‘The AJCP or: how I learned to stop worrying and love surrogate records.’ Unfinished Business, Australian Historians Association, November 29 – December 2, 2021.
Abstract: This paper discusses how collections based on surrogate records offer historians opportunities to establish and maintain collaborative relationships with cultural institutions while also producing unique archives. Using the ‘world’s most extensive collaborative copying project’, the Australian Joint Copying Project, as a case-study I detail how Australian historians worked with Officers from the Mitchell Library and the National Library of Australia and, consequently, influenced the Project’s curation. This paper also explains how Australian-Pacific historians used the resulting AJCP microfilms, from both the Public Records Office, London, and the Miscellaneous Series, to support their production of island-centric histories. I argue the collaboration and use of the AJCP by historians, such as Harry Maude and Dorothy Shineberg, facilitated new ways of perceiving surrogate records and supported a partial decolonisation of history.
Acknowledgement of Country; I begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations, the Traditional Owners of the land on which I speak to you from today. I pay my respects to their Elders- past and present- and acknowledge their determination to preserve and present their histories in numerous formats.
When Jane and James Chalmers entered the Pacific network of London Missionary Society as a young married couple in 1863, during the course of their everyday life they produced various texts- letters, reports, notes, financial requests. These texts ensured they maintained relationships with other missions in the Pacific Islands, auxiliary organisations in Australia and New Zealand and LMS Head Office representatives at Livingstone House, in London. The relationships documented ranged from the intimate and personal, with letters addressed to friends and congregation members, to the remote and bureaucratic, best seen in reports written for the LMS Foreign Secretary’s Office.
Rich with detail and experiences from the nineteenth century, the LMS archive was likely the type of evidence the British historian, G. M. Trevelyan, had in mind when he claimed in the early twentieth century that historian’s imaginations would be ‘nourished by turning over original documents.’ When Trevelyan made his statement historians working remotely with an archive often worked with handwritten copies and the occasional photograph. Now, thanks to developments in photography and digital technology, historians encounter the widespread use of visual replicas on microfilm and digitised records in archives and libraries. It is important to note this replication is more likely to occur in settler societies, such as Australia.
This presentation is an excerpt from my phd thesis, a project that weaves analysis of documents from the mission fields and the formation of archives with the writing of Pacific histories, to explore issues of gender and identity. Today I discuss the value of surrogate records- the copied records- in archives. In particular, why were records created in the Pacific during the nineteenth century returned to Oceania during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries? To answer this question, I present a brief genealogy of the Australian Joint Copying Project Miscellaneous series, specifically the LMS records, to demonstrate how the collaborative relationships that existed between the National Library of Australia and historians during the 1950s, and how these relationships influenced the curation of a unique archival collection. I emphasise the AJCP is not a copy, but a unique archive, one with a kaleidoscopic structure, a structure that illuminates the numerous political and social histories present in association with these records.
Our archival journey begins with the letters from Jane Hercus Chalmers. Jane was a member of the LMS,a non-conformist religious group. At dawn on January 4, 1866, Jane, along with her husband James, sailed from the British Isles on the John Williams, to reside approximately 16 000 kilometres away, at the Rarotonga mission site.
Jane’s letters to the Foreign Secretary were sent to the LMS Head Office. They travelled along shipping routes from Pacific Islands to LMS outposts in Australia or New Zealand, then the missive was sent onto London. Received by a clerk a cover page was created to detail the sender, receiver, dates, and their locations mentioned within the letter. The clerk either annotated the document, highlighting information of interest or slashed ink across the page to indicate sections deemed irrelevant. Omitting notes about domestic life, Oceania and its people meant these letters were literally concealed behind the LMS’s masculine, Anglo, evangelical agenda. In this material form, these documents became a first-generation archival record. One that offered a structure for the archive and a corporal experience for researchers. Jane’s letters have been recalled from the archive since their reception. Some have been edited and published in the LMS’ periodical The Chronicle. But all too soon they were re-wrapped tight in the LMS discourse of the nineteenth century and returned to the archive. Here they remained, inaccessible to those outside of London, until the AJCP Officers came to visit in 1948.
A second generation of these LMS archival records began circulating during the mid-twentieth century. It was not evangelical but rather military ambitions that started this process. During World War Two, requests were made by Allied forces running military campaigns in the Pacific for geographical, political, cultural and historical materials concerning the Pacific and Southeast Asia. It was expected Australia’s premier cultural institutions, the NLA and Mitchell Libraries, with their exceptional Pacific collections, would provide access to detailed and accurate information about Australia, its territory of Papua, and historic dealings with pacific communities, such as Vanuatu and New Zealand. But these military requests were unable to be fulfilled by Australian archivists and librarians and the second world war ‘starkly exposed Australia’s ignorance of its neighbours in the region.’
The NLA responded to this issue by creating the innovative AJCP- a curated archive presented on microfilm. When filming began in 1948 the AJCP Officers planned to gather and copy Australian government and colonial records created during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This became the Public Records Office of London Series [PRO-Series]. Within two years, to ensure a comprehensive and far-ranging archive was accessible to Australian researchers, AJCP Officers also copied manuscripts from libraries, galleries, museums, public organisations and private collections across the British Isles; this the NLA named as the Miscellaneous Series [M-Series]. When the last reel was received in 1997 the AJCP contained 10 419 reels of microfilm. In 2020 the NLA created a third generation of records. Having received Australian government funding to modernise the Project, they digitised the original microfilms, and produced more than 8000 digital pages. The NLA describes this unique archive now as ‘the world’s most extensive collaborative copying project’.
I agree, numerous cultural institutions influenced the curation of the AJCP, but the institutions at the Project’s heart were the NLA and Mitchell libraries. Together they formed policies regarding the ‘participation of other libraries, the geographical areas of the Project, the order of filming, and the staffing and the financing of the Project.’ The outcome was that the AJCP was able to distribute to interested parties’ microfilms of letters, reports, paintings, photographs, sketches, and maps relative to Oceania, South-East Asia, and Antarctica.
By paying attention to the individuals that curated the AJCP, particularly Officers such as Phyllis Mander-Jones, we can see how the second and third generations of LMS records were structured through collaborative efforts with a preference for decolonising discourses. Drawing on her professional experiences as a former librarian, a bibliographer and as an Australian historian Mander-Jones argued ‘the discovery and copying’ of manuscripts onto microfilm reels would improve researcher’s access to manuscripts so they could analyse Australia’s settler past, with consideration to relations in the wider Pacific.
There was a slight adjustment to this ambition after scholars from the Australian National University approached Mander-Jones just before 1955 and requested the NLA copy the extensive files of missionary societies. Frequent letters were exchanged between Mander-Jones and the Pacific historian Harry Maude. Analysis of these letters demonstrated the AJCP’s curation was influenced by the concerns of contemporary researchers, not merely the policies of cultural institutions. Maude’s communications ensured the AJCP incorporated a significant number of letters, notes and photographs. Maude’s requests were framed by his philosophy that the emerging field of Pacific history would ‘decolonized history, in that it will be less concerned with the activities of Europeans…and more [concerned] with changes in the indigenous societies’. With assistance from LMS Librarian and Archivist, Irene Fletcher the AJCP reels captured the activities of Pacific LMS members and their associates from 1796 to 1906. These reels had the manuscripts arranged on the microfilms in box, files, folder order and sorted by geographical area and material form. This process replicated the archives’ structure on microfilm.
Once microfilmed, these mission documents were used in innovative ways by Pacific historians such as Dorothy Shineberg. Shineberg was very conscious of the unequal power relations that existed in the Pacific. During the 1950s she had taught patrol officers about colonial history for the Territories of Papua and New Guinea at the Australian School of Pacific Administration. Her research into white settlement in the Pacific and early intercultural encounters saw Shineberg also promote a philosophy focused on Island Centric histories.
Ready access to AJCP microfilms at the NLA and Mitchell libraries supported Shineberg’s production of the book They Came for Sandalwood. Shineberg’s examination of the AJCP M-Series, the LMS South Sea Journals in particular revealed hidden histories concerning trade. Importantly Shineberg challenged the colonial divisions of the Pacific into Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia to demonstrate the interconnectedness of communities.
The LMS records can appear as a somewhat disjointed collection as they exist in the custody of various archives and libraries across Oceania and the United Kingdom. Trying to explain the experience of working with original and surrogate records led me to expand on the historian Arlette Farge’s kaleidoscope analogy. Farge’s Allure of the Archives, published in 1989, examined the value of first-generation archives. Fargeexplained that such archives were spaces of ‘ruptures and dispersion’, like a kaleidoscope.
Through the analogy of the kaleidoscope what we recognise is archival records today are dynamic and fossilised at the same time. Joanna Sassoon has questioned whether the production of digitised records has actively contributed ‘to the dematerialising, dehistoricising and decontextualising’ of archival records as meaning giving properties, materiality and context, ‘are destroyed during the digitising process.’ While I agree historians must be wary of information being erased, the process of surrogacy also facilitates a moment when a record is initially free from traditional archival structures and categorisations. This moment is an opportunity for reflection and recontextualization.
Working with the second and third generation AJCP records I noted the presence of competing archival discourses within the kaleidoscope archive’s structure. From the nineteenth century, we see evidence of the LMS the masculine white Christian agenda maintained with the retention of coverpages. The archival conventions associated with the AJCP also repeats the LMS records’ genealogy and ensures the colonial discourse is maintained. For instance, the SLV catalogue also supports this linkage with a clear statement that the AJCP microfilm reels were ‘[f]ilmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project by the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales…Microfilm copy of originals held by the School of Oriental and African Studies…London.’
From the 1950s and 1960s microfilms, we see trace evidence of decolonising ambitions present within post-war Australia. Indexes that are embedded in the reels to assist researchers with negotiating the scroll-like presentation format, highlight Indigenous voices of pastors and teachers, a challenge to the presence of discriminatory language from the colonial era. As these reels remain firmly grounded in colonial archival traditions and Australian post-war discourses, what I have not seen as yet is evidence of Indigenous institutions, such as the PNG National Library and Archives, reframing the records in their institutions, according to their relevant cultural values.
To conclude, I have offered a brief overview of the AJCP to show how items were removed from Oceania by missionary institutions to the British Isles, and since have been reconnected with Australian researchers, especially Pacific Historians. The kaleidoscope analogy highlights that the AJCP is not a chaotic instance of record-keeping but a carefully structured and connected collection. This analogy is ideal for discussing the complex intersection of imperial, settler and decolonising discourses as traces are present within the LMS first, second and third generation records. Thank you.
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