Deakin in 9 Objects – Working with the Deakin University Archives

The CulturalHeritage@Deakin blog announced the Deakin in 9 Objects collaboration in July. With the first projects coming to completion, Marian Jenkinson reflects on her internship experience…

Marian and Pravin interviewing graduates

The “Deakin in 9 Objects” project has been a challenging experience. The 12 weeks of the project offered opportunities to work within an archival setting with trained professionals. However, it also challenged me personally through having to work collaboratively with an undergraduate Film and TV student to produce three films which were expected to be of a standard for public viewing. This meant our professional integrity as story-tellers and film-makers was very much under scrutiny, which added a level of pressure to the outcomes expected of us.

I was very fortunate that my partner and I quickly developed a strong connection which allowed us to work creatively together. The timeline to which we were working was quite strict and this meant that we had to plan our time together, as well as tasks we could achieve individually from week to week. David Tredinnick (Collections Coordinator, Deakin University Archives) was an enormous help, refocussing us on the “objects” as well as the behind-the-scenes project management. The original project goal, “to provide a short, filmed appraisal of three chosen artefacts from Deakin University Archives” has been achieved in the set time-frame. The rough-cut films we submitted do, however, require some “fine-tuning” before being publicly accessible.

The personal goals I set for myself were met with varying success. It has been 25 years between my previous studies and entering the Graduate Diploma of Museum Studies, so not only was I inexperienced in working in archives, I was stretching to refresh my research skills quickly. These skills have improved through learning to access academic records within the archives; making use of social media to trace past graduands; developing interview skills and oral history recording techniques – and realising that I still have a lot to learn;  making use of the University Alumni Association to trace past students and staff; and being introduced to local council Heritage Listings records, which in turn led to contacting the Uniting Church Synod to access photographs and historical records.

Oral history had been covered within one of our subjects with a lecture from Sarah Rood. However, this did not fully prepare me for the difficulties encountered with our interviewees. Becoming a member of Oral History Victoria is something I am considering to enable me to network, as well as learn techniques and knowledge which could be applied to different future work situations.

With oral histories, a decision sometimes needs to be made regarding the prompting of interviewees. In our case, we had specific stories which we wanted our interviewees to focus on. When they became distracted and started to “wander down memory lane”, a redirection was required on occasion, however doing this in a respectful manner was necessary.

Transcriptions of all the interviews were vital to assist with the editing process, although it is very time consuming. The films were set to be a maximum of 5 minutes in length, but we ended up with at least 3 – 5 hours of recorded interviews per “object” from which to edit our stories. Having accurate transcriptions with time coding enabled the communication between myself and my partner to be clear and concise – particularly since our time together was quite restricted and we communicated a lot by email.

There are aspects of my studies completed so far which I drew upon to complete this project. As we were becoming “story-tellers”, the concept of investigating the intangible heritage aspects associated with each object became important. Being aware of these aspects impacted the choice of photographs and other graphic material we presented for our potential audience. Using ideas learnt in the Heritage Interpretation subject assisted us in focussing on a main theme for each “object”.

Being able to read, and interpret, the statement of significance for the Allambie building helped to identify the historical and aesthetic aspects of the building seen as important rather than the “sad treatment of children” stories which are also associated with it. Creating my own “statement of significance” of the Umatic tape for the first graduates film also helped to identify a direction for our story, which then shaped the interviews for that film. While the story we finally produced was different to our original idea, having the skills to go through the process did assist with working out what was going to be important in our story.

The 12 weeks of this internship have helped me to become more familiar with archives and archival systems, their role in keeping the history of an institution and the necessity for ensuring these systems are working in a productive way. Creating the films has allowed me to creatively tell the stories, while learning to make use of my studies alongside my own past experience and appeal to potential audiences – both related and unrelated to the topic subject. My internship partner, Pravin Rokaya, was a delight and we had lots of laughs along with the frustrations! I have appreciated the opportunity to work with David Tredinnick and Antony Catrice (University Archivist), who have both freely offered their professional expertise throughout the term, and who have also been generous in their willingness to learn from us as well.

The Great Rare Books Archaeological Dig

Melinda Hilton writes about her recent internship at the University of Melbourne’s Rare Books Collection

Nearing completion of the Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies, I felt a sense of sadness that my studies were coming to an end but enthused by the prospect of finding future employment in the heritage field. It seemed fitting to conclude my studies by undertaking a practical placement, combining the theoretical knowledge I had gained and fulfill my long-term dream of working in cultural collections. An opportunity arose and I applied for an internship through The University of Melbourne’s, Museum and Collections Projects Program (MCPP).

The MCPP offers students, alumni and the community the opportunity to work behind the scenes with over thirty of the University’s cultural collections. Each year, the MCPP offers a range of collection management projects that engage with the cultural collections on campus. The projects are varied and cover a wide range of areas from cataloguing and research, significance assessment and preventative conservation, through to interpretation and exhibition development.

In July 2017, I was fortunate to secure a research position working on an Inventory and Research Project – “The Great Rare Books Archaeological Dig: exploring the Rare Books Collection”. The Rare Books Collection is located on the 3rd Floor of the Baillieu Library. The Baillieu Library is the University’s largest discipline library and home to the University Library’s Special Collections. Special Collections are one part of the larger group of Cultural Collections and comprise of the Rare Books collection, the Print collection and the Rare Music collection.

The Rare Books collection currently possesses over 220,000 rare books. The Rare Books collection holds a significant collection of historic and unique volumes, journals and ephemera, covering the period from the 12th to 21st centuries. Strengths of the collection include: printing history, Greek and Roman classics, private presses, English literature, social and political thought, children’s books, Australiana and Book Arts.

Works are included in the collection by reason of their age, value or uniqueness and also items of special provenance or ownership, limited editions, historic bindings and from special genres such as romance and crime fiction. These items are housed in special conditions (i.e. temperature controlled and low level lighting) to ensure they are preserved for current and future generations.

It was agreed that each Wednesday, I would meet with Susan, Senior Curator of the Rare Books collection and two other students to undertake “archaeology” of our assigned areas. Our induction involved Susan providing a comprehensive tour of the Rare Books collection. The collection is arranged in order of the benefactor’s collection, rather than by theme. After the tour, I was permitted to browse the collection and choose a specific bay which I found of interest. Susan explained that our selection would form the basis of our “archaeological dig”. Training was provided in terms of the handling and caring of books, however having previously completed Collections and Curatorship, its content proved an excellent foundation.

Essentially, my role involved progressively examining books and for each volume recording the provenance marks, distinctive features, marginalia, bindings, bookplates etc. and documenting this information on a spreadsheet to be later transferred into the catalogue records. Our primary goal was to gather “hidden details” which had not been previously documented and to ensure that the information entered was accurate and consistent.

Once the details were recorded on the networked spreadsheet (including images of any interesting/distinct features), the second half of the session involved following up on any research threads. This aspect allowed me considerable freedom to explore areas of the collection that I found of particular interest. As part of the project, I was encouraged to author an extended piece/s for the Library Collections blog.

Shortly after commencing the inventory process, I came across The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, published in 1824. The book’s title suggested it was simply a book about fishing, but upon further examination its content revealed much more. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote the book and the collection through writing a blog; “To My Surprise, The Compleat Angler Had Reeled Me In, Hook, Line and Sinker”.

In late September, I was invited to undertake a “mini” project. The project options were many and varied, dependent on the hours that could be devoted. I chose to research an illustrative map, The Road from London the Shrewsbury, continued to Welshpool com: Montgom: in North Wales (circa early 17th century) produced by cartographer, John Ogilby. The primary research concentrated on landmarks depicted and it I found it particularly challenging accessing historical records. Despite the obstacles, I encountered a fascinating story about the life of John Ogilby, which inspired me write a second blog, “John Ogilby, International Man of Mystery”. 

On a personal level, one of my goals was to make the most of every opportunity presented. I attended a guided tour of the East Asian Collection. This collection is part of the Special Collections area at the Baillieu Library. During the tour, I was able to view and handle a variety of print, rare books and journals in Chinese and Japanese languages. Originally housed in the East Asian Library, the East Asia Rare Book Collection was transferred to the Rare Books for uniformity, to ensure all rare books are grouped together.

Items from the Japanese collection

I also attended a tour of the Percy Grainger Museum, which consists of a wide range of musical recordings, from folk songs Grainger collected in wax cylinders to his Free Music experiments recorded at home; manuscripts, musical compositions and personal mementoes such as photographs, clothing, furniture and books. The Percy Grainger Museum is the only autobiographical museum of its kind in Australia. It was a fascinating insight into how both collections collaborate with one another in presenting exhibitions.

One of my most memorable moments was viewing Sententiae (The Sentence) (published in1491), written by Peter Lombard. The University of Melbourne acquired this book in August 2017 and is both historically and aesthetically significant. It is the only known intact “chain” book of its kind in Australia. During its time, it was considered one of the most important theological works of the High and Late Middle Ages and all masters of theology were required to produce a commentary on it.

‘Sententiae’ (1491)

Upon reflection, I believe I have acquired a number of new skills and more importantly developed a genuine desire to work with special collections, particularly rare books. The exposure to catalogue systems and terminology as well as attending workshops and tours, has contributed to my understanding and appreciation of rare book collections.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the Rare Books collection and this experience has inspired me to look for future employment in this area. I was fortunate to have a supportive and encouraging mentor in Susan (as well as my fellow team members), which made for a happy and relaxing learning environment. If you are considering a practical placement as part of your Cultural Heritage and/or Museum Studies and desire an engaging and professionally rewarding experience, I would highly recommend you consider applying for a position in the Museum Collections Projects Program at the University of Melbourne.

 

From BTU to the Blue Mountains and back again

As she heads back to Germany to continue her studies at  Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU) in Cottbus, dual award student Angela Jones reflects on her internship experiences while in Australia.

Being lucky enough to be selected to complete a World Heritage / Cultural Heritage Dual Masters Program with BTU, Germany and Deakin University, Melbourne – I immediately rationalised that I’d be a fool not to take advantage of the myriad of World Heritage Sites Australia has to offer in my six months of studying here.  Between May and August, I’ve squeezed in three unique volunteer roles, in three completely different environments, each with distinct management systems.  

First was the spectacular Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, New South Wales.  I was based at the World Heritage Institute in Katoomba, with Director John Merson and Annabel Murray who heads up the Low Carbon Living Program.  This is an inspirational community initiative which audits local businesses according to their water, waste and energy usage, providing them with a rating and advice on how to minimise their carbon footprint.  As a reciprocal program, businesses who join, are guaranteed promotion through the Low Carbon Living website, targeting official research proving that visitors to the Greater Blue Mountains region are aware and actively concerned about environmental issues. 

View over the Blue Mountains (Angela Jones)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John and Annabel were keen for me to make the absolute most of my time there and encouraged me to get out hiking as much as possible – which I definitely did!  Two full weeks of unbroken winter sunshine took me all around the Prince Henry Cliff trail and most of the Dardenelles Pass track.  I realised after a few days that I’d actually begun talking to myself on these hikes, exclaiming loudly how spectacular the scenery was. Weirdly, I found myself swearing more than I ever have!  Not an effect I was expecting, but seemingly the only way to add exclamation to how breath-taking the vistas are.  Even though this is a natural World Heritage site, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Chris Tobin who is a National Park Ranger and also heads up the Aboriginal concerns of the region in a variety of differing capacities.  He opened my eyes to the connection of the Indigenous community with country, and explained the complex negotiating processes which have taken place, and continue to do so, over land rights and representation in the area.  There is no doubt that there are fundamental cultural values present throughout the million hectares of beautiful eucalypts, however, whether these should be exposed to public consumption is still a matter for debate.  In the meantime, the rolling out of the Low Carbon Living Program and John’s frequent lectures on an international basis continue to raise the profile of the impact of climate change and land management concerns of natural World Heritage sites. 

Secondly, I ventured south in the midst of winter to the Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania.  Here the Conservation and Infrastructure team inspired, enthralled and completely entertained me for two amazing weeks.  Based in the on-site administration building on the Tasman Peninsula, I worked on developing ideas and resources for the Education Department to be used in the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart.  I was fortunate enough to spend a portion of time researching the fascinating history of female convicts as an attempt to create a civilising force within the colonial system. Furthermore, by following a personal interest in the fate of Welsh political prisoners transported to Van Diemen’s Land, I was also treated to a completely geeky weekend of touring the Coal Mines Historic Site and the Tasman peninsula with the hugely knowledgeable Dr David Roe, Head of Archaeology.  To get insight into the development of a ‘Peninsula Penitentiary’ was something pretty unique, which really made the entire convict colonising process ‘click’ for me in a way it simply hadn’t previously.  As a flagship historic site in Australia, Port Arthur itself bears a huge responsibility in its planning and promoting of heritage management.  The staff there are testament to exceptionally high levels of professionalism, commitment and rigorous self-evaluation, where their modesty often prevents them from resting on their laurels, and always sees them striving for excellence. 

Sunrise at Port Arthur (Angela Jones)

They are without doubt the most passionate and dedicated group of people I have had the pleasure of working with, living and breathing their various areas of expertise, yet communicating this on a lay basis with ease, whilst welcoming new ideas and people with warmth and compassion.  It was fascinating to understand the running demands of such a prestigious site on a daily basis, observe the planning for a major new visitor centre and all the interpretation strategies which are being integrated, comprehend the shift into a streamlined collections management system and experience the educational program.  Similarly to the Blue Mountains, whilst Port Arthur is inscribed on the World Heritage List for it cultural significance, it is also adopting a pioneering approach to the impact of climate change in the region, and migrating to a system of loss management which is ahead of current practice, in terms of asset mitigation. 

Finally, in August I ventured as west as I could get, to Shark Bay World Heritage Area which took me up close and personal with marine wildlife and its associated concerns. I volunteered on the ‘Dolphin Experience’ at Monkey Mia for 10 days. Before the area became regulated and designated as a conservation site, people would feed the wild Indo Pacific dolphins from the shore and their fishing boats.  Since 1991, Rangers give designated sessions to a controlled audience every morning between 8am and midday.  The role of the volunteer is to prepare the fish for feeding, monitor and record sea, weather and visitor figures and choose audience members to participate. It’s a huge thrill to be so close to these beautiful animals, and even though there is strictly no touching of the dolphins they are incredibly affectionate towards you.

Dolphins at the shore waiting for one of the daily experiences (Angela Jones)

I definitely bonded with Puck, the oldest of the five females who are offered one third of their daily diet during the sessions.  Her and I are the same age! She would hang out right by my side throughout the experiences and nudge my legs whilst waiting for her next fish. Pretty special.  I was also lucky enough to meet with Cheryl Cowell the World Heritage Officer and Chair of the local World Heritage Committee.  She sat with me firing questions at her for nearly 2 hours and it was a revelation to learn of the multitude ‘hats’ she wears on a weekly basis in her role.  Perhaps one of the things which was most striking in this conversation was the fact that in Shark Bay, the World Heritage values are not necessarily obvious, unless you have researched beforehand or have a special interest in the area.  The presence of Stromatolites in Hamelin Pool which give an understanding of the evolution of life on earth over the millennia is pretty mind blowing, but the interpretation of this to the general public is no mean feat! Monkey Mia was a very different experience to the others as it is primarily a holiday destination.  The only accommodation option here is the RAC resort, which makes it a place where either people are basing themselves for a good whack of time, or they are just passing through.  From my 2 weeks, it was noticeable that although not necessarily motivated to visit Shark Bay for the World Heritage values, everyone I spoke to was suitably impressed by them and genuinely wanted to find out more.  Something else which I discovered – a car is essential here. Getting stuck in Denham and having to hitch a lift back with a fantastic Californian family taught me a thing or two about how remote the place really is!

As well as these three experiences, I haven’t even begun to describe what a privilege it has been to be part of the Cultural Heritage program at Deakin University.  It has meant access to a wealth of expertise, rich class discussions and absorbing field visits.  I also managed to secure a place on the ICOMOS mentoring program which is offered annually and really gets under the skin of heritage legislation in Victoria, heritage impact assessments and conservation management plans from the fantastic Architect and Heritage Consultant Ruth Redden, who has also put up with me bombarding her with interview style coffee meetings on a monthly basis! So all in all, Australia certainly has been the land of plenty for me.  Only here has it been possible for me to experience urban, cultural, natural, marine and intangible world heritage values, which have rounded and expanded my enthusiasm and love of the field even further. 

Angela Jones, currently following a dual awards degree Masters Program with Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany and Deakin University, Melbourne.  Originally from Wales and a ex-History teacher. 

More information about World Heritage Studies at BTU can be found here