Historian on tour: National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australian Captial Territory.

Aerial view of Canberra. Source: Unsplash 2022.

Early this morning, I watched the mountains form waves from trees as the plane started to descend into Canberra. I had packed my bags and left Victoria for the first time in nearly a year, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor at the National Library of Australia, and being selected as a Summer Scholar. I’ll be living this dream for five weeks, or if you prefer the more biblical framing, 40 nights. Arriving in Australia’s capital territory I had many, many questions. It’s a heady feeling, being allowed to ask questions. To be given the time, the space, the materials, to find the answers. Having gone from a life where I was told I ask too many questions, to asking questions, writing more questions, being shown how to craft a good question. This is divine. 

I am here as I seek answers about the Australian Joint Copying Project. Perhaps you have heard of it, perhaps not. It’s an immense microfilmed collection of archival materials relative to Australia, New Zealand Aotearoa and the Pacific Islands from the 18th century to the 20th century, sourced from archives in the United Kingdom. It’s a unique archive, rich with materials for historians concerned with society, science, culture, cartography, families, and the arts. That categorisation says so much, and not enough. I resist giving more definition to the archive with the hope you will look into it yourself. 

Over the coming weeks, I will work at the NLA to determine how the records of the London Missionary Society, and other imperial institutions like it, were copied and preserved for Australian researchers. The Miscellaneous Series, LMS collection alone, just one part of the AJCP, totals one hundred and eighteen reels of microfilm. Knowing the limitations of funding, of a reader’s attention, of time, my thesis project focus is examining the letters of the Lawes and Chalmers. Men and women that worked as missionaries for the LMS in Niue, Rarotongan and Papua from 1861-1907. Previous research indicates the Pacific historians, Harry Maude, Niel Gunson and Dorothy Shineberg were involved in decisions to copy LMS material. What else influenced the decisions being made? Australia as a settler nation? The reconstructionist moment in the post-war Pacific? Was there something else at play? 

So I extend an invitation to you to join me on this journey. Each Sunday, I plan to craft my notes from the previous week into a short blog post about my experience as a NLA, Summer Scholar. I’ll tell you about files, manuscripts, and findings from the archives. Who knows, you may wish to reach out with a question or two. If so, you can contact me here

Week one- Historian on tour: findings from an orange notebook.

Week two- Historian on tour, silences, permissions and diversity at the National Library of Australia.

Week three- Historian on tour: taking part in the slow-research movement

Week four- Historian on tour: it’s not stealing if you return the archive.

Week five- The blog article -Historian on tour: bookish delights (week six); This post will appear 20 March 2022will be posted on 20 March 2022.

Week six- The blog article will be posted on 27 March 2022.

Whole experience reflection- The blog article- Historian on tour: The thrill of the chase- will be posted on 3 April 2022.

Deborah Lee-Talbot 

Colourful Histories