Artefacts and archives: considering cross-collection contextual information networks in museums

Mike Jones, The University of Melbourne/Museum Victoria, Australia

Published paper: Artefacts and archives: Considering cross-collection knowledge networks in museums

Archival material often provides the context required by curators, researchers, and other users working with material objects, contributing to new narratives and richer understanding. Artefacts and archives are already linked physically in exhibition spaces and intellectually in catalogues, books, and articles. Yet when it comes to collection management, many institutions keep artefacts and archives physically, conceptually, and organisationally separate. For museums, this leads to an over-reliance on implicit knowledge; and for online users it means expansive digital collections are often presented decontextualised.

In this paper, the author will examine the recent history and current status of intersecting artefacts and archives in museums—on the Web and in supporting systems—drawing on institutional and project-based examples from Australia and internationally. Through a better understanding of the intersection of these collections and the systems and data structures used to manage them, we can lay the foundations for future developments that will both maintain necessary distinctions in museum and archival practice and create new ways of digitally capturing, managing, and disseminating interconnected collection knowledge within and beyond our institutions.

Online resources include:
Stories in Stone: an annotated history and guide to the collections and papers of Ernest Westlake (1855-1922).
Museum Victoria – History and Technology Collections Online.
The British Museum – Collection Online.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art – The Collection Online.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – The Field Book Project.
Spencer & Gillen: A journey through Aboriginal Australia.
Humanities Networked Infrastructure.
Social Networks and Archival Context.

The literature in this space crosses disciplines and is broad and wide ranging. Key references include:
Bearman, David, and Jennifer Trant. “Unifying Our Cultural Memory: Could Electronic Environments Bridge the Historical Accidents That Fragment Cultural Collections?” In Information Landscapes for a Learning Society, Networking and the Future of Libraries, edited by L Dempsey, S Criddle, and R Heseltine, Vol. 3. London: Library Association, 1998.
Lee, Iris. “EAC-CPF at the AMNH, Part 1 | Hidden Collections,” March 18, 2014.
———. “EAC-CPF at the AMNH, Part 2 | Hidden Collections,” May 16, 2014.
Griffiths, Tom. Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia. Studies in Australian History. Cambridge ; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Jones, Philip G. Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers. Kent Town, S. Aust: Wakefield Press, 2007.
McCarthy, Gavan, and Joanne Evans. “Mapping the Socio-Technical Complexity of Australian Science: From Archival Authorities to Networks of Contextual Information.” Journal of Archival Organization 5, no. 1–2 (January 7, 2008): 149–75. doi:10.1300/J201v05n01_08.
McCarthy, Gavan, Ailie Smith, and Michael Jones. “Looking Beyond the Archive: Utilizing Encoded Archival Context in a Broader Societal Context.” Journal of Archival Organization 12, no. 1–2 (April 3, 2014): 143–64. doi:10.1080/15332748.2015.1001206.
Pitti, Daniel, Rachael Hu, Ray Larson, Brian Tingle, and Adrian Turner. “Social Networks and Archival Context: From Project to Cooperative Archival Program.” Journal of Archival Organization 12, no. 1–2 (April 3, 2014): 77–97. doi:10.1080/15332748.2015.999544.
Pitti, Daniel V. “Technology and the Transformation of Archival Description.” Journal of Archival Organization 3, no. 2–3 (January 10, 2006): 9–22. doi:10.1300/J201v03n02_02.
Rasmussen, Carolyn, and Museum Victoria. A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and Its Predecessors, 1854-2000. Melbourne: Scribe Publications, 2001.
Rayward, W. Boyd. “Electronic Information and the Functional Integration of Libraries, Museums, and Archives.” In History and Electronic Artefacts, edited by Edward Higgs, 207–25. New York: Clarendon Press, 1997.
Robinson, Helena. “Remembering Things Differently: Museums, Libraries and Archives as Memory Institutions and the Implications for Convergence.” Museum Management and Curatorship 27, no. 4 (October 1, 2012): 413–29. doi:10.1080/09647775.2012.720188.
Sassoon, Joanna. “Sharing Our Story: An Archaeology of Archival Thought. [This Paper Was Originally Presented as a Keynote Address to the Australian Society of Archivists Conference, Alice Springs, August 2007.].” Archives and Manuscripts 35, no. 2 (November 2007): 40–54.
Sherratt, Tim. “Seams and Edges: Dreams of Aggregation, Access and Discovery in a Broken World.” Discontents, February 3, 2015.
Smith, Bruce. “Archives in Museums.” Archives and Manuscripts 23, no. 1 (May 1995): 38–47.
Wythe, Deborah, ed. Museum Archives: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Society of American Archivists, 2004.
Zorich, Diane M, Günter Waibel, and Ricky Erway. Beyond the Silos of the LAMs: Collaboration Among Libraries, Archives and Museums. OCLC Research, September 2008.