Having spoken to Helen Light about the Multicultural Communities’ Collection Project (2011), and Nonja Peters about digital heritage initiatives around Dutch migration, I’m more and more enthused about the possibilities for building online collections around the theme of migration. Granted the Multicultural Communities’ Collection Project sadly dissolved due to lack of funding, the groundwork—that is, connections with communities—was established.
The imperative to collect before this material is lost cannot be overemphasised. The countless documents and memorabilia that reside in the homes or community clubs of former migrant and refugee people across the country are irreplaceable. Helen Light uses the example of the South Vietnamese in Melbourne as one example. But the same could be said of longer-standing communities who have traditionally gained a larger share of funding—including Co.As.It. and its collections.
Large, well-funded digital archives provide the means to facilitate not only the collection and preservation of migrant-related collections, but also their promotion and uptake by researchers and other members of the public. This requires a coordinated effort on the part of large institutions, like the National Library of Australia—and I would argue, given the topic is migration, it calls for transnational collaboration. Enter: Europeana Migration Collection, a new initiative as part of the Europeana digital archive. The Collection is being boosted in 2018 as part of the ‘European Year of Cultural Heritage’ (funded by the European Commission). The project insists that “people will be able to share and upload their family stories and memorabilia online to Europeana Migration Collection–building it together with migration museums across Europe”. The resultant (and presumably, continually growing) archive will be freely available online. It’s an impressively ambitious project.
But any digital archive of collections on migration that focuses only on the European continent is limited. Obviously nations like Australia link into narratives of European migration in broad and intimate ways. By my understanding, individuals in Australia can make contributions to the Collection. I would argue, however, that a more concerted and institutional investment from Australia is warranted—perhaps by way of a partnership with Trove (?). At the moment, the Collection contains materials from museums, galleries and libraries across Europe. These collections are of obvious benefit and use to Australia’s population. They are collections that Australia’s migrant communities could also contribute to, if only our elite national and state institutions were more interested in helping to facilitate the collection and preservation of migrant heritage. The challenge is to encourage Australian institutions to be involved in building digital infrastructure and adopt a more systematic means to archive migration heritage.
Watch this space.
P.S I recognise it’s not as simple as building momentum in elite institutions – such initiatives require archivists with expertise in digital data management, technology that can transfer and preserve older oral history recordings, and services that are inclusive and truly aimed at CALD communities.