The Centre hosted a very successful workshop on May 30 & 31, organised by Barbara Brookes, addressing the creation of archival files, the way individual lives get written into such files, the serendipity (or otherwise) of the survival of such paperwork, how it gets ordered, and how such files might make it possible to create claims on the state. Participants also considered the origins of files in book-keeping work and their ongoing life in the digital realm and asked how different forms of accessibility might alter our engagement with files and what might be lost when the original ordering becomes subservient to digital imperatives, such as the great demand by genealogists.
The writing of history is shaped by its sources. Workshop participants spent two days thinking about how those sources shape narratives within institutions, at the national level, and for the individual. Jane McCabe, from the Department of History and Art History at Otago, linked an institution, a number of countries and personal narratives in her paper which is based on an archive that continues to shape lives in the present. Rosi Crane, an Honorary Research Fellow at Otago Museum and a graduate of the Department of History and Art History at Otago, who has been working on the project for Barbara, attended and presented her thoughts near the end of the workshop.
All workshop participants considered this on-going relationship with archives, how historians use them to create coherent stories and how paper trails both serve to highlight some kinds of knowledge and elide others. The Centre was delighted to welcome to the Otago campus James Dunk from the University of Sydney, James Moran from the University of Prince Edward Island, Sally Swartz from the University of Capetown, Kate Hunter and Rebecca Lenihan (with Charlotte Macdonald there in spirit) from Victoria University of Wellington. and Volker Hess, from the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, who joined the workshop by zoom for three hours of intense discussion of pre-circulated papers.
Congratulations to Barbara Brookes on putting together a fantastic programme of speakers. We look forward to seeing the publication of these papers in a special journal issue in the near future.