National News Categories: 

Bringing the Archive into the Lab: A report from the Student Conservators for Timor-Leste

19 Nov 2016
Author: 
Camielle Fitzmaurice & Maria Halkias

Formalising the Grimwade Centre/Student Conservators for Timor-Leste partnership with CHART: A Report on Artifact Handover

This year, students from the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation (GCCMC) were formally introduced to ‘activist turned archivist’ John Waddingham, manager of the Clearing House for Archival Records on Timor Inc. (CHART Inc.) as part of a coursework subject entitled RESPECT (Sloggett 2009). School Director Robyn Sloggett had been advocating for a partnership between the GCCMC and CHART Inc. through her support of the graduate student association Student Conservators for Timor-Leste (SCTL), which has been active since 2014.

CHART Inc. sits in a unique position within the cultural sector, as it is simultaneously a collecting institution and clearinghouse, which has temporary yet indefinite custody of archival material. Much of the material is the personal archive of prominent Australians involved in human rights activism Timorese self-determination, dating from the period unrest in East Timor 1974-1999/2000.

During 2016 the GCCMC and SCTL have fostered a relationship with CHART Inc., and in particular Waddingham, which culminated in artifact handover of select Timorese newspapers in September this year. A formal agreement has been reached between SCTL, GCCMC and CHART Inc. for a student-directed treatment project. The treatment aim is to physically stabilise the newspapers in preparation for digitisation. This is already underway, with students beginning accessioning and condition reporting in October.

Prior to the handover, representatives from SCTL had several meetings with Waddingham so that the students could determine a treatment proposal that dealt with the client’s concerns. Waddingham’s aim is to digitise the material for preservation, research and accessibility. There is an end goal to provide these to a Timorese national archive.

The condition of the newspapers is varied – from minor creasing to water damage and potential mould issues. As some of the newspapers are duplicates, Waddingham suggested that the students could create best or ‘surrogate’ copies of the papers. The purpose of this would be to have the best copy available for digitisation. Students appreciated the thinking behind this approach, as it challenged them to think critically about how to approach the project in line with the aim of the client. In the end, a treatment proposal was put forward and accepted by Waddingham in which the decision was made to treat every item in the handover in preparation for digitisation, as there are enough students involved with the project to achieve this. The contract does not include digitisation of the material therefore negotiations can be reopened once treatment is complete.

For many of the students undertaking this project, simply named the ‘CHART Paper Project’, it will be their first non-teaching treatment experience. GCCMC staff member Susie Collis will supervise the project but the students are responsible for liaising with Waddingham, and managing the treatment project as a group. This group consists of both students from primarily a paper specialty, but objects and paintings specialists are also involved in this invaluable cross-specialty learning experience. This is one of a few projects that are currently facilitated under the management of SCTL, who are determined to see practical outcomes for GCCMC students and the cultural heritage of Timor-Leste.

Acknowledgements

John Waddingham (of CHART Inc.), Dr Robyn Sloggett and Susie Collis (GCCMC staff), Rachel Jones, Ruth Drayson, Eden Christian, Jessica Doyle, Amelia O’Donnell, Cancy King-Cyn Chu, Molly Culbertson, Robyn McPherson, Elizabeth Nicholson, Rebecca Barnott-Clement and Sang Hee Lee (of the CHART Paper Project).

References

Sloggett, R 2009, ‘Sloggett, R 2009a, ‘Engendering Participatory Relationships in Conservation Education’, Journal of the Canadian Association for Conservation, vol. 43, pp. 10-20.