Friday, March 11, 2016

A thought-provoking historical assessment of the Christchurch earthquakes

On 14 February 2014, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook Christchurch, a frightening reminder of the deadly event of 22 February 2011, delivered just eight days short of its fifth anniversary. As much as the city has attempted to rebuild and move on, this shake – the latest in a series of Christchurch 'ruptures' – comes as a sobering reminder, predicted by seismologists, of 'unfinished business'.

It is this sense of continuum – in landscape, people, heritage, culture and politics – and the placing of the major seismic shocks of 2010 and 2011 within this context, that makes Katie Pickles’ new BWB Text so fresh and thought-provoking. There have been many responses, personal, artistic, academic, political to the Christchurch earthquakes: Christchurch Ruptures is that of a professional historian whose academic career has largely been at Canterbury University.

In this latest addition to the BWB Text series, Pickles looks then with an historian’s eye at how the physical ruptures of the earth beneath and around Christchurch, and the countless aftershocks, have impacted on the 'life' of the city, its people, perceptions of the past and visions for the future. Specifically, she argues for and explores the metaphorical post-earthquake ruptures attendant upon the built heritage, the received perceptions of 'Christchurch people', the city’s radical streak, its Gothic imprint and its 'ruptured heart' – the latter epitomised by the battle over the future of the ruined cathedral at its centre.

If the earthquakes have caused loss, grief, sorrow, physical and psychological trauma, social and economic dislocation, they have also laid bare the various physical and cultural strata of the city. Pickles’ book looks at how the architecture of myth, and dominant or comforting narratives, can construct a convenient or nostalgic history of people and place. The earthquakes, she says, provides an opportunity to 'work through the clichés that can accompany times of change, and in the light of what has changed, to grapple with what Christchurch was before 2010 and consider what it might become'.

For a city striving in so many different ways to make sense of itself and reimagine its future, Christchurch Ruptures is an urgent and essential contribution to the conversation.

Publishing 11 March 2016

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