Taonga and manaJune 2nd, 2016 By Public Programmes
The National Library hosted its second Horizon series panel discussion on Tuesday 3 May, 2016. This session focused on telling New Zealand stories, the sources we use to tell them and why they are so important for our individual and collective sense of identity.
Robyn Bargh, Founder of Huia Publishers, Bridget Williams, Bridget Williams Books and Kate Hunter, Associate Professor of History, Victoria University shared their expertise in publishing, storytelling, artefacts, cultural events, digital displays and the mana of the “real thing.”
The session was facilitated by Courtney Johnston, Director, Hutt City Museums. Bridget Williams' comments have been edited for clarity.
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Courtney Johnston, Kate Hunter, Robyn Bargh, Bridget Williams.
Kia ora tātou, nau mai haere mai ke Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. Ko Bill Macnaught ahau, te tumu whakahaere o Te Puna Mātauranga.
My name is Bill Macnaught, I am the National Librarian and it is my very great pleasure to welcome you here this evening to the second in our series of three talks about the future direction for the National Library of New Zealand.
We celebrated our fiftieth birthday as the National Library last year, and that prompted us to start thinking about our strategic directions for the future. Maybe not quite fifty years out, but certainly looking as far as 2030, trying to think of some of the big strategic choices that we have to make now about where we invest our effort in the future of the National Library services.
We have three broad areas of strategic focus at the moment in our thinking. This is the second area. About a month ago we had another session where we were looking at the importance of reading in the future for New Zealand, and what role the National Library might continue to play to support the idea of building a nation of readers.
This evening we’re looking at the importance of sharing stories from our collections, the documentary heritage of New Zealand, and I’m looking forward to hearing what our expert panel have to say. In June we will be looking at the idea of ‘one knowledge network’, how to make it easy to share knowledge across New Zealand.
Tonight’s topic is about the importance of words, the importance of our documentary heritage, knowledge as taonga, and how we get better at sharing the important treasure that we have locked up in our collections here in the National Library and in what has been described as the distributed national collection across New Zealand.
It’s a very great pleasure to welcome Kelvin Day, my old colleague from Puke Ariki in Taranaki. So important is our topic, we’re drawing an audience in from far and wide this evening.
Can I welcome particularly our panellists. It’s a very great pleasure to welcome such eminent speakers, we’ve got Kate, Robyn and Bridget who have kindly volunteered to stimulate a discussion here this evening, and a great friend and former colleague at the National Library, Courtney Johnston, to chair the proceedings. So without further ado, could you please welcome Courtney Johnston to chair.
Kia ora koutou. My role here tonight is not to talk too much but rather to facilitate and to get the talk going. We’re here tonight to celebrate and possibly to question, because the two modes are not mutually exclusive, the mana of taonga, or the power and the potential of the real thing.
I should note up front that the real thing here is not exclusively physical or analogue, that real things in our cultural collections are increasingly in digital formats or delivered to us through online channels and digital platforms.
Most of the panel members – Bridget is a late ring-in – met with Barbara Lemon, who has ably organised this panel discussion, from the Library. We met a couple of weeks ago for a brief pre-event chat and later on that day I went to the launch of the Ans Westra Museum on Cuba Street.
The museum is located above Suite Gallery and it’s set up and managed by the Gallery’s director, David Alsop, and it creates a permanent public access point to Westra’s photographs but also to the story of her life through objects and through written materials, through ephemera and through books.
Suite Gallery, which is a private dealer, has been working extensively with the Alexander Turnbull Library here at the National Library where Ans’ negatives are lodged and are currently being digitised to make them available through all sorts of different channels – through the reading rooms and through the internet as well as now through books and through this new museum – and I think it’s a small but powerful example of how the documentation of more than half a century of New Zealand’s culture by one of our greatest living photographers, how this taonga – which is infused not only with the mana of its maker, but of its subjects, of its collaborators and the institutions that are part of it – is moving between the physical and the digital realm, between the private and the public systems for caring for our heritage and making it available into the future. It just felt like an apt conjunction of conversations in one day.
So my task tonight is to introduce our format and our speakers and then to lightly manage the Q&A that’s going to come on after that. Each of our three speakers will give a short talk – and they don’t know this, but I’m going to introduce them in the order that they’re going to speak. I’ve got a few questions that I’m going to ask and then I will throw it open to the floor. I’ve heard that the last event provoked some incredibly thoughtful and engaged questions, so there’s no pressure, I just have very high expectations of you all!
So it’s my real pleasure, I’m actually quite humbled – and I know that’s an over-used word – to have these three people to work with this evening. I count myself very, very lucky to be here.
So we have Kate Hunter, who is Associate Professor at the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations at Victoria University, and her research areas include the social history of World War One, Australian History, Gender History and Colonial Societies, and Rural and Environmental Histories, and in 2014 she co-wrote with Kirstie Ross Holding Onto Home: New Zealand Stories and Objects in the First World War, and I’m only disappointed – I hear you have a magnificent rabbit fur coat that you rocked at a recent talk and I’m just a little disappointed that’s not here this evening but I’ll contain that!
Then we’ve got Robyn Bargh, who founded Huia Publishers in 1991 along with her husband Brian, for the express purpose of publishing Māori books and educational resources. Since then the company has published over 100 Māori writers. Robyn has broad experience. She’s also worked as a teacher and educational researcher, a policy analyst, and she was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2012.
Finally we have Bridget Williams who has stepped in just today for Tom Rennie, who is unable to be here. She is the Director and Publisher of Bridget Williams Books. She has been working in publishing since 1976 and has been involved in landmark publications including the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Claudia Orange’s Treaty of Waitangi and Judith Binney’s Encircled Lands. This year Bridget Williams Books has released Barbara Brookes’ A History of New Zealand Women, and the press has also built a strong reputation for their recently launched series of Texts which work between a digital and a print format. One idea explored elegantly in a compact form that’s moving between these different modes.
So if you could join me in welcoming our three speakers, and to the fore, Kate.
Kate: Thank you. Tēnā koutou, it’s lovely to be here if slightly nerve-wracking. When Barbara first invited me to be here I wrote back and said no, no, I’m an accidental New Zealander! So the things that I have to say today come in some ways not from a position of someone who comes to the archive to look for themselves. That’s not what I do here, and I’ll come back to that in a little while.
I wanted to start by talking about my first encounters with the real thing - which really, when I thought about it, went back to the letters and diaries that I went to the State Library of Victoria for when I was writing my Honours thesis.
What I remember about that process was the protracted nature of registering as a ‘reader’, going through the manuscript card catalogue in the manuscripts room, ordering in triplicate – the yellow and white in the tray, you keep the blue. Fast forward a few years, I have a very significant memory of a huge sense of relief, after nearly two years into my PhD, arriving at a farm house in country Victoria and after cups of tea and final scrutiny, I was then allowed into the spare bedroom, where on the chenille bedspread was an enormous leather suitcase that was filled with the exercise book diaries of spinster and farmer Annie McGillivray and her sisters – who were more verbose but not as persistent in their diary keeping as Annie had been; three lines a day from the time she was 21 until her death in 1948.
And the reason that was such a huge sense of relief was that spinsters are extraordinarily quiet in the archive, and finding women who were not married is really tricky. So here was this family who had, through this long, protracted negotiation, allowed me to have the suitcase.
I didn’t bring the rabbit coat, I’m sorry, but I brought this – which is a little set of pressed flowers. It was sent to me by Annie McGillivray’s great niece, who had been my friend, who had secured the diaries for me. And when my book came out, in which Annie played a major role, this arrived in the post.
It says on the back, ‘flowers found pressed between the pages of A Walk Across Africa by J.A. Grant, 1864’. Initially inscribed ‘Alexander McGillivray, Queenstown’ – that great empire town name, of course – ‘July 1868’, that was Annie’s grandfather. Subsequently inscribed ‘Annie McGillivray, March 18th 1924’. Helen had found them in Annie’s books and she’d sent them to me.
So one of the main points that I’d like to raise tonight is about connectedness. That collections and archives are never just national. They’re never just local. They speak to a deeply intermeshed past, and that is also reflected I think in the international importance of our collections.
One of the things that I think New Zealanders and Australians don’t really realise about their collections is just how lucky we are to have the richness that we do. As a historian of the First World War, I am acutely aware of how literate New Zealanders were, of how badly damaged most European collections were in the Second World War – so the survival of our collections is quite remarkable in international terms.
So constructed by a highly literate population, many of whom were migrants and so maintained those connections back and forth internationally which is why establishments like this, we hold not just New Zealand papers and records but actually their relatives from afar, they’re here.
Then, if I take that out into another research interest of mine, which is in hunting. The introduction of animal species into New Zealand, so the really interesting example at the moment is the Himalayan Tahr, who were introduced in 1907 and are now being used as genetic conservation stock for the Himalayan Conservation Project. That’s a whole different type of international archive right there. So that’s my first thing, we need to be really careful not to lose the wide view of collections and collecting.
The second thing that I want to raise tonight comes out of my work on hunting, and it’s really about awkward objects. Discomforting objects. I think we need to be really careful not to settle for comfy nostalgia or for what is important to us here in Wellington as urban latte-drinking, chardonnay-sipping... all of those things.
We do need to be very careful, we need to keep our vision open to what heritage and taonga look like from a country hall in Hawera, from a church hall in South Auckland or from the speedway in Upper Hutt. We need to be really careful that we are collecting nationally.
My project on hunting created quite a lot of discomfort for a lot of people. I remember several conversations with archivists here actually – “Hunting? Really? I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian, I find it very disturbing!” There was quite a lot of angst in various repositories around the country as I arrived to find out about people killing things.
They do make us uncomfortable, and especially guns. I have to say that really does bring up a lot of discomfort in a lot of people. And of course it’s something that, in my work on the First World War, people are remarkably silent on killing. Remarkably. So there’s a thread here. Guns and killing make us uncomfortable. But that discomfort can have consequences for exactly the kinds of aims that we’re trying to think about here.
On the one hand, there is an extensive debate about whether or not collecting and especially exhibiting firearms particularly is an aestheticisation of violence. If, on the other hand, they are treated as a display of industrial heritage, we treat them as tools, quite easy then to start slipping in a way that has you scrabbling for the edge into “guns don’t kill people, people do”. Not quite where many of us want to end up.
But historically they are incredibly important artefacts. Industrially, they help illuminate histories of colonialism and war, certainly, but also labour and rural life and cooking and shopping, and leisure, and boredom, and lots of other intangibles. Skilled hands, a knowledge of the bush, of animal behaviour, and also of fear and threat and pain; of regulation; of good character. Nothing like having your firearms licence renewed to realise just how important the idea of good character still is in the handing out of permission to own a rifle.
So my point tonight, I think, is breadth. The real thing so rarely tells just one story, and the telling of the stories therefore needs to be broad and coherent. I’m just going to stop right there.
Tēnā koutou. Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou i huihui mai nei i tēnei pō. Tēna koutou.
I’m going to talk about capturing experiences and stories of New Zealand’s heritage from two points of view, I guess. One is from the point of view of a publisher, and specifically Huia Publishers which was set up specifically to publish Māori stories, and stories about Māori experiences; and what quickly became stories in Māori language. Secondly I’m going to talk about my experience involved in the treaty settlements process, where I, as part of a team, have been involved with various forms of stories and knowledge and documents and records.
Firstly, with Huia Publishers. As I said, Huia Publishers was set up specifically to capture Māori stories and Māori experiences on a whole range of topics. I suppose what we wanted in that was diversity. We set up Huia Publishers in 1991, 25 years ago, and we really wanted to show that there was a range of Māori views on all kinds of topics.
Over the years we have published fiction and non-fiction, history, biography, books on politics, science, education, religion, sexuality, and the arts. And in all of those areas, there have been writers writing about different perspectives on those things. So I suppose what we’ve tried to do as a publisher is publish or make public debate on all of those topics. I think we have succeeded in that.
The second thing that we’ve done – actually when we set up Huia Publishers in 1991, there were actually only six Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori Medium Schools). But we were quickly under demand from the people involved with those schools to produce resources in Māori language. So over the years we have, with funding from the Ministry of Education and other sources, we’ve been able to publish hundreds of books, magazines, educational resources in Te Reo Māori. A lot of those have been generated by various writers but a lot of them of course have been sourced from here – the National Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the National Archives.
Actually the other thing that I thought of when Kate started was that I would like to do a mihi really to the National Library. My son became interested in history when he was at Raroa Intermediate and he came to the National Library and was made to feel welcome. And from then he went on to do a degree in history. And I always think it was because he was made to feel welcome here and he could access the information from here. He produced a document on Rua the prophet at that time, which we still have, but I think it was really thanks to the support from the National Library that he was able to do that.
The second area that I’ve been involved with was with treaty settlements. Claims to ancestral lands really that have been wrongfully taken by the Crown. The material that informs those discussions comes from a huge range of sources. Firstly from oral sources, from whakapapa and waiata, from families who contribute those, and many Māori families have their own whakapapa books – or we call them whakapapa books – but in those books are a huge range of stories, waiata, certainly whakapapa, genealogies going back twenty generations or more, and so they’re a huge source of information.
Ironically one of the main sources for Māori are also the records of the Native Land Court – which seems ironical given the role that the Native Land Court played in taking Māori land – but the evidence that our ancestors gave in those records, and that were documented, and are now stored in the National Archives and in the Alexander Turnbull Library, have been a really useful source for us.
I suppose the issue that I thought about, in thinking about this panel, is really ‘how do we store and how do we value our heritage?’ Māori, as I said, have oral histories and their own records and their own family vaults or boxes under the bed or wherever. Those are not necessarily shared and a common Māori view is that they are not to be shared nationally, and certainly not internationally.
So we have this dilemma where people like me, as people, and a lot of our writers wanting to access those records, we go to the Archives, the Alexander Turnbull Library, and some of those records will be there but there are others that are not there, and I know for myself learning our own whānau waiata while I was growing up, our old kuia and koroua were not happy with us even using tape recorders or CDs to record those things. It was not done and was sort of frowned upon, even though for modern learners that is the way that we learn, by taping things and learning from either tape or computer.
There is still a growing debate now about this Māori material being accessed by the internet. Recently I was contacted by somebody who recorded my mother in an interview in which she sang waiata and talked about various things, and he wanted to make those available through the National Library via the internet. Our whānau is still thinking about that, because although as a student of Te Reo Māori it is really great to have all those materials available here, for families they’re not sure that they want to have them shared, perhaps used inappropriately, commercially exploited, all those kinds of issues that I think Māori families face.
So a key issue for us is that Mātauranga Māori is a taonga, which Māori value and feel the need to protect, and so we have this dilemma about making accessible through national collections, which of course when we’re trying to look for material we really need and value, but on the other hand, for Māori families, they’re not always willing to share those – not that they don’t want to share them but they don’t know how they’re going to be used and so they feel uncomfortable about that.
So those are the kinds of issues that I wanted to raise tonight. Kia ora.
I really am a ring-in for Tom Rennie, so I have prepared some notes and I’m also talking from what Tom was going to say. I’d like to echo Robyn’s mihi to the National Library. I think you provide a welcoming, informed and knowledgeable place for us to come to. I don’t do research here – I’m not somebody who comes in and looks at the records – but I have had the experience as both a family member and as a literary executor of discussing family papers and documents with curators at the Library over quite a long time now, and I’ve always found that a very good experience, very trustworthy, and I appreciate that.
I also appreciate the kind of support that you give researchers and authors that we work with, which is evident of course in what we publish.
I thought I’d talk briefly about the way that Tom and I sit alongside each other at BWB. Tom is in charge of our digital strategy, but he’s also a publisher – he is driving the commissioning and producing books.
The book he is currently working on is Vincent O’Malley’s history of the Waikato War, now titled The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000. So Tom is deeply involved in New Zealand book publishing although he is the digital man at BWB. And he has developed both our little Texts series and the big BWB digital collections.
I have been publishing history for a long time, but I know relatively little about the digital world. However, I do pay the bills: I own the company, so obviously I have to have a good financial understanding of what this digital world is. So from where I stand there is a very interesting dynamic between the real and the virtual that’s playing out as we speak. We do tend to talk as if this is a static or a fixed or a certain set of relationships between the real and the virtual, and it isn’t.
In the digital world, the dynamic is constantly changing. Things that we all thought five or ten years ago would all be ‘x’ or ‘y’ turn out not to be so; much is settling down. The world is print and digital, and it’s going to go on that way. Most of our sales and the whole book world’s sales are still in print; we have by no means translated ourselves all into a digital space.
So those dynamics are still playing out in some interesting ways. I think Courtney mentioned the BWB Texts series that we have, and that started as a digital series. We probably wouldn’t have done it if we’d started planning a print series. Publishing in print has bigger financial returns, but a bigger financial commitment up front. Beginning the series in digital meant that we could edge into this space quite quickly, and then develop into the print/digital series that it is today.
So Geoff Walker and Tom worked together, to build a body of digital Texts. Then we suddenly spun into physical Texts, and the series actually works in physical format more than it did in digital.
So that’s the kind of dynamic we see, something happens over there, and it happens then over there in a way we didn’t anticipate. This is the dynamic of an evolving print/digital world. Part of what we have been trying to anticipate is how people make money out of digital. So print sales have fallen for a whole variety of reasons, not all just to do with the digital world, some to do with recession, globalisation and online sales, but print sales have dropped in a radical way, a way they’ve never dropped before, they’ve halved in some sectors of the list. This is true for all publishers.
At the same time we’re investing in digital. And digital is not cheap, it’s expensive. It’s expensive not only in producing a digital book but because everything you do, you’re working across four or five formats and communication systems.
So how do we make digital pay? And nobody really has the answer to that yet. And yet we’re all there and we have to be there. Now that’s probably true for libraries as well. You have all the original conservation, curating, collecting issues and yet you have to do this whole digital investment as well and that’s impacting on the state of knowledge I guess I would say, and what you all have to do.
One of the things I’d like to talk about a little is this idea of stories, the taonga, the wonderful items in the museum, in the archive, in the collection. Museums and archives have clearly become more important in the public domain. People are visiting them, looking at them, people are engaging with the real object a lot. And along with this there is the idea of ‘stories’. But there is something more, beyond this idea of the ‘story’ and the ‘object’ – and that is the activity of the historian, researcher, the story-teller. This is the work that leads to the analysis, the argument, and that’s really important.
Barbara Brookes’s History of New Zealand Women (that BWB published earlier this year) is interesting to think about in the context of the archive. In the illustrative narrative of this book, we made a point of presenting the real thing – the objects themselves, as well as photographs and paintings. So then the question is: what does this book do beyond the telling of the story about the real thing? Barbara encountered this question (or something like it) quite frequently in her media interviews. On several occasions recently, interviewers asked her questions like: “Which women are in it?” “What are the stories?”. To which she replied: “This is a history. It’s an argument. It’s an analysis. It’s not just about stories about women”.
And that’s something I would like to emphasise here, that the role of the historians, the role of the researchers and the writers is absolutely critical. So in the History of New Zealand Women (as in other books) we have increased the amount of image representation, and we’ve done it in some new ways. On this page, for example holding up book, we included what we call ‘personal jewellery’ – there’s a mourning brooch and a wedding ring and a rather beautiful greenstone brooch with “Arohanui” written on it... So bringing in the ‘real thing’ to illustrate a work of history is relatively new (at least for us). And at one end of the spectrum this can work as the big Icons Nga Taonga book did for Te Papa; this is really a collection of ‘objects and stories’. But that’s not all we do, and it’s really important in BWB’s publishing philosophy that we retain that space for the analysis and the history.
A publishing project that came into mind today, as I was thinking about this talk, is My Hand Will Write What My Heart Dictates, edited by Frances Porter and Charlotte Macdonald some years ago. This is all material from Turnbull - letters and diaries of women. These existed in handwritten form in this library, so to produce these and a whole set of handwritten reproductions, for example, would not be particularly valuable. What made this collection accessible was the work Charlotte Macdonald and Frances Porter did – reading and reading, extracting, excerpting, writing introductions, and contextualising. So this is a small example of how “real items” become something else in a published space.
And in conclusion, connecting up the idea of the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’, the printed and the digital, I thought I would hold this up – it’s a bookmark. This is what librarians requested when we asked them what they wanted for publicity material for our big Treaty of Waitangi collections. Those are digital resources, and what the librarians wanted in order to promote them to readers was a bookmark!
I’m so relieved to hear that bookmarks work! Because when I worked here at the National Library in the web team we used to produce them all the time for our websites and we’d sit at our desks thinking “what are we doing?!”
Kate, I wanted to start with a question for you, actually prompted a little bit by a conversation I overheard this evening before we came up here. And your observation as well, which is so familiar to me, about filling out forms in triplicate in order to be able to access things in libraries. As well as being a historian of course you’re also a lecturer and a teacher and working with students, and I wondered if you could draw any contrast for us between your experiences in repositories like this as a student and now as a professional historian, and what you see your own students – kids in their early twenties – doing today?
I think what really strikes me about it is that they are just as in the dark about archives and objects as I was. It’s not until somebody says “Right, this assignment – not allowed to use texts, go and find something else. Go and find a map, a velvet painting... go and find something else and tell me what it tells you”. It’s partly pushing them to think about sources for history-writing that are beyond documents. That produces amazingly creative work, just sensational stuff, I never fail to love marking those assignments.
But what does interest me is despite the super YouTube world in which they live, they’re still not comfortable or au fait with things that aren’t giving them stuff in words when it comes to researching. I find that very interesting just as an observation.
My next question was for you Bridget, and I was really struck about your careful, your occasional correcting from ‘story’ to ‘history’, and working now in both libraries and museums we do have a tendency to say stories. Stories are nice and they’re quite easy and comfortable, but when you use history you highlight the need for analysis and occasionally for dissent.
One of the things I really admire about the Texts series is that it’s opinionated publishing, its publishing opinions from all along the spectrum. Rather than ask you about publishing, I want to ask you about collecting. Do you think for repositories like the National Library, there is a role for political activist collecting?
I think dissent has become a difficult subject, but it shouldn’t be. Dissent is part of democracy, dissent is part of discussion. Dissent can be going on a march but it can be a union discussion or it can be almost anything, so it’s curious that dissent has become such a difficult word when it’s a natural part of human behaviour. The ephemera collection here is terrific, it’s got the most wonderful posters of all kinds. So absolutely, dissent is part of our narrative, it’s part of our history.
And collecting to tell those... I was about to say stories. But to the point that you made, Kate, about how it can’t just all be from the point where we sit looking outwards tonight, but to be gathering that information from everywhere.
Well you never know what people are going to find. So the point of having the collection is that somebody who comes perhaps from one of those dissenting streams who can say much more about it than the people who have collected it. So there’s a whole richness to that collecting.
Robyn, my next question was for you and it was following up on the point that you made at the end about Mātauranga Māori as a taonga and the desire to preserve and to share, but to share carefully and mindfully and with a lot of thought and consensus going into that. My feeling is that in the coming decades for museums, that there is going to be a sea change in the way that we look at working with families and with hapū and whether we need to bring objects into the collection in order to be part of the caring for them, or whether objects can stay in the home and be cared for. I wondered if you had any more points that you wanted to make, from both your experience as a publisher who wants to share things, as a historian who needs access, but as also a member, a part of something, that treasures things?
One thing I think is that in this day and age there’s a lot of different ways of doing things. We do have digital which changes things, but we’ve also got... we can be much more flexible with the way we do things. I think it is probably possible to find ways that institutions like libraries and museums can work with Māori whānau or hapū in different ways from the ways that they’ve worked in the past.
I think a lot of Māori, especially who have been involved in treaty settlements and historical research on behalf of their hapū or whānau have found a whole lot of dilemmas really about access to that knowledge, how to get it for ourselves and then who to share it with, even amongst the whānau.
In the olden days only select members had access to certain information. It wasn’t this universal ‘make all information available to everybody’. And today we now have to think about do we want all that information available to anybody, for two reasons. The information is scarce and we want future generations to be informed, and we no longer have access to the old people who knew a whole lot of things.
I was thinking when you sent out the thing about the “real thing”, I think to Māori the real thing is a person. And a person is part of a community. For me, that’s the real thing. But these days we no longer have access to a lot of those real things and those people. So we now have to find ways to access that information and to make it available to our mokopuna and future generations in a way that is going to be different.
So I suppose what we have to do is find ways to protect the mātauranga part of it but also make it accessible to the people that we want, so I guess its within certain conditions and within certain parameters and restraints and I don’t think that’s impossible, it’s just a matter of working out how to do that.
I do think there’s a conversation coming up around how that is supported, because there’s a book – has anyone in the audience read anything of Tiffany Jenkins’ latest book? It’s just come out in the States and it’s about repatriation. She’s a vehement opposer of repatriation from collections back to source communities and her values are premised on those kind of Western enlightenment ones of ‘it is best for precious materials to be held in museums who know how to look after these things, know how to research them and know how to give them to people’. It’s a strong argument, one that I find personally quite upsetting, but in a way that’s how our public institutions are funded – on the basis of universal access.
So if there’s a change in how we work with groups and communities and individuals to protect and preserve for the future, then that’s going to mean a change for those who fund us and how they think about what we’re there to do and how we do that in collaboration perhaps rather than that ‘give it to us and we will take care of it for you’.
I could just respond to that in that I’m working at the moment on a book on the Mataatua Wharenui, which has been repatriated to Ngāti Awa in Whakatane, having been built in 1875 and then went on a tour around the world, to Sydney, Melbourne, London and then to Dunedin, and it took a lot of negotiation to get that back to Mataatua Ngāti Awa.
The interesting thing is, working on the book, the stories that have come from that which are within this particular Wharenui, there are about 70 pou which tell the story of the ancestors of that broad area, and by telling those stories from the people of that area they can tell so much about the history. So I think it’s just an interesting example of the importance of some repatriation, so it is about telling the knowledge back to the people.
Kate, one of the things that you talked about when we met before this, and you touched on it earlier tonight with the idea of these collections not just being about national identity or identity here but they actually feed out into the world, that our collections are kind of our seed banks, they’re not just about us, they’re about everyone. You talked as well about being an Australian working in New Zealand, and I wondered if you could go into that a little bit.
Yes, the accidental New Zealander! I did think a bit more about that after we’d had that conversation actually, because I thought, what was it that I found? You know, when you do a big research project like a PhD, you have to have found something that grabs you, because you can’t keep going otherwise, it’s just too long a haul. And I was reflecting on it and thinking, what did I find? I think one of the things for me was I didn’t find my identity as an Australian, that’s not what I found.
A pivotal moment for me in becoming an historian was taking a course called Changing Concepts of a Woman’s Place in Western Society and Thought from 1750 to the Present. The fact that I can still remember that, I remember every lecture, and I remember sitting there being totally and utterly gripped by everything that was being talked about from Mary Wollstonecraft onwards and I realised... yeah, so that actually wasn’t about me being an Australian, that was about me being a woman.
There are ways that collections speak, and some of the archivists will remember here, particularly the Turnbull librarians will remember me working on the World War One stuff in the wake of my brother’s death, and I would sit up in the reading room and I would weep. It got to the point where they would just bring me the tissues! Because here were these letters of sorrow and anguish and I knew exactly what they were going through, and I would just sit there and sob for hours... So when I was thinking about that, I thought actually for me and when I’m teaching, I don’t mind if history doesn’t help my students understand themselves as New Zealanders, I want to find that key that fits into the lock, and that’s not always about national identity.
I think that was where I got to in my meanderings about that, and it’s partly why I really love working in the collections here. Because the things that I’m looking for, they don’t have to be about nationhood and who you are, how you identify as a Cantabrian or Aucklander or whatever, that’s not quite what I’m thinking about, I’m thinking about other things and looking for those keys because the locks are different.
So that’s where I got to in my thinking about why do I still love working here even though this doesn’t speak to me as an Australian, there are other things that speak to me as an Australian but they’re not in the archive here.
My last question before I open up to all of you to do your job is for both Bridget and Robyn as publishers. As the National Library and all collecting institutions reimagine themselves, as publishers reimagine themselves, if you look out over the next ten years, are there any things that you can identify that spring to mind that would be helpful to make you both successful? Change or places where energy should or could be devoted?
That’s quite a hard question! Well the other thing we have to think about is in the last ten years publishing has changed so much, and so we’ve come a long way. When we say digital we’re talking about the production is all digital in a way that it certainly wasn’t ten or twenty years ago; the distribution is all digital; the information has come digitally; so it’s a huge change, the way that we just process everything has changed hugely.
So I suppose if you’re thinking ten or twenty years into the future then you’ve got to take that into account and think ‘so where is that going?’ In one way, publishing is kind of the same. Publishing is about making stuff public, it is about working with writers to collect and tell stories in all different forms and make that available, and these days we are doing all that part of it digitally and we’re producing either digital products or paper products and we are distributing them all digitally. So if you think in ten or twenty years’ time, we’ll probably be doing the same thing but we may not know at this point what the technology that we’ll be using will be to do all that.
I agree that, for us anyway, that sense of continuity is very strongly present and perhaps more so than was forecast about ten years ago, five years ago. When we won a small award in the industry last year, we said: “what do you do when the world’s turning upside down - we’re going where none has been before and doing exactly what we’ve always done”. And that’s actually pretty much how it is. This means also we’re doing exactly what we did before but across this whole different range of things.
I suppose for us as publishers the really critical thing is that libraries do continue to be these places where knowledge is gathered, collected, curated, taken care of. This ‘taking care of knowledge and its transition out into the world’ is not a simple process.
I was at the Waitangi Museum the other day looking at some of those amazing screens showing the signatures of the Treaty. So there’s something about the library’s place as curator and caretaker in this very turbulent space that’s important to me both as a publisher and as somebody who is a literary executor and a donor of items to a library.