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Introduction


Gavan McCarthy

Australian Science Archives Project


Thanks very much Professor Anderson, it was a wonderful introduction. Iím going to talk a little bit about the theme of the conference and why we are here and Iím not going to say too much. some of what I have said has already been put out through various electronic means, but I thought it might be worth just going over it again and to focus us now that we are here on what it is that we are really trying to do.

The whole notion of the theme of the conference, the Working with Knowledge theme, has, I suppose at first pass, three distinct meanings and I think many other levels of meaning for the archivists and the other delegates at this conference.

The first one is probably that archivists work with records. Thatís a bit of a, well, this is what we do isnít it, but if we look at records as a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge through time and space, then this gives another slant on what our activity is and of course for archivists of science, technology and medicine, this has a particular meaning as that whole activity, that research activity based on science, is consciously based on the creation and transmission of knowledge. So for science, technology and medicine archivists we are not only attempting to preserve records that capture knowledge, i.e. perhaps content, you could look at it in transit, but also to capture the processes of scientific knowledge creation and perhaps thatís another way of looking at context. Without the context the content has little hope of successfully being transmitted through time and/or space, so that it can be understood in different contexts.

This indeed gets to the core of the archivists role, which perhaps could be seen from one perspective as the maximisation of the capture of context to facilitate the transmission of knowledge. Prior to the explosive development of the Internet very few other than archivists would have understood the importance of the above statement, but now the importance of context and metadata are the catch cries of the information technology industry. However, when one goes to talk to different parts of that information technology industry one finds that context and metadata have very different meanings in their very different contexts. This is not the group of people that we are talking with today, but itís the same issue. How do we start talking about the same things with different people in different contexts when there has to be some sort of working interoperability between the two or the three or the four?

The second theme would be archivists also must work with a knowledge of the broader contexts and environments in which records exist as it is through this knowledge that sensible and meaningful decisions can be made as to the ongoing value of the records. For archivists to make useful and meaningful decisions in relation to the management of records, they need to work with a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the environment in which those records were created. Also for archivists who assign historic value to records they need to work with a clear and comprehensive knowledge of what similar and related records already exist, and are held, and where. They also need to have a knowledge of similar and related records that have been destroyed. Without both sides of the coin you donít have a full knowledge of the environment in which you are working. New information technologists have brought with them new tools that can enable archivists to work with knowledge at all levels.

However, there is much to learn. Old practices have to be critically examined and I think many probably have to be discarded. Old concepts that helped us to understand our work in the analogue world may have to be discarded and new ones found. Fundamental principles have to be restated in terms that are not past practice dependent and I suppose current practice dependent as well. That would be the aim, to find statements of principles that will travel through time and through space. We must strive for a new level of international and cross cultural understanding and interoperability.

The third level of meaning that I am going to have to quickly talk about relates to the users of archives, and these are not just your sort of standard historical researchers - they are broad and varied, who work with the knowledge of the records and they work with the knowledge transmitted via the records to create new understandings and new knowledge and to communicate these to the wider community. We have two very significant examples in session six, one of which Professor Anderson referred to, which relates to the work that Jennifer Learmont has done on the AIDS records at the Red Cross and the other session is the use of records in relation to the Keen as Mustard work which was presented as a documentary on ABC TV on the 21st of April which examined chemical warfare research in Australia during the Second World War, and it just showed how applicable it is to current political events. I remember watching that show on the 21st of April this year, and it was only at the end that I became aware that documentary was made almost ten years ago. It just seemed to be so appropriate and apt to the current political situation.

Australia I think has much to offer the broad international archival mission, particularly through its work on the archives of science, technology and medicine and through this conference we hope to share and develop this understanding. However, there is a fourth meaning which I would like to just deal with very quickly and it relates to the fact that, as Professor Anderson referred to, we received money from the Australian Research Council through their special research initiatives program to help bring the international guests to this conference. Now that was a fairly major achievement because that in itself defined archival research as a new and emerging field of research that traditionally has not received funding from the ARC. The purpose of the grant was not actually to do research, but was to help us in Australia place and develop our understanding of where our research program can sit within the international environment, and one of the good ways of achieving that is to actually invite the international guests here to talk with us, to meet a whole bunch of us, to examine a whole lot of issues that we see from our Australian perspective. I think we have that fourth understanding of working with knowledge which is the working with knowledge, of our own research environment and the research agenda that we are looking to develop to help us take the profession and our practice into the new paradigm, which I think is mentioned in quite a lot of the literature that is emerging at this time.

I am going to stop there pretty well, because I think it is probably time to get Peter Horsman up here to give the keynote address. There is only one other thing I want to say and that is that the conference has been structured to tackle all sorts of issues and I think it is going to be very challenging. I think there will be lots of very interesting debate. It has been structured so that particularly in this environment, it is conducive to people to get up and speak and talk, and I encourage you all to participate. In that sense there was a limit on the number of people that would be able to come to the conference, but also as Peter Horsman said last night we are also here to have fun and enjoy ourselves and to socialise, and I think that is a very important part of any conference.

It is with significant pleasure that I am able to ask Peter Horsman to give our keynote address for this conference. He has a very fine biographical note which is in the program and I am not going to refer to that at all. You can all read that. However, I just want to tell very briefly the story of why he ended up being invited as the keynote speaker. Initially when we were discussing how we might organise the conference we thought, we wonít have a keynote speaker, weíll just get strait into the sessions and weíll get the themes going, and it was not long after we were thinking along those lines that I actually received a copy of his draft guidelines for archival automation, which is part of the work that he has been doing on the archival automation committees for the ICA, and it was at that point on reading that, that I saw this fabulous meshing of, I suppose, theoretical thinking from a Europeans perspective about archival automation and the work that we had done in developing an archival documentation management system as an archival tool from the ground up from practice, and to see that the two had come together in an extraordinary way and I thought now this is an opportunity that we canít pass up and that we must have him out here to try and see how well perhaps these two things are starting to fit together, so luckily we were able to contact him and he was able to come and I would just like to thank Australian Archives who have been able to help fund to bring him out, so I would like to welcome Peter Horsman now to kick us off.



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Published by: Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb
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Date modified: 7 October 1999