October 4, 2011 /
December 22, 2008 /
November 17, 1996 /

[Contains many broken links – included for historical interest only!]

what is there to know about archives?

In this age of virtual wonders, it seems that our past is rushing towards us. New communication technologies promise greatly improved access to Australia’s cultural heritage. The previous government had hoped to lead us along the aisles of our own “Electronic Smithsonian”, according to its 1995 statement, Innovate Australia [HREF 2]:

…school children will be able over the Internet to read the diaries of Cook and Bligh, Burke and Wills, stories of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in outback Australia, and see the works of Rover Thomas and Arthur Boyd.

In rather less expansive terms, the current government plans a National Cultural Network [HREF 3] that will “simplify and enhance the communication and exchange of cultural and heritage resources, information and ideas”. But where will the material be coming from to fill the virtual display cases? Government statements often point to “libraries, museums and galleries”, but what about archives? Of course we’re meant to assume that archives are somewhere amongst the “cultural and heritage organisations”, and anyway the major libraries collect archival material like diaries, letters and manuscripts. But consigning archives to the ranks of fellow-travellers in the information putsch, means that little attention is given to their specific needs and their unique potential. We will have no strategies for ensuring that appropriate forms of access are developed. Instead of delving deeply into our “vast cultural resources” we may simply skim the top, presenting only the familiar in a new digital guise. Instead of an “Electronic Smithsonian” we might end up with an “Electronic Disneyland”. This paper will examine how the World Wide Web might be used to avoid this by facilitating access to Australia’s archival resources – providing pathways for exploring our collective memory. Read MorePathways to memory