Roslyn Russell, Kylie Winkworth
© Commonwealth of Australia, 2010
ISBN 97 80977544363 (pbk)
C. Cross-collection significance projects
Significant collections can be explored and assessed through cross-collection projects such as thematic studies, regional surveys and collections mapping projects. The steps below describe a thematic study. This is a cross-collection comparative survey related to a particular theme, subject or region. A thematic study is a process or framework for collecting organisations to collaborate, assess, document and analyse collections, and present more coherent stories online, in serial exhibitions, promotions and publications. Two examples of thematic studies are provided in Part 6.
Thematic studies: step-by-step significance assessment
This is a template, not a definitive prescription. The methodology can be adapted to suit the needs and resources of the study, the participants and collections.
Develop a project plan
Develop a brief with clearly stated rationale, aims, anticipated outcomes, and method. Identify a project co-ordinator and work out how the study will be undertaken: budget, time frame, process etc. Studies can be done in stages. Allow enough time if working with museum volunteers who have other obligations. Hold a meeting with museums, historical societies, libraries, galleries, archives, heritage and history organisations and other interested community groups and individuals to discuss the project, plan the work, share information, and agree on the aims, project outline and further use of the anticipated outcomes of the study.
Commission a contextual history by an historian
The history should be strongly linked to movable items and collections, including photographs, maps, paintings, places and original source material.
Identify key themes
Themes identified in the history act as a framework for assessing movable items and collections. Consider a checklist of the main categories or types of items likely to be encountered. For regional surveys, identify key themes in the history and identity of the region. These may be specific to the region or drawn from state or national thematic frameworks developed by heritage agencies.
Survey movable items
Survey items in museums, galleries, libraries and archives, and in situ, to identify the most significant items and collections.
Use the themes and checklist to search out the less obvious items. Develop object files to focus research on significant items. Undertake further research on the history and provenance of the items. For regional surveys, map significant items against key themes to see how effectively the collections represent and interpret the history of the region and significant places.
Hold workshops in significance assessment, with participants presenting their research and case studies on significant items. The aim is to assess the significance of the most important items and collections.
Review what's missing from the collections
Review items against the identified themes to consider the scope and representativeness of the collections. Analyse the items against the thematic framework to see what's missing from the collections.
Produce outcomes from the project plan
Outcomes may include exhibitions, a catalogue, website and weblinks, and promotion, as per the project plan.
List recommendations and actions
Summarise the work and develop strategies for the conservation of collections and to raise awareness of their significance. This might include:
- conservation funding for significant items and collections
- conservation plans where relevant
- coordinated strategic planning for collections across a region
- further training of collections staff and volunteers
- community education and awareness campaigns to give advice to families and community organisations holding significant items and collections
- improved interpretation and upgrades to displays
- promotional projects like a website or driving tour map to encourage exploration of the region
- grant applications to fund further work recommended by the study
- a policy framework for the theme that can be adopted by participating organisations
The policies might include strategic collecting, coordination of collecting, joint strategies to address neglected collection themes, or work on other areas related to the subject as recommended by the study.