financial and other records of business and corporate organisations. We keep archives because of their value as historical primary source materials.

By definition archives are not limited to paper media, nor to textual formats but are also photographs, sound recordings, video, architectural drawings, maps and other formats. Increasingly material is acquired in digital media.

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Hocken Collections

The Hocken's archives and manuscripts collection is the largest held by a New Zealand University. We collect, organise, preserve and provide access to a comprehensive documentary record of life in New Zealand. From 18th century recipe books to 21st century digital files, there are over 6500 archives' collections stored on about 10,000 metres of shelving.

Many individuals, families and organisations have entrusted their papers to the Hocken Collections over the years. Much of the collection has been acquired by generous donations, but also by deposit and purchase. We are very grateful to the community for their support of the Hocken Collections in this way, which allows the collections to be further developed and maintain their currency for today's researchers.

Included are well known New Zealand and Dunedin names such as James K Baxter, Janet Frame, Charles Brasch, Colin McCahon, Michael Cullen, the RSA, the Plunket Society, Hallensteins Ltd and many others. Many Otago primary and secondary schools deposit their records at the Hocken under the Public Records Act 2005. The Hocken Collections is also the repository for many Otago church records. There are very strong holdings of 19th century and early 20th century Dunedin business records, and the records of a many community and professional clubs and associations.

Hocken Collections is also the repository for the University of Otago archival records.

Some collections or documents of a sensitive or personal nature are not available to researchers without written permission. Staff can advise on the conditions of access for specific collections. Out-of-town researchers in particular are advised to check in advance of their visit.

Search for Hocken Collections archives and manuscripts (including University archives) in Hakena.

Use the research guides compiled by Hocken staff, and the Bulletins of the Friends of the Hocken Collections.

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Medical Historical Collection: Preventive Medicine Dissertations

An invaluable primary source of New Zealand medical and social history, this collection comprises more than three thousand public health projects written by fifth-year medical students from the 1920s to the late 1970s. Topics range from studies on current health issues, such as asthma, to health surveys of various occupational groups and of New Zealand towns and Māori pa.

Use the Book /E-Book search (catalogue) to locate this series. Or view a list from the Book / E-Book search (catalogue).

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Special Collections

Manuscripts in Special Collections are mainly from the collections of English ecclesiast Canon William Arderne Shoults (1839-1887), the Dunedin collector Willi Fels (1858-1946), the Dunedin-born Esmond de Beer (1895-1990), the Gilkison gift of James Hogg materials, and the Monro family of Alexander primus, secundus and tertius. There is an eclectic mix of illuminated manuscripts, Eastern manuscripts (a Euclid in Arabic, and a Koran), land deeds and promissory notes, letters by Queen Victoria, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Charles Darwin, hand-written texts and correspondence by James Hogg (1770-1835), the Ettrick Shepherd, numismatic materials collected by Hermann M. Lund (1847-1932), original anatomy lectures by Alexander Monro primus and secundus, and music by New Zealand contemporaries such as Jennifer McLeod and Douglas Lilburn. As of 2012, this growing collection numbers some 140 separate items.

View list of manuscripts in Special Collections.


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