Roslyn Russell, Kylie Winkworth
© Commonwealth of Australia, 2010
ISBN 97 80977544363 (pbk)
Thematic studies and regional surveys
Cover of thematic study: Her Story — a collection of women's stories, places and objects in the Hastings, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, 2008.
Reproduced courtesy of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
Thematic studies and regional surveys of collections are important ways of collaborating across domain and collection boundaries to identify significant items and analyse the strengths, weaknesses and omissions in collections that share a common theme or geography. This facilitates more strategic collecting, coordinated planning for collections and many other exhibition and promotional initiatives.
Significance assessment is used within these cross-collection projects to better document and understand the importance of items and collections, to build skills among participants in the project, to support a case for enhanced funding, and to communicate the meanings of the items and collections in exhibitions, publications and online.
Thematic studies and regional surveys use themes as a framework to analyse the scope of collections and to identify gaps and omissions. Historical themes are tools to analyse collections and places. These themes are generally drawn from the contextual history, commissioned as part of the study. In regional surveys the themes may come out of a heritage study of the district, or they may be from the thematic frameworks used by state or national heritage agencies. As analytical tools they are used in a different way from themes used for interpretation in an exhibition.
Thematic studies in the Hastings, NSW
Collecting organisations in the Port Macquarie Hastings region on the mid-north coast of NSW are using thematic studies to collaborate on collection analysis and interpretation in projects that link museums, heritage places, the Regional Gallery and history, heritage and community groups. The thematic studies are undertaken with the support of Council and the regional museum curator.
Her Story explored women's places and items and culminated in a series of linked exhibitions and a book revealing the often hidden history of women in the Hastings. Other thematic studies include timber and the agricultural history and collections of the region.
Bill Boyd, with his broad axe at Timbertown at Wauchope, where he demonstrated sleeper cutting in 1979. Bill is a third generation timber worker, and one of the last vernacular timber craftsmen who can build and restore a slab hut using traditional tools. Timber Stories recorded the skills and work of men like Bill Boyd, connecting the collections with people and places.
Reproduced courtesy of Fairfax photos.
Timber is one of the most important themes in the history and heritage of the Hastings. Timber Stories, undertaken with nine cross-domain collecting organisations, researched and assessed the significance of the collections and developed a series of linked exhibitions, heritage interpretation of significant timber places and a driving tour of the district.
The project identified some little-recognised treasures in collections, such as locally made furniture. But participants were shocked when the collections were analysed against the themes to find that important themes such as sleeper cutting and sawmilling, which were the economic backbone of the region, were in fact poorly represented in the collections. Although there were plenty of saws and axes in the collections, few items were provenanced to the district and there was no complete sleeper cutter's kit. The project was a wake-up call for all the participants about the importance of provenance, significance and strategic collecting.
Some outcomes from the Timber Stories thematic study have been exhibitions, a driving tour of significant sites in the Hastings region, and advocacy for a dedicated curator for the collections.
Significance in action
Significance assessment applications and case studies
- Conservation treatment
- Collection risk assessment
- Collection care
- Copying and digitisation
- Collection analysis and policy development
- In situ collections
- Shared collections
- Exhibitions and interpretation
- Online exhibitions
- Online access and education
- Assessing cultural heritage website quality
- Nominating to a register
- Applying for a grant
- Advocacy and resourcing
- Fundraising and promotion
- Thematic studies and regional surveys
- Collections mapping
- Significance training