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Paper, Pen, and Print: The Transformation of the Kai Tahu Knowledge Order

  • Tony Ballantyne (a1)

Knowledge has become a central problematic in recent work on cross-cultural encounters and the processes of empire building. In an array of contexts—from Spanish America to colonial South Africa, from Ireland to occupied Egypt, the American West to British India—anthropologists and historians have highlighted the ways in which “colonial knowledge” facilitated trade, the extraction of rent and taxes, conversion, and outright conquest. This scholarship has demonstrated how these new forms of understanding produced on imperial frontiers facilitated the actual extension of sovereignty and the consolidation of colonial authority: for Tzvetan Todorov, Bernard Cohn, and Nicholas Dirks alike, colonialism was a “conquest of knowledge.” Scholarship on empire building in the Americas has placed special emphasis on the place of literacy in the dynamics of conquest. Walter Mignolo in particular has argued that European understandings of the power of literacy encouraged Spaniards in the New World to discount the value of indigenous graphic systems and disparage Mesoamerican languages as untruthful, unreliable, and products of the Devil. For Mignolo, the dark side of the new knowledge orders born out of the Renaissance was a new interweaving of literacy, knowledge, and colonization in a new cultural order he dubs “coloniality.” In the North American literature, too, literacy has been seen as a crucial element in imperial intrusion and conquest. James Axtell, for example, has argued “The conquest of America was in part a victory of paper and print over memory and voice. The victors wrote their way to the New World and inscribed themselves on its maps.”

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1 Todorov Tzvetan, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, Howard Richard, ed. (University of Oklahoma Press, 1999 [1984]), 254; Cohn Bernard S., Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (Princeton University Press, 1996), 16; Dirks Nicholas, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton University Press, 2001), 108.

2 Mignolo Walter D., The Dark Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization (University of Michigan Press, 1995).

3 Axtell James, “Columbian Encounters: 1992–1995,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, 52, 4 (1995): 686–87.

4 This literature is surveyed in Ballantyne Tony, “Colonial Knowledge,” in Stockwell Sarah ed., The British Empire: Themes and Perspectives (Blackwell, 2008), 177–98.

5 E.g., Grove Richard, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge University Press, 1994); Drayton Richard, Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000); Delbourgo James and Dew Nicholas, eds., Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (Routledge, 2008).

6 Innis Harold, Empire and Communications (Dundurn Press, 2007 [1950]).

7 Smith Richard Saumarez, Rule by Records: Land Registration and Village Custom in Early British Panjab (Oxford University Press, 1996).

8 Moir Martin, “Kaghazi Raj: Notes on the Documentary Basis of Company Rule, 1771–1858,” Indo-British Review 21 (1993): 185–93.

9 Bloom Jonathan M., Paper before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (Yale University Press, 2001).

10 Skaria Ajay, “Writing, Orality and Power in the Dangs, Western India, 1800s–1920s,” in Amin Shahid and Chakrabarty Dipesh, eds., Subaltern Studies IX: Writings on South Asian History and Society (Oxford University Press, 1996), 1358.

11 One starting point is: Parsonson G. S., “The Literate Revolution in Polynesia,” Journal of Pacific History 2 (1967): 3957.

12 Hawkins Sean, Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana: The Encounter between the LoDagaa and ‘The World on Paper,’ 1892–1991 (University of Toronto Press, 2002).

13 Hofmeyr Isabel, The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of The Pilgrim's Progress (Princeton University Press, 2003); Barber Karin, ed., Africa's Hidden Histories: Everyday Literacy and the Making of the Self (Indiana University Press, 2006).

14 Toorn Penny Van, Writing Never Arrives Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of Writing in Australia (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2006).

15 Edwards Brendan Frederick R., Paper Talk: A History of Libraries, Print Culture, and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada before 1960 (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

16 See, for example, Vale Malcolm, “Manuscripts and Books”; and David McKitterick, “The Beginning of Printing,” both in Allmand Christopher, ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 1415–c. 1500 (Cambridge University Press, 2005), 278–86, 287–98; Ballantyne Tony, “What Difference Does Colonialism Make? Reassessing Print and Social Change in an Age of Global Imperialism,” in Baron Sabrina Alcorn, Lindquist Eric N., and Shevlin Eleanor F., eds., Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 342–52.

17 Initial reactions to the arrival of Europeans in the far north of New Zealand are recorded in “Nga Uri a Tapua me Kapene Kuki,” in John White, “The Ancient History of the Maori, His Mythology and Traditions. Nga-Puhi. Volume X (Maori), from MS Papers 75, B 19 & B 24,” printed as The Ancient History of The Maori: Volume 9 (University of Waikato Library, 2001), sections 71–72. This Maori text is reproduced with a modern, parallel translation as “The First Pakehas to Visit the Bay of Islands,” Te Ao Hou 51 (1965): 14–18.

18 Important entry points into this literature include: Simon Judith and Smith Linda Tuhiwai, A Civilising Mission? Perceptions and Representations of the Native Schools System (Auckland University Press, 2001); and Smith Linda Tuhiwai, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (University of Otago Press, 1999).

19 Moorehead Alan, The Fatal Impact: An Account of the Invasion of the South Pacific, 1767–1840 (Harper & Row, 1966).

20 E.g., Jenkins Kuni E. H., Becoming Literate, Becoming English (Education Department, University of Auckland, 1993).

21 For a broad and critical evaluation of both the “fatal impact” and “cultural continuity” arguments in the broader historiography of cross-cultural contact, see Lian Kwen Fee, “Interpreting Maori History: A Case for Historical Sociology,” Journal of the Polynesian Society 96, 4 (1987): 445–72.

22 McKenzie D. F., Oral Culture, Literacy & Print in Early New Zealand: The Treaty of Waitangi (Victoria University Press, 1985), 15, n. 19.

23 L. F. Head, “Land, Authority and the Forgetting of Being in Early Colonial Maori History” (PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 2007); Curnow Jenifer, Hopa Ngapare, and McRae Jane, eds., Rere Atu, Taku Manu: Discovering History, Language and Politics in the Maori Language Newspapers (University of Auckland Press, 2002); Paterson Lachy, Niupepa Maori, 1855–1863 (University of Otago Press, 2006); Ballantyne Tony, “Christianity, Colonialism and Cross-Cultural Communication,” in Stenhouse John, ed., Christianity, Modernity and Culture: New Perspectives on New Zealand History (ATF Press, 2005), 2357.

24 Haami Bradford, Putea Whakairo: Maori and the Written Word (Huia, 2006).

25 This line of interpretation has been shaped by Stevens Michael J., “Kai Tahu me te Hopu Titi ki Rakiura: An Exception to the ‘Colonial Rule’?” Journal of Pacific History 41, 3 (2006): 273–91.

26 Prior to contact with Europeans, Kai Tahu Whanui's population was relatively small and quite mobile. The population was dispersed within a large takiwa (tribal area), which encompassed the vast majority of the South Island and the islands of the Fouveaux Strait, and individuals and communities moved to exploit seasonably available foods and resources (mahika kai).

27 This definition draws from Tau Rawiri Te Maire, Nga Pikituroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngai Tahu (University of Otago Press, 2003), 1617.

28 Tikao Talks: Traditions and Tales Told by Teone Taare Tikao to Herries Beattie (A. H. and A. W. Reed, 1939), ch. 5; Beattie H., “Traditions and Legends. Collected from the Natives of Murihiku (Southland, New Zealand),” Journal of the Polynesian Society 27, 107 (1918): 151.

29 On hau, see: Salmond Anne, “Maori and Modernity: Ruatara's Dying,” in Cohen Anthony P., ed., Signifying Identities: Anthropological Perspectives on Boundaries and Contested Values (Routledge, 2000), 3758.

30 Tau Te Maire, “The Death of Knowledge: Ghosts on the Plains,” New Zealand Journal of History 35, 2 (2001): 131–52.

31 Tau, Nga Pikituroa o Ngai Tahu, 17.

32 Best's description remains the standard summation: “Another form of mnemonics is seen in what the Maori calls rakau whakapapa. These were pieces of wood about thirty inches to three feet in length. They were carefully fashioned so as to present on one side a series of prominent knobs with slots between; one before me has twenty-six such knobs. These staves were employed as aids to memory in reciting genealogies, but were by no means numerous; a few have been preserved in our museums. The better finished specimens are adorned with carved designs.” Best Elsdon, The Maori as He Was: A Brief Account of Maori Life as It Was in Pre-European Days (Dominion Museum, 1924), vol. 2, 201–2.

33 There is only one known case in which a written whakapapa “matches” its rakau whakapapa: The Auckland Museum holds a rakau whakapapa that belonged to Pango Ngawene, a tohunga of Ngati Whakaue, and the accompanying whakapapa written by his son Hamuera Pango. See Neich Roger, Carved Histories: Rotorua Ngati Tarawhai Woodcarving (Auckland University Press, 2001), 4647. As an aside here, we should note that Kai Tahu did not develop the elaborate and expansive carving traditions that flourished in the central and northern parts of the North Island during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, largely as a result of the iwi's smaller, more mobile and more diffuse population. Kai Tahu traditions of carving are briefly assessed within an assessment of tribal style in: Simmons D. R., Whakairo: Maori Tribal Art (Oxford University Press, 1985), 170–71.

34 Parsonson Ann, “The Pursuit of Mana,” in Oliver W. H. with Williams B. R., eds., The Oxford History of New Zealand (Oxford University Press, 1981), 147.

35 Firth Raymond, Economics of the New Zealand Maori ([New Zealand] Government Printer, 1959), 279–80; Mead Hirini Moko, Tikanga Maori: Living by Maori Values (Huia, 2003), 5354; Best , The Maori as He Was, vol. 2, 7980.

36 This interface between material object and embodied knowledge echoes the ties between wampum belts and the performance of Iroquoian orators: see Foster Michael K., “Another Look at the Function of Wampum in Iroquois-White Councils,” in Jennings Francis, ed., The History and Culture of Iroquois Diplomacy (Syracuse University Press, 1985), 105.

37 Simmons, Whakairo, 24.

38 Haami, Putea Whakairo, 17–18.

39 Gallagher Sarah K. J., “‘A Curious Document’: Ta Moko as Evidence of Pre-European Textual Culture in New Zealand,” BSANZ [Bibiliographic Society of Australia and New Zealand] Bulletin 27, 3&4 (2003): 3947; Haami, Putea Whakairo, 17–18.

40 D. R. Simmons, Ta Moko: The Art of Maori Tattoo (Reed Methuen, 1986), esp. 128–31.

41 H. Beattie, “Traditions and Legends,” 148–49.

42 Ibid., 139.

43 This can be clearly inferred from Anson F. A., ed., The Piraki Log (e Pirangi ahau koe); or Diary of Captain Hempleman (Oxford University Press, 1910); and also from the marginal literacy of many of those seafaring Europeans recorded in German missionary Johannes Wohlers’ Ruapuke registers, MS-0967, Hocken Collections, Dunedin.

44 Evison, Harry C., “Karetai ?–1860,” in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007, URL:

45 See, for example, the references to reading, newspapers, and the distribution of Bibles in Bishop Selwyn's narrative: Selwyn George Augustus, New Zealand, Part I: Letters from the Bishop to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1847), 1820.

46 Angus John H., Papermaking Pioneers: A History of New Zealand Paper Mills Limited and Its Predecessors (New Zealand Paper Mills Ltd., 1976).

47 The records for the colonial paper trade are extremely fragmentary. A basic overview is available in: Coleridge K. A. and Ross John, “Printing and Production,” in Griffith Penny, Harvey Ross, and Maslen Keith, eds., Book & Print in New Zealand: A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa (Victoria University Press, 1997), 6667. Sydney Shep's work provides some broader insights while underscoring the limits of our historical knowledge of the complexities of paper importation and distribution: see, for example: “Mapping the Migration of Paper: Historical Geography and New Zealand Print Culture,” in Isaac Peter and Mackay Barry, eds., The Moving Market (Oak Knoll Press, 2001), 179–92.

48 E.g., 1 Aug. 1840 and 26 Dec. 1842, Journal of Rev. James Watkin, MS-0440/004, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

49 Anderson Atholl, The Welcome of Strangers: An Ethnohistory of Southern Maori A.D. 1650–1850 (University of Otago Press, 1998), 200.

50 The rates listed below are calculated after discounting proxy signatures and blank spaces next to names of signers (which cannot be interpreted as marking someone as either literate or non-literate):

“Kemp's Ngaitahu Deed, Te Wai Pounamu—Canterbury and Otago,” W5279-f37-CAN 1, National Archives, Wellington. This file also includes the signed receipts; “Murihiku-Southland, 1853,” W5279-f40-OTG 1, and the signed receipts; “Stewart Island-Southland, 1864,” W5279-f46-OTG 5.

51 On Kai Tahu English, see Anderson, Welcome of Strangers, 200.

52 It is also important to note that those Kai Tahu living on Ruapuke who worked to attain English did not access it as a freestanding language of commerce in the fashion that most colonists hoped. Instead they accessed it through the te reo and through the Bible: Wohlers noted that most of his congregation worked on their English by reading an English version of the New Testament alongside the vernacular version. Wohlers J.F.H., Memories of the Life of J.F.H. Wohlers Missionary at Ruapuke, New Zealand: An Autobiography, Houghton John, trans. (Otago Daily Times & Witness Newspapers, 1895).

53 Turton Hanson, Maori Deeds of Old Private Land Purchases in New Zealand from the Year 1815 to 1840, with Pre-emptive and Other Claims (Copied from the Originals), Together with a List of the Old Land Claims, and the Report of Mr. Commissioner F. Dillon Bell (Government Printer, 1882), 418.

54 Anderson, Atholl, “Te Whakataupuka fl. 1826–1834,” in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007, URL:

55 For example, William Hirst of Sydney, who claimed to have purchased 20,000 acres of land north of Moeraki, from Tuhawaiki, was awarded just 263 acres in 1843. Deed-No. 443—Turton, Maori Deeds, 429.

56 It is important to understand that a context for this sale was the agreements signed between Kai Tahu's Ngati Toa and Te Ati Awa rivals and the New Zealand Company in late 1839, which sold a large portion of central New Zealand, including the northern portion of the South Island. In signing the Wentworth-Jones deed, these Kai Tahu chiefs hoped not only to gain financially from the transaction but also to assert their traditional rights and paramountcy over their own land. These deeds were also rendered invalid, since Captain Hobson had issued a proclamation on 30 January 1840, on the authority of Governor Gipps, which stated that all future private land sales would have no legal standing. Mackay Alexander, A Compendium of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs in the South Island, 2 vols. ([New Zealand] Government Printer, 1872–1873), I, 23, 6466; Evison Harry, The Ngai Tahu Deeds: A Window on New Zealand History (Canterbury University Press, 2006), 4045.

57 This extends and refines Skaria's observation about the presumed fixity and greater legal weight attached to written contracts rather than oral agreements, in colonial spaces. Skaria, “Writing, Orality and Power,” 25, 27.

58 Mamaru, Haereroa, and Korako to Mantell, 6 Dec. 1848, translations of letters to Mantell [MS 90], Misc-Ms-1338, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Only Rawiri Te Mamaru signed this letter.

59 Horomona, Huruhuru, and Paitu to Mantell, 6 Dec. 1848, in ibid.

60 Walter Baldock Durant Mantell, “Names of the Hapu of the Kai Tahu Tribe,” Misc-MS-0424, Hocken Collections, Dunedin.

61 Mantell's census of Ngai Tahu has also been pivotal in defining the basic parameters of tribal membership: see Ngaitahu Kaumatua Alive in 1848 as Established by the Maori Land Court in 1925 and the Ngai Tahu Census Committee in 1929 (Ngaitahu Maori Trust Board, 1967).

62 Reihana Moemate to Walter Mantell, 7 Dec. 1848, translations of letters to Mantell [MS 90], Misc-Ms-1338, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

63 Matthias Tira to Walter Mantell, 20 Nov. 1848, in ibid.

64 After winning the seat for Wallace, Mantell entered Parliament in 1861. His growing commitment to supporting Kai Tahu claims underpinned a checkered parliamentary career, which saw him twice serving as “native minister” and twice resigning from the position when the government reneged on its commitments to address Kai Tahu claims.

65 Drawing from Certeau Michel de, The Practice of Everyday Life, Rendall Steven, trans. (University of California Press, 1984), ch. 3.

66 Wi Pokuku, “Southland Myths and Traditions,” MS-Papers-1187-124, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington; Tiramorehu Matiaha, Te Waiatatanga Mai o te Atua: South Island Traditions, Ballekom Manu van and Harlow Ray, eds. (University of Canterbury, 1987).

67 Haami, Putea Whakairo, ch. 6. “Mutton-birding” refers to the annual harvest of juvenile sooty shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) from islands in Foveaux Strait by members of Kai Tahu.

68 Of course, this is not to suggest that written whakapapa were necessarily less selective in their recording of ancestors than the oral recitation of genealogies with the aid of rakau whakapapa: there is no doubt that written genealogies retained the political and potentially combative sensibility inherent within all whakapapa.

69 This characterization is based upon: “Book containing waiata and whakapapa by Hoani Matiu,” Beattie Papers, MS-582/F/19; “Whakapapa book,” Beattie Papers, MS-582/E/7; “Notebook of John Kahu,” accessed through Beattie Papers, MS-582/F/11; “Whakapapa,” Beattie Papers, MS-582/E/40, all in the Hocken Library, Dunedin.

70 E.g., see the use of John Kahu's notebook: “H21—Hoani Te Kaahu, ‘He korero mo Kati Tuhaitara,’ Ngai Tahu Maori Trust Board: Papers relating to Kai Tahu claim brought before the Waitangi Tribunal” (Wai-27), AG-653/190, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

71 Te Maire Tau has stressed the cultural importance of these books and the benefits that have flowed from them to Kai Tahu. He notes that other iwi have become increasingly dependent on colonial legal records, especially Land Court minutes, for the reconstruction of whakapapa, a problematic legacy given the nature of those legal forums and the strikingly partial and adversarial forms of knowledge produced within them. Tau, Oral Traditions, 34.

72 Tau, “Death of Knowledge.”

73 See Lachy Paterson, Niupepa Maori, 1855–1863; and Curnow, Hopa, and McRae, eds., Rere Atu.

74 The leading stationer H. Wise & Co served as the agent for the newspaper Te Wananga (Te Wananga, vol. 2, no. 21, 25 Sept. 1875: 237).

75 Subscribers to the newspaper Te Waka Maori o Niu Tirani in the mid-1870s included Te Wehi (Otago Heads), Mere Kiheriki Hape, James Apes, Joseph Anaha, Tame Parata, Haereroa, Te Rangiahuta, Matthew Kapene (Waikouaiti), Ihaia Waitiri and Teone Topi (Ruapuke), Raniera Erihana, Hori and Tini Kerei Taiaroa (Otakou), Hone Mira (Purakanui), and Kereopa Maiatu and Matiaha Tiramorehu (Moeraki). See Te Waka Maori o Niu Tirani, 22 May 1872: 7; 22 Jan. 1873: 7; 11 Aug. 1874: 193; 1 Dec. 1874: 293; 8 June 1875: 117; 2 Nov. 1875: 250; 30 May 1876: 120; 19 Dec. 1876: 292; 22 May 1877: 27–28.

76 See Ballantyne Tony, “Teaching Maori about Asia: Print Culture and Community Identity in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand,” in Moloughney Brian and Johnson Henry, eds., Asia in the Making of New Zealand (Auckland University Press, 2006), 1325.

77 On shops and machinery: Te Waka Maori o Niu Tirani, 22 Feb. 1876: 38; whakapapa and rights: Te Wananga, 9 Nov. 1878: 563; meetings: Te Wananga, 18 May 1878: 257–58; on the claim: Te Wananga, 26 Apr. 1875: 73.

78 See, for example, the report of Tutere Wi Repa (Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungungu, and Te Whanau-a-Apanui) of Kai Tahu communities at Puketeraki, Waikouaiti, and Otakou, in the newspaper Pipiwharauroa: He Kupu Whakamarama, April 1900, 9–10, which noted the ways in which Kai Tahu work was connected with the colonial economy, the extent to which English was spoken by Kai Tahu communities, and the iwi's engagement with European culture while nevertheless affirming Kai Tahu's fundamental Maoriness. I would like to thank Lachy Paterson for pointing me to this account.

79 The Wairau purchase handed to Ngati Toa, Kai Tahu's enemies, the lands that they had captured in north Canterbury after their sacking of Kaiapoi pa in 1832. Tiramorehu's letter stressed that Ngati Toa had been driven back by a series of Kai Tahu raids in the mid-1830s, and therefore they had reasserted their mana over those lands once more.

80 New Zealand Spectator and Cook Strait's Guardian, 17 Feb. 1849: 3.

81 See Haereroa et al. to Mantell, 22 July 1857; Tiramorehu to Mantell, 14 Aug. 1857; and Ngai Tahu to Queen Victoria, 23 Sept. 1857, all in “Petitions from South Island Maoris re: land,” Mantell family: Papers, MS-Papers-0083-166, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

82 H. K. Taiaroa to Governor, 5 Aug. 1866, encl. in The Hon. the Colonial Secretary to His Honor the Superintendent, Otago, 16 Oct. 1866, in Mackay, ed., Compendium, I, 143; Tribunal Waitangi, “7: The Princes Street Reserve,” The Ngai Tahu Report 1991: Wai 27 (GP Publications, 1997).

83 “Transcript of Petition by Matiaha Tiramorehu and others…,” MS-0439/069, Hocken Collections, Dunedin.

84 “No. 116: Petition of H. K. Taiaroa, Esq., M.H.R.,” Reports of the Native Affairs Committee, 1882:

85 “No. 419: Petition of H. K. Taiaroa,” Reports of the Native Affairs Committee, 1882:

86 Of course, Parliament was in many ways an institution that privileged orality, yet we must recognize that many speeches were written and were also profoundly intertextual since they referred to a wide range of documents and texts. Most importantly, the population at large accessed Parliament through written texts, especially in the form of reprinted speeches and in newspaper accounts of parliamentary debates.

87 Evison, Harry C., “Taiaroa, Hori Kerei ?–1905,” in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007. URL:

88 Roger S. Oppenheim, Maori Death Customs (A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1973), 39; Hirini Moko Mead, Tikanga Maori, 280; also see Te'o Tuvale, “Mavaega,” in “An Account of Samoan History up to 1918,” Mitchell Library, Sydney, MSS 39, item C.

89 Otago Witness, 29 May 1875: 10; “Covenant 4 June 1875, Between Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe, and H. K Taiaroa,”

90 Innis, Empire and Communication; Innis Harold A., The Bias of Communication (University of Toronto Press, 1951).

Acknowledgments: This essay is part of a larger project on knowledge and the colonization of southern New Zealand supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand's Marsden Fund. Earlier versions were presented at the American Society for Ethnohistory Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2007, and in the University of Otago History Department's Work in Progress Seminar. In addition to thanking both of these audiences, I would like to acknowledge the particularly constructive responses to the essay that I received from John Stenhouse, Mark Seymour, and Michael Stevens, as well as from the readers for CSSH.

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