Tim Sherratt – Collections, Interfaces, Power and People

Posted in Events, Seminars, Talks

On Jan 10, Tim Sherratt (Canberra) started off our month of DH with a talk examining the White Australia policy and how digital technologies are revolutionizing how historians can access, interact with, and reconceive of this era in Australian history. After collating manuscript and official images related to the White Australia policy from the National Library of Australia, Sherratt’s project has extracted the faces of over 10000 australians affected by the policy. This aggregation clearly illustrates the diversity of Australian society at the turn of the twentieth century, in direct contrast to the rhetoric of the national immigration policy itself. The implications for historians of colonial and post-colonial Australia are immediately evident, but also for historians interested both in British imperialism and diaspora / migration histories.  For digital humanists, the work harnesses new layout methods built in jQuery and isotope.js allowing for presentation of manuscript images in unconventional ways. Combined it became quickly apparent that the reconfiguration of user interfaces, and primacy of image – in this case the faces of thousands of immigrants and Asian Australians – alters how scholars can access and approach their sources and the archives in which they are stored. But it also suggests how more diverse audiences and communities of users might feel more at ease in approaching instutional archives to build their own histories. Harnessing APIs and new forms of connectivity essentially offers any user or group of users to act as curators of digital and archival heritage. In the case of the White Australia policy, it visually demonstrates the complexities of colonialism.