Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Caterpillars stop train: Joan Druett's "Exotic Intruders"

One of the titles we've recently released online is Joan Druett's Exotic Intruders: The introduction of plants and animals into New Zealand.

Joan's text is an interesting examination of those plants and animals that have found their way to New Zealand, often being intentionally introduced. Some of these (such as rabbitsmustelids, and the Sirex wasp) have gone on to become major problems, whereas others (trout and deer) have been commercially farmed.

There's a fascinating section on the acclimitisation societies, and the efforts they went to in order to make this corner of the world more like the country they had left behind. Julius Haast was quite typical of the colonial attitude when he stated that  'we should like to see the hare and the partridge in our fields, the stately deer, the roe, and the pheasant occupying our hills and our forests, whilst our Alpine rivers are well calculated for the propagation of the salmon and trout. The most rugged of our mountain summits,' he said, 'might become the venue of the chamois, and offer not only us, but to future generations, the excitement and manly pleasure of the chase.'

Upon being introduced to an unfamiliar environment, some of the new introductions perished, while others adapted only too well: 'In the neighbourhood of Turakina, in the Rangitikei district,' wrote Drummond, 'an army of caterpillars hundreds of thousands strong, was overtaken by a train as the insects were crossing the rails to reach a field of oats. Thousands were crushed under the wheels of the engine, and the train suddenly stopped. It was found that the wheels had become so greasy that they revolved without advancing, as they could not grasp the rails. The guard and engine driver placed sand on the rails, and a start was made. It was found, however, that during the stoppage the caterpillars had crawled in thousands over the engine and all over the carriages, inside and outside.'

Not only was the new environment problematic to some of the new arrivals, just getting them here was often fraught. On the long ship journey, many species of birds tended to moult in the tropics, and then died of the cold as the ship reached southern waters. With fish species, particular care had to be taken when transporting the ova, and Joan relates the experiences of William Ramsbottom, tirelessly tending to 50,000 fish ova on the voyage of the Beautiful Star, embarking from London on March 4, 1862, which all died in transit despite his strenuous efforts at protecting them from heat, spray, bilge water and other dangers.

A number of the exotic species that we take for granted these days caused enormous debate when they were first introduced. Sparrows were a particular source of contention with farmers upset at their consumption of grain and seedlings, and were apparently an accidental import in the first place, as the original intention had been to import hedge-sparrows, but house-sparrows were collected instead.

The stories behind some of the exotic flora and fauna are often fascinating. Joan covers George Grey's extensive efforts at introducing species to his retreat at Kawau Island, and discovers that one species, the parma wallaby "had last been recorded in Australia in 1932 and was considered extinct; New Zealand had the odd distinction of having an extinct animal in amongst its noxious pests. In 1968 the parma wallaby become protected, and no doubt the Government was rather pleased to send over to Australia as many of them as possible."

Often, one introduction necessitated another, as some pests could only be combated by introducing another animal to prey on them. For example, the Sirex wasp, which causes major damage to pine-tree plantations, was combated with the introduction of the European ichneumon wasp Rhyssa persuasoria, and the Ibalia.

My favourite illustration from Joan's book has to be the photograph of deer wearing their anti-stress hoods while being transported, where we get the chance to see exactly how ridiculous a deer wearing a balaclava can be.


Friday, 19 February 2010

Ranulf and Amohia: "an embarrassment that no one knows what to do with"

Alfred Domett's epic poem, Ranulf and Amohia, exists as a curio in New Zealand literature, a monumental work penned by an intimate contemporary of Robert Browning that gathered fulsome praise when published in its various editions, but is these days more likely to be referred to in tones of sarcasm or exasperation.

Patrick Evans, in the 1990 Penguin History of New Zealand Literature, described it as being like "a stranded whale, the poem lies rotting on the beach of New Zealand literature, an embarrassment that no one knows what to do with". This judgement can be seen as indicative of how those interested in modern literature regard the style adopted by those poets of the mid-Victorian period and Ranulf and Amohia is these days often regarded as highly anachronistic, as Chris Hilliard observes, being supplanted in the 1930s by a literature that "entailed a triumph over the soporific effects of the old-world inheritance."

Ranulf and Amohia takes almost 100,000 words (excluding footnotes) to extemporise on the vicissitudes of the relationship between two lovers, an inter-racial couple dealing with the restrictions and conventions of their respective cultures, and does so in language that we today would euphemistically describe as "flowery" or "ornate."

However, when published it was often reviewed very favourably, with one critic going so far as to call it "the principle achievement of Australasia in poetry." We should recognise that, as impenetrable as it may seem today, it can be regarded as very much of the ilk of the mid-Victorians, and as Jane Stafford points out in her chapter on Domett in Maoriland: New Zealand Literature 1872-1914, Ranulf and Amohia was similar in a number of ways to Browning's Sordello, the difference being that the first was received warmly by the critics while the latter was not.

At least up to the point of his departure for New Zealand, where he was eventually to rise to the office of Premier in 1862, Domett can be regarded as the more successful of the two poets, having had his poem 'A Christmas Hymn' anthologised and favourably compared to Milton. Browing, in contrast had been eviscerated by the critics for Sordello, as was perhaps envious at the success of his friend.

In its tone and treatment of Māori, Ranulf and Amohia is idealistic and romantic, which was at odds with Domett's policies in government. Domett can be considered to be racist, even by the standards of his time, and although making much indirect recourse to Māori culture in preparing his epic (Domett made much use of the work of his friend, Governor George Grey, notably his Polynesian Mythology), his interpretation of Māori attitudes and beliefs was viewed strictly from a reactionary standpoint. This is perhaps interesting in that Domett and his literary contemporaries thought of themselves more as liberals rather than as nationalist imperialists.

As to its continuing importance, some regard Ranulf and Amohia, as having more relevance to the tradition of British literature than the local equivalent, though it is certainly notable as one of the most ambitious of poetical works connected with New Zealand.

We are happy to be able to make this work freely-available for study online and for downloading, and hope that this helps to facilitate the debate about the place of this work in our national literature.

For a much more thorough treatment of Domett and his work, I'd suggest consulting Jane Stafford's essay The Encyclopedic Fantasy of Alfred Domett in Maoriland: New Zealand Literature 1872-1914, as well as Jane's literary biography of Domett in Kōtare.


Thursday, 18 February 2010

In from the cold: orphan works

A recent JISC report, In from the Cold, contains some welcome research into the problem of orphan works.

The problem
Orphan works are typically regarded as those in copyright where either the author has died and no other authority responsible for granting copyright permission can be located, or those works where the author cannot be found or simply cannot be determined.

As can be guessed from this definition, orphan works can be problematic in many ways for cultural institutions and others wishing to re-use such material, whether this be republishing it in another form (online, as in the case of the NZETC), or incorporating it into a new work.

At times, because the author cannot be determined or because the date of death of the author is unknown, the copyright provenance of a work is therefore not known, and those wanting to re-use the material will often err on the side of caution by not re-using the work, instead treating it as if it is in copyright in order to avoid possibly infringing copyright law.

And, with copyright law, there are often complications introduced into the process of determining the copyright provenance of a given work. Although attempts have been made to harmonise copyright law, notably with the Berne Convention of 1886, it often differs markedly from country to country. As one example, the copyright term in the EU generally lasts until the end of the 70th year after the death of the author. However, in New Zealand, this term lasts only until the end of the 50th year after death.

There are also many exceptions and special cases, including transitional provisions which mean that the general terms do not always apply, and may instead have to be supplanted by copyright terms of shorter or longer duration (or no duration in some cases) depending on the nature and medium of the work, the date of creation or publication, and numerous other factors.

Another limiting factor in the discussion of orphan works up until now has been the lack of research into the actual extent of the problem: how many of a nations' cultural artifacts fall into the category of orphan works? What impediments does this cause for those cultural organisations that wish to re-use such works?

The findings
The JISC report is timely, as it provides some rigorous research into this problem, albeit from a UK perspective. Amongst the observations in the report are a number that coincide with ones that we have noticed:
  • A large amount of 19th century material is being digitised (because it can reasonably be assumed that most is out of copyright). Similarly, a reasonable amount of recently-published material is being digitised (because it is relatively easy to identify and contact the authors).
    However, most 20th century material is not being digitised, because it is likely to be in copyright, and because much this falls into the category orphan works. As the JISC report notes, this is leading to the creation of "a black hole of 20th century content."
  • If there is any uncertainty about the copyright provenance of a given publication, then institutions typically tread cautiously, being reluctant to even unknowingly infringe copyright law
  • Although there are exceptions in copyright law allowing for re-use of certain material in certain contexts (e.g., the "fair-dealing" provisions in New Zealand law), because of uncertainty about how these provisions apply in particular situations or how far they extend institutions can be reluctant to make use of these exceptions
  • Due to the amount of time and resource that can be involved in trying to conclusively determine copyright provenance with uncertain results, many institutions choose simply to direct their resources into areas where they can be more certain of making good use of these resources. One contributor to the JISC report notes that "A total of 150 hours was spent by a freelance researcher, and 152 hours was spent by British Library staff on seeking permissions, which resulted in eight permissions being received."
In determining the scale of the problem, the report found that, in the UK:
  • there is a conservative estimate of 25 million works which can be classified as orphaned, though this figure could be higher than 50 million
  • Of the 503 survey respondents, almost 90% found their service delivery affected at least occasionally by the problem of orphan works, while more than 25% noted that orphan works either frequently affect their activities or affects everything they do.
  • As organisations take around half a day to trace rights for each orphan work, there are many millions of person-days required to substantially improve the situation under current conditions
  • More than a third of organisations surveyed do not have any specific resources in place to help deal with orphan works.
As the report notes:
"The scale and impact of Orphan Works across the public sector confirms that the presence of Orphan Works is in essence locking up culture and other public sector content and preventing organisations from serving the public interest. Works of little and/or variable commercial value but high academic value and cultural significance are languishing unused."

What can be done?
Although concerned with quantifying the problem rather than concentrating on solutions, the report does proffer some observations and recommendations:
  • They note that the majority of survey responses (60%) call for legislative change
  • There is a need to harmonise and study efforts across Europe
  • More use could be made of licensing schemes
  • The possibility of a central rights agency or opt-in register could be investigated
  • Legal certainty and safeguards regarding what is an orphan work and how it may be re-used could be established
  • There is support for using exceptions to copyright law for "educational purposes"
  • Stop the problem from here on through training and awareness
From the NZETC's point of view, using licensing schemes such as Creative Commons provide a way forward for new works, as they allow authors to specify in more detail what rights they wish to grant regarding the re-use of their work, and remove much of the doubt created by default copyright provisions.

The public's awareness of Creative Commons has been gradually increasing, and initiatives such as the promotion of Creative Commons licensing of New Zealand public sector outputs through the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing framework can only be applauded, as they recognise the additional economic value to be gained by making content as freely available as possible, and serve to further raise the profile of Creative Commons.

In terms of the black hole of 20th century content, the main approach we have been taking here at the NZETC is to target those publications for which an existing body or organisation is in a position to grant over-arching permission for online reproduction. For example, with the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War and the New Zealand Railways Magazine we were able to approach government departments which were in a position to grant permission for these large resources.

However, we are too keenly aware that there are many smaller (and not so small) works that are likely to languish as any copyright permissions will rest with an individual or their descendants (presuming there are any), whether or not they are aware of this.