As more and more content comes online, I’m looking at other ways of finding and commenting on material of interest to me and, hopefully, the archives community generally.  One of these is through the web curation software – Scoop_it.  This is supposed to connect through to inthemailbox, so we will see how it goes.

Nothing much to say

July 19, 2011

Just a little post to say that I haven’t forgotten about this, but that, despite a fairly heavy hint in the April post, I have received nothing in the mail box for some considerable time!

There have, of course, been announcements of more and more newsletters and journals moving to an e-format (apparently even Archives and Manuscripts has looked at it, in addition to the traditional paper format).  I have not included these journals to date as I think it as easy to click on a link to the actual e-journal or newsletter as it is to find this blog.  Let me know if you think I’m wrong.

In the meantime, if you have a journal, newsletter, magazine or other publication that you would like me to read and comment on, please either post to the Australian Society of Archivists for them to forward to me, or contact me directly.

When I first received this newsletter, I didn’t know whether to be more excited that I had actually received, in an envelope, a piece of mail, or that it had come from the future. On closer inspection, it was evident that the date, 5 May 2011, relates to the launch of the new book by James Curran, but the excitement about the mail remains. (There is something so alluring, so full of potential, about getting an envelope or a parcel, and opening it).

James Curran was a visiting scholar at the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library in 2004, and the new book reflects his research at the Library into Curtin’s ideas about Australia and its relationship with the British Empire.

The newsletter also flags two new exhibitions based on collections for Curtin University as a whole. The first focuses on writer Elizabeth Jolley, while the other promotes the new Sexology collection donated by Dr Jules Black.

The promotion of these two collections highlights one of the key differences between the Australian Prime Ministerial Libraries, of which there are three, and the American Presidential Libraries. The Australian libraries are University based and focus on electronic aggregations of records from a variety of sources, while the US versions are part of NARA and include substantial documentary and other collections. The central article in this update concerns the recent collaboration between JCPML and the Noel Butlin Archives in Canberra to digitise the records of the Westralian Worker, the newspaper edited by Curtin from 1917 to 1928.

The ANBG is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This lovely magazine was sent to me by a friend, who knew of my interest in parks and gardens.  Herbaria and botanic gardens are, of course, archives of a different sort, keeping information about the botanical resources in an area or on a theme. 

The ANBG has an active and supportive group of friends who, over the years, have raised over half a million dollars for the Gardens and its associated activities.  They too are celebrating an anniversary – 20 years of this amazing support.  In addition to the fundraising, Friends have helped source seed for research projects, assisted in the Herbarium, provided physical support through volunteer guides and held concerts. However, the true treasure for me was the article by Dr David Headon, “In search of a ‘true’ botanic garden.”

In this article Dr Headon investigates the history of the ANBG, which has previously held that the antecedents of the Gardens were either Walter Burley Griffin’s 1911 plan for Canberra which incorporated an arboretum and botanic garden, or a 1934 recommendation from Dr B.T. Dickson of the Plant division of the CSIRO that a scientific botanic garden be established in Canberra.  Headon argues instead that first credit for the idea should be given to Charles Bogue Luffman, Director of the Royal Horticultural Gardens in Melbourne.  Loffman was present, in 1901, at the Congress of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors and others interested in the building of the Federal Capital of Australia.  In the papers of the proceedings, Luffman identifies 7 prinicpal features for a capital city, of which a botanic garden, featuring Australian native species was one. 

It would be great if we could track down the minutes of the meeting, and perhaps any correspondence Luffman may have had, to further explore the ideas he presents.

The  Western Australian Museums Australia conference was held in Kalgoorlie this year.  I was privileged to be able to attend, and to meet up with people from around the state and the nation, who are involved in presenting and preserving collections of objects and records. In my conference kit was Musings.

 The key editorial message, ‘Victoria vibrancy and value’, looks at the way in which cultural heritage institutions are valued.  Funding, or lack of it, has been a critical discussion point in the cultural heritage sector and Western Australia, despite our mining boom, or perhaps because of it, has been no stranger to cuts and tightening belts. The WA Museum and the Art Gallery had both announced that due to budget shortfalls they would be closing one day a week.  (At the same time, however, the major cultural institutions in the Perth CBD are involved in a significant reworking of the Cultural Centre.)

I’ve just come back from THATCamp Canberra, http://thatcampcanberra.org/, where I met Sebastian Gruciullo, and attended a workshop by Mitchell Whitelaw.  Which reminded me that I needed to finish this report…

There are some very different perspectives on archives and access to them in this volume, and some interesting suggestions for future directions for archives and archivists.  However, the volume starts with obituaries for two foundation members of the Australian profession – Mollie Lukis, of Western Australia, and Doreen Wheeler, of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.  Both obituaries are about passionate and dedicated women, who had a range and depth to their interests and passions, which means that their influence is ongoing and their presence sorely missed. Mollie’s obituary was written by Bob Sharman, with Margaret Medcalf and Lennie McCall, while Doreen’s was compiled from the eulogy written by Jim MacDonald and her 1989 citation as an honorary life member of the Australian Society of Archivists, by Peter Crush. From the foundations wrought by these two women and their colleagues comes an environment that welcomes experimentation and consideration of alternate records. 

Dr Mitchell Whitelaw, http://teemingvoid.blogspot.com, writes about his project visualising the NAA collection, supported by the 2008 Ian MacLean Award in ‘Visualising archival collections’.  The basis of the project was to create visualisations that would assist in contextualising archival descriptive data, counteracting the content focus created by digitisation and item level listings.  Whitelaw attempted to visualise both the whole of the NAA collection, based on items available in RecordSearch, and then to focus on a single series.  At a collection level, he looked at the NAA series A1 ( I tried to find the link on RecordSearch, but the new system won’t let me choose Series).   This is a series which includes over 64,000 items and Whitelaw has modelled this in a number of ways, including through histograms and charts easily identifiable from school maths classes, through to more complex visualisations and wordclouds.   As a prototype of different ways of looking at data, and providing context, it’s an interesting experiment, which archivists and artists may well take on and develop. 

Anne Marie Conde’s article, ‘Lives lived in silence’, looks, not at archives and description, but at silences in recordkeeping and social memory.  Using the novel First Man, by Albert Camus, as a starting point,  she looks at how memory, culture and society are recorded and remembered.  Camus’ protagonist, Jacques, is raised by an illiterate, deaf mother, following the death of his father shortly after Jacques’ birth.  Unable to communicate well, worn down by care, Jacques’ mother can provide only traces of her dead husband.  Searching for his father’s family in Algeria, Jacques can find only a small cemetery and no records.  Camus writes that there is no history, but Conde contradicts this, finding Camus’ own novel a history of his past.  She asks, ‘how can a lack of recordkeeping condition a life’, and seems to find an answer in oral traditions, and personal stories.  How we as archivists record these lives and stories seems to be another question, to which no answer is returned.

Shannon Faulkhead, writing of her PhD research into ‘Narratives of Koorie Victoria’ seems to provide one response, in ‘connecting through records’.  The Aboriginal people of Victoria, the Koorie, are at once both described in and largely excluded from, conventional histories of colonial settlement, as other Aboriginal people throughout Australia.  Faulkhead discusses how she accessed information about Koorie people using both oral traditions and traditional written archives, using what she calls ‘hunting and gathering’, and the way in which different communities privilege or authorise certain types of information over others.  She discusses the role of archival Liaison Officers in providing access to information to Indigenous communities and researchers, and points to the Trust and Technology project at Monash University http://infotech.monash.edu/research/centres/cosi/projects/trust/final-report/.  Finally, she points out that forgetting is as important a part of creating narrative and memory as remembering is.  While many archivists are enthusiastic destroyers of copies and ephemera, there remains always the concern about authenticity, integrity and, dare I say it, significance which lies at the heart of archival appraisal, and which will be in tension with ideas of forgetting and reinvention of self and society that Faulkhead discusses.

From silence, to forgetting, to YouTube.  Leisa Gibbons’ article, ‘Testing the continuum’, takes continuum theory to new levels as she looks at digital cultural material such as YouTube videos and social networking.  Drawing on Frank Upward’s Cultural Heritage Continuum model, Gibbons posits YouTube as existing in the fourth dimension of the model, where information is disseminated and pluralised.  Having identified it as such, she looked at three cultural collections to see how they were collecting and managing YouTube content, and whether the pluralised context was able to maintained and managed.  While institutions were able to maintain content, the social context continues to be a challenge.

I’ve just spent some time working on the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey on the new Cultural collections statistics collection, so Danielle Wickman’s article ‘Measuring performance or performing measurements?…’ rang a few bells for me.  Danielle looked at the PARBICA Recordkeeping for Good Governance Toolkit http://www.parbica.org/toolkit%20pages/toolkitintropage.htm, which has been developed by the National Archives of Australia, PARBICA and Archives New Zealand.  It provides models and templates for policies, file titling and appraisal and was funded, in part by AusAid.  Funding bodies, not unnaturally, ask for evidence that their money has been well spent and Danielle looked at the way in which the NAA and other bodies looked for information to support their case.  She found that although it was possible to demonstrate that the Toolkit was a useful product, the measurements provided did not necessarily demonstrate that it was well used, or had the impacts on recordkeeping that were envisaged.  She asked the crucial question, ‘… what is that we really want to measure anyway?’.  From this point on, Danielle discusses the differences between outputs and outcomes, and demonstrates that outcome measurements may be more meaningful. She provides examples of ways in which recordkeeping outcomes might be measured, including a British Standard for performance management related to ISO 15489, but also identifies that measuring outcomes can be difficult to do.  Nevertheless, Danielle believes that measuring and evaluating our performance will assist us in ‘demontrat[ing] more conclusively our relevance to government and society…’

Finally, Liauw Toong Tjek’s case study, ‘Surabaya memory: representing minority voices in the digital history of the city’, returns to the themes of this volume of alternative archives and means of access.  Surabaya Memory http://www3.petra.ac.id/surabaya-memory/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1 is an online intitiative which started in 2001 and is still going strong.  The website documents the people, culture and architecture of Surabaya, and helps to provide identity to minority groups on Surabaya and within Indonesia.

The cover and first major article of this magazine are concerned with ‘the Dunera boys‘, men and boys transported from Britain to Australia during the second World War as enemy aliens.  Although many of them were Jewish or of Jewish descent, British politics from May 1940 onwards treated them as potential fifth columnists and, as such, potential threats to British security.  While the majority of internees of this category were interned in Britain, a proportion were sent to the dominions.  Four ships were sent to Canada, with one being sunk on the way, and a fifth, the Dunera, sailed for Australia with approximately 2,500 passengers.  On arrival in Australia they were interned in Tatura in Victoria and Hay in New South Wales.  Most were released by early 1942, but about one quarter remained in Australia as migrants.  The National Library has an exhibition dedicated to these men and their experiences, including diaries, art works, photographs, oral histories and objects.  The article about the ‘boys’ and the exhibition is written by Dr Susannah Helman, who co-curated the exhibition.

However, the majority of the magazine is taken up with articles about art, drawing and design.

Timothy Roberts analyses the history of Joseph Backler’s View of Brisbane, an 1866 panoramic painting in the Rex and Nan Kivell collection at the library, in ‘Picturing Progress’.  Backler had been transported in 1832 for forging orders, and on receiving his ticket of leave in 1842, commenced work as a travelling artist.  He arrived in Queensland in 1863.  The panorama is taken from Blakeney’s Hill in South Brisbane, an unusual vantage point for the period.  It includes a prescient vision of the Brisbane, later Victoria, bridge which was in the process of being planned at the time of the painting.  The Library also holds the plans of the bridge.

‘Charles Scrivener: the surveyor as town planner’, by Greg Woods, takes us from panoramas of cities to town planning.  Scrivener  (a great name!) was ‘highly influential in deciding the site for Australia’s national capital, [but] did not see eye to eye at all with Walter Burley Griffin.’  As Woods identifies, Scrivener had been the surveyor who had identified the original site for Canberra, and it was he who defined the boundaries for the new Australian Capital Territory.  It was Scrivener’s base plan that was given to the contestants in the Canberra design competition, as the template on which their plans could be developed.  The Library holds copies of these plans, and the report and exhibits from the 1916 Royal Commission into the delayed development of Canberra, which clearly reveal Scrivener’s influence and aspirations.

The National Library’s collection is nothing if not eclectic, as is amply demonstrated by the article by Ian Warden on the Library’s medal collection, ‘Medals, suffragettes and swimmers’.  In this article, he traces the history of the Library’s Albert Medal, presented to Aboriginal man Neighbour (Mallyalega) in 1911, and possibly used as a form of character witness during Neighbour’s 1915 murder trial.  Warden identifies two types of medals in the collection – awarded, of which Neighbour’s medal is an example, and commemorative medals.  Commemorative medals include the Cessation of Transportation medal struck in 1853 to mark the ending of convict transportation to Tasmania and  the Lusitania medal, struck by the Germans to demonstrate her role as a warship following the sinking in 1915.  Warden closes with a description of the suffragette medal awarded to Letitia Withall for valour by the suffragette movement, and found within the papers of Australian female activist Bessie Rischbieth.  Letitia was awarded the medal for having been force-fed while on a hunger strike.

Medals and suffragettes give way to fairies and magic in the next two articles – ‘The beautiful, the beguiling and the bizarre’ by Stephanie Owen Reeder, and ‘Be the life of the party, learn a few magic tricks’ by Philip O’Brien.  Owen Reeder looks at the history of fairytale books and their illustrations, and determines that the ‘heyday in Australian children’s books was definitely the early twentieth century…’  The style was ‘often sentimental and cloying, but the illustrations… were delightfully varied.’  O’Brien looks through catalogues for magic shops and magic apparatus, finding that the ‘earlier catalogues, with their quaint illustrations and mannered descriptions of magic tricks, appealed to the imagination in a way that a contemporary website or YouTube demonstration can never match.’

The Library not only collects, but actively creates material, through its photography section.  Its staff of five can be found at popular and populist events, but also photographing particular subjects, as happened with a 2005 bequest that enabled them to document flying and flight in Australia.  In addition, and in common with other collecting and cultural institutions, the Library digitises its collection for reference and research, for displays and exhibitions, and for the articles in this polished presentation.

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