English at the University of Canterbury has had a long and vigorous tradition. It continues to be an exemplar of vitality within the discipline in a number of important ways despite, but also because of, a range of pressures. General challenges manifest in New Zealand higher education: these encompass economic factors, changing demographics, and policy trends that have tended to underplay the importance of the Humanities. How do we address the relationship between the broader challenges facing English faculties in the Western Humanities and the local contexts and conditions that specific departments face - is it possible to trace some commonality in pressures and responses while still accounting for local differences? After considering the history and configuration of English at Canterbury, I consider just this, focusing on the question of how a moderately small department at a New Zealand university attempts its own disciplined action or agency in the face of international and local challenges compounded in the wake of natural disaster.