Natal Society Foundation to print series of occasional publications

2011-01-05 00:00

THE recently published A Fine Band of Farmers Are We! by Bill Guest inaugurated the new imprint Occasional Publications of the Natal Society Foundation.

Since its foundation in Pietermaritzburg in 1851, the Natal Society has served the scientific and cultural interests of the community. It founded the Natal Museum as well as the largest privately owned library system in the country — its headquarters being the former Natal Society Library in the city centre, since taken over and run by the municipality and re-named the Bessie Head Library.

Members of the society were also instrumental in establishing the local varsity, the Royal Show, a philharmonic society and a dramatic arts ­society.

“We have been involved with books for a very long time,” says Peter Croeser, chairperson of the board of trustees of the Natal Society Foundation. “There was the Natal Society Library, there remains a large research library at the Alan Paton Centre and we publish the annual Natal Society Journal, Natalia.”

The society also assists scholars with research grants, scholarships and the cost of publication. “We felt it was now more appropriate to use funds to produce books,” says Croeser. “Especially the type of books unlikely to be published in a time of economic recession.”

Croeser says the society intends publishing books not considered commercially viable but that merit publication because they contain valuable research of use to present and future generations. “So we decided to launch a series of occasional publications, probably bringing out a book once or twice a year.”

“We don’t want to deliberately lose money,” says Croeser. “But we feel when a book of great academic merit wouldn’t otherwise be published we can step in to redress this.”

The first book in the series is Guest’s A Fine Band of Farmers Are We!, a history of agricultural studies in Pietermaritzburg over a period of 75 years from 1934 to 2009, the focus of which is the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal — affectionately known as “AgFac” — today the School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness. The next book will be a history of public health in Pietermaritzburg by Julie Dyer.

Six months after initial publication the texts of these books will be available on the society’s website The back issues of Natalia are already available and can be downloaded free of charge.

“We believe in public access to information,” says Croeser, “and that information should be available free of charge in the interests of human development.”

The new publishing venture sees the Natal Society Foundation continuing to live up to the original aims of the Society: “the general encouragement of habits of study, investigation and research”.

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