The Gutenberg Revolution in New Zealand

D. F. McKenzie

In New Zealand the twenty years or so immediately preceding 1840 span the movement from orality, through manuscript literacy, to the introduction of printing. In a minor way therefore they replicate in a specific and largely quantifiable context the Gutenberg revolution in fifteenth-century Europe. In that New Zealand context one significant document, the Treaty of Waitangi, witnesses to a quite remarkable moment in the contact between representatives of a literate European culture and those of a wholly oral indigenous one. It can be used as a test case for measuring the impact of literacy and the influence of print in the 1830s; and it offers a prime example of European assumptions about the comprehension, status and binding power of written statements and written consent on the one hand as against the flexible accommodations of oral consensus on the other. Its variant versions, its range of 'signatures', and the conflicting views of its meaning and status bring all those questions sharply into focus. (From "Oral Culture, Literacy & Print in early New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi," 9).

Postcolonial Overview New Zealand Australia

Last Modified: 15 March, 2002