Magna Carta panels at the NZ Historical Association Conference

The New Zealand Historical Association (NZHA) will hold a series of panels on Magna Carta at their conference 2-4 December at the University of Canterbury. The call for paper proposals deadline was June 15th.

There was an exhibition of the University of Canterbury copy of the Magna Carta to coincide with the conference, a postgraduate symposium held on 1 December, and a ‘mock trial’ of King John’s barons to take place during the conference and a re-enactment of the signing by the society for creative anachronism.

Review by Dr Chris Jones from the University of Canterbury
Between the 1-6 December 2015, the University of Canterbury hosted a series of four events to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta under the joint auspices of the UC College of Arts, the UC School of Law and Magna Carta 800 NZ.

The Mana of the Magna Carta, exhibition in the Matariki exhibition space, 1.12.15

The Mana of the Magna Carta, exhibition in the Matariki exhibition space, 1.12.15

The first key event was a one-day postgraduate symposium, ‘Reflections on Magna Carta in Australasia’, held on 1 December and organised by UC postgraduates Lindsay Breach and Anna Milne-Tavendale. The aim of the symposium was to provide younger scholars with a platform to explore the legal, social and political future of Magna Carta in New Zealand. It began with key note papers from Dr Jason Taliadoros (Deakin University, Law) and Sir Tipene O’Regan (Ngāi Tahu tribal leader; University of Canterbury), who, between them, offered two very different perspectives on the relevance of the Charter in the Antipodes. These two papers were followed by a stimulating series of postgraduate presentations that demonstrated the variety of research being undertaken into different aspects of the Charter in Australasia today:

• Hannah Smith (UC History), ‘Englishness or Jewishness: The Social and Cultural implications of the Jewish Presence in Magna Carta’
• Adam Alexander Lopez (Melbourne University, Law), ‘The Law of the Land: Interpretations and Understandings of Magna Carta and the Common Law in Early 17th-Century England’
• Laura Kamau (Victoria University) ‘Reimagining the “Mekana Kaata”’
• Lindsay Breach (UC History/Law), ‘The Legal Relevance of Magna Carta in 21st-century New Zealand’
• Anna Milne-Tavendale (UC History) ‘Magna Carta and the Righteous Underdog in Modern Popular Culture’

The day concluded with a roundtable discussion chaired by the incoming Dean of Law, Professor Ursula Cheer and featuring Professor Jeremy Finn (UC Law), Dr Taliadoros, Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment (Auckland, Political Science) and Dr Chris Jones (UC History). The focus of the roundtable was on the development of projects that will use Magna Carta as a starting point to explore issues of rights within New Zealand society.
In addition to postgraduates, the symposium was attended by a number of leading academics and interested members of the public. It provided a valuable opportunity for cross-disciplinary dialogue and discussion.

The second key event was a series of nine papers organised as three linked sessions within the New Zealand Historical Association conference, hosted between the 2-4 December at the University of Canterbury. The three blocks of papers were chaired, respectively, by Dr Jason Taliadorus (Deakin University, Law), Professor Jeremy Finn (UC Law) and Dr Chris Jones (UC History). Each block included an historical, a political science and a legal perspective:

(1). Origin and Effects: Imagery, ‘mythologisation’ and interpretations of Magna Carta
• Judith Collard (Otago, Art History), ‘King John, Magna Carta, and representing history in thirteenth-century English manuscripts’
• Judge David Harvey, ‘Magna Carta Emprynted and Englysshed: 1508-1642’
• Jeremy Finn, ‘Symbol and Myth: Magna C(h)arta in legal and public discourse about law and rights in New Zealand 1840-1940’

(2). From the Periphery: Magna Carta in a New Zealand Context
• David Clark (Flinders), ‘Magna Carta’s Child: The Rise of a Rule of Law State in New Zealand’
• Keith Dixon (UC, College of Business), ‘Functions of accounting, types of rulership (-archies) and forms of rule (-[o]cracies) from Runnymede to Wellington’
• Gay Morgan (Waikato, Law), ‘The Magna Carta and Fitzgerald v. Muldoon’

(3). Magna Carta: After the Party – Sober Reflections on Magna Carta
• Geoff Kemp (Auckland, Political Science), ‘Proclaiming and claiming Magna Carta in Early Colonial New Zealand’
• David Round (UC Law), ‘Mythology and Magna Carta’
• Lindsay Diggelman (Auckland, History), ‘Magna Carta and Memorialisation: The Perils of Historical Anniversaries’

The third event, incorporated into the New Zealand Historical Association, was an historical re-enactment entitled ‘The Trial of the Barons’ organised by Lindsay Breach (UC History/Law). This imagined a situation in which King John had placed the Magna Carta barons on trial for treason and fraud. The trial was conducted according to the law as it stood in 1215. The conceit involved justifications being offered for John’s actions by David Round (UC Law) and Lindsay Breach, while the barons represented themselves as ‘litigants in person’ played by Professor Jeremy Finn (UC Law) and Henry Holderness (UC). After arguments were put forward by both sides that explored kingship, the rule of law, papal power, the nature of the English Church and conceptions of treason, a panel of judges, composed of Judge Anthony Willy, Dr Taliadoros (Deakin, Law) and Dr Diggelmann (Auckland, History) put forward a judgement that found the barons not guilty based on the 1215 definition of treason and John’s breach of faith in his feudal relationships.

The trial was well-attended and filmed. It concluded with a question and answer session chaired by UC student Thandiwe Parker, which provided an opportunity for the audience to explore the historical context of the Charter in greater detail. One possible future use for an edited version of this highly entertaining and well-structured event would be as an instructional tool for high school students.

The fourth event was an exhibition, ‘The Mana of the Magna Carta: The New Zealand Experience of a Medieval Legacy’. This was curated by Dr Chris Jones (UC History) and UC student Thandiwe Parker. The initial run was from 1-6 December in the Matariki Building, the University of Canterbury’s central registry. Due to press interest, however, it was prolonged to the 12 December (although two objects were removed for the second week due to their value).

The exhibition explored the effect Magna Carta has had on the formation of Aotearoa New Zealand society and its potential future relevance. Alongside the oldest text of the Charter in New Zealand – a sixteenth-century edition by Henry VIII’s King’s Printer held in the University of Canterbury’s Special Collections belonging to Richard Sampson, King’s Proctor in the divorce case against Anne Boleyn – it highlights the continuing legal, social, and cultural relevance of Magna Carta. It featured a series of six sections, each of which explored a key topic connected with the Charter: ‘Origins’, ‘Principles’, ‘The Canterbury Magna Carta’, ‘Settlement’, ‘Magna Carta Today’, and ‘Contemporary Perspectives’. The exhibition was accompanied by a short film featuring highlights from the Auckland lecture series hosted by Magna Carta 800 NZ in July. It included contributions from Judge Carrie Wainright, the Chief Justice, MPs Judith Collins and Andrew Little, as well as community leaders.
The exhibition was launched to an invited audience on 1 December by the Chancellor of the University of Canterbury, Dr John Wood, with speeches from Associate Professor Te Maire Tau (Ngāi Tahu Research Centre), Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment and the lead curator. The exhibition has seen national press interest, featuring on the TVNZ six o’clock bulletin, regional press interest, with a short feature on Canterbury Television, as well as newspaper and ‘trade press’ interest. The exhibition has been the most high profile of the week’s Magna Carta events, with a daily increase in public footfall.

The exhibition has already resulted in one major academic achievement: as a result of press coverage, a significant gap in the provenance of the UC copy of Magna Carta has now been filled by a member of the public, who noted that their grandfather saved the book from destruction in 1922 and that her father subsequently donated it to the University.



1 thought on “Magna Carta panels at the NZ Historical Association Conference

  1. Pingback: Magna Carta 800 NZ | Magna Carta NZ

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