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…
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.