Monash brings Austen to life for Rare Book Week

Jane AustenThe Melbourne Rare Book Week (MRBW) Jane Austen exhibition, By a Lady, is curated by the Melbourne Library Service and Monash Emeritus Professor from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Chris Browne. The exhibition was brought to life by the hard work of 32 Monash Masters in Multimedia students and their lecturers.

But it wasn’t Chris’ past life that got the post-graduate students involved. An avid book connoisseur and collector of rare editions of classic publications including Dickens, Kipling and Carroll, Chris is currently the Program Director for MRBW and Secretary of Rare Books Melbourne.

Enter Linda Longley, Team Leader at Library at the Dock and manager of the Community Heritage portfolio for the City of Melbourne. Linda previously worked with Monash Art Design and Architecture students to present entries for the Melbourne Library Service and City of Melbourne’s biennial photography competition, Snapped, using the latest in interactive and immersive technology.

When Chris suggested a week long exhibition for MRBW, Linda upped the ante, brought the Masters students on board and suddenly they were looking at a two month exhibition combining the best of Chris’ Jane Austen collection with the talents of the students, five accompanying events and a launch party featuring a soon to be published Austen decedent.

Now Austen enthusiasts can step into her world at the Docklands Library at the Dock. On display in the traditional manner are a number of Austen’s books along with those penned by her descendants, sourced from Chris’ collection of over 12,000 publications. These include early editions, rarely seen packaged collections and stunningly intricate cover art.

The Masters students’ work is equally compelling. An interactive timeline, with the audience as driver, compares Austen’s life and works with the current affairs of the day. Original illustrations from Emma flit past on one screen while on another, you can touch to read passages from some of the novels in your immediate surrounds. Virtual reality goggles take the wearer back in time to Jane’s world of the manor house, blooming rose garden, farm yard, beachfront and stormy docks. For something a little more permanent, visitors can send themselves an email postcard from the lady herself.

The aim of the exhibition, as Chris says, “is to make the Austen texts more approachable and accessible. And what better group than the multicultural Masters students to translate them to reach the widest audience.”