Primary sources that the National Library of New Zealand collects

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David Colquhoun, curator of manuscripts at the Alexander Turnbull Library, tells us about primary sources.


David Colquhoun: I'm David Colquhoun, curator of manuscripts at the Turnbull, which means that I build the manuscripts collection and help people use it.

Primary sources, to me, are the documents of the time that record the experience of things as they happen. So that, to me as the manuscript curator, that's particularly things like diaries and letters or more recently emails and facebook pages.

But it can include artworks, photographs, maps and ephemera which is things like posters, pamphlets and leaflets.

Ephemera interests me.That's the everyday stuff that you get in your letterbox. And of course around election time you get a lot of it.

And this here is just some of the ephemera for the 1946 election. So here's Labour saying
women's place in the sun; a message to all the women in New Zealand saying why you should vote for Labour.

Or this one, from Labour, comparing their attitude to social security "The National Party's says social security is applied lunacy the Labour Party says social security is applied christianity.

So there you are.

The National Party on the other hand says who's future is it anyway? The future is with National. And Labour won, but only just.

Primary sources that I really like working with are diaries, because there’s such a wide variety of them and you get such a good insight, often into what sort of person you are dealing with.

One that I've done a lot of work on is the diaries of Jack Lovelock. Jack Lovelock was a runner. A New Zealand runner who broke the world record in 1933 and then won Olympic gold in 1936. One of the great New Zealand sporting performances.

But unlike most sports people, he kept very detailed diaries of what he did. You get a real sense of what he was like and the intensity with which he viewed his sport. It was his overriding passion and you see that.

1936 when he won the Olympic gold medal, he gives a description of the race and he finishes with these sort of relieved words really “It was undoubtedly the most beautifully executed race of my career, a true climax to eight years steady work, an artistic creation".

One other primary source of course that's always of interest and great research use are photographs.

The huge collection that we’ve recently taken in at the library that’s proved of great interest to researchers is the White’s aviation photographs. Leo White was an aviator and a photographer.

He started flying in the 1920s, developed an interest in photography, and in the 1940's he started a business. White’s aviation which went around the country taking photographs from the air.

He made a living selling these photographs too, all around the country. For researchers, they are fascinating because you can just find anywhere. You can find your town, your suburb, your street, your farm. There’ll be a photograph of it from the fifties or the sixties or the seventies.

At the moment, we are digitizing the White’s aviation collection and we've got a lot of them.

Soon you'll be able to see most of them online. There’s ninety thousand odd images.

So there's a lot there. Once we’ve digitized them you'll be able to see online all those photograph and be able to look at your particular area locality and see how it has changed over time.

Of course all this material isn’t just collected for nothing It’s collected so that people can use it.

And historians and researchers of all kinds are every day coming in to our reading rooms and using it to write new books, documentaries, films all sorts of things. And seeing those things created and published is the real satisfaction that I get out of this job.