SARBICA International Symposium Rethinking Archives: Reframing Boundaries, Imagining Possibilities

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Workshop on Archives and Oral History in Art and Theatre. Image courtesy of the National Archives of  Singapore.

By Irene Lim

The annual symposium of the Southeast Asia Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (SARBICA) is one of the oldest archival forums in the region. It provides a platform for the archive fraternity to network, share and learn from one another and to keep abreast of international developments in archives and records management, preservation and access.

The 2019 edition of the symposium (held 24-28 June 2019 in Singapore) was hosted by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) as the finale to cap off the NAS Golden Jubilee (1968-2018) celebrations. This year’s symposium attracted 277 delegates from Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, North and South America and elsewhere; it included archivists, librarians, curators, researchers and specialists drawn from a broad cross-section of institutions.

WORKSHOPS

Five concurrent workshops were conducted by experts to deepen the participants’ knowledge and skills in the areas of digital preservation, emergency and disaster preparedness for heritage collections, preservation of audio-visual materials, oral history methodology and archives and oral history in art and theatre.

Mark Wong (senior oral history specialist, NAS Oral History Centre) shared with participants the methodology to start and manage an oral history project at a personal or institutional level. He offered practical tips on designing a project, interview techniques, use of the re-cording equipment, and
transcribing and preserving the recorded interviews.

Pam Schweitzer (founder, Age Exchange Theatre and Reminiscence Theatre Archive, UK) provided participants with a theoretical and practical framework on the use of archives, oral history and objects in interpretive art and the dramati-sation of life stories. Participants learned how to create and curate memory boxes from their personal archives and oral history interviews with the aid of craft materials.

Josephine Chang (senior manager, collections care, artwork & exhibition management, National Gallery Singapore) demonstrated how various groups of heritage collections and historical records could be salvaged in the event of an emergency or disaster. She identified the measures to take in order to avoid potential hazards and provided guidance in developing an effective emergency and disaster preparedness plan for heritage collections.

Adrian Brown (director, Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, London, UK) and William Kilbride (executive director, Digital Preservation Coalition) provided essential insights and practical steps for establishing and running an effective and achievable digital preservation programme for institutions of all sizes and types. Joanna Fleming (digital curation specialist, State Library of New South Wales, Australia) introduced participants to the properties of the major categories of audio-visual materials and how to identify different media and assess the risk factors. Through practical scenarios and references to available tools and resources, the participants were able to gain an overview of the audio-visual preservation tasks and concerns.

KEYNOTES AND PRESENTATIONS

Two keynote speeches and thirty-nine presentations were delivered by esteemed professionals on a diverse range of topics exploring the intersection of privacy, security and the management and preservation of records and data on the one hand and the need for the innovative deployment of archives and oral history in citizen engagement on the other.

Luciana Duranti (professor of archival theory, diplomacy and the management of digital records in the master’s and doctoral archival programmes, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada) gave the first keynote speech on “Disruptive Technologies and Trustworthy Records”. She identified and discussed the issues that need to be overcome in adopting technologies that are not designed around the concepts of context (administrative, provenancial, procedural, and documentary), archival bond, and impartiality. In the second keynote speech “Curating Access to Digital Oral History Archives: Exciting Prospects and Risky Futures”, Alistair Thomson (professor of history, Monash University, Australia) used the example of the Australian Generations Oral History Project—a collaboration between university historians, the National Library of Australia and ABC Radio—to illustrate and explore the extraordinary prospects for digital oral history archives and the challenges in trying to future-proof these archives.

NAS conservator Ong Fang Zheng recommended rethinking the environmental standards for Southeast Asia since this region is in a different climatic zone from where the environmental control standards were initially established. Archivist Norsuriaty Awang Hassim from the National Archives of Malaysia spoke about a simulation exercise carried out in relation to a disaster action plan to protect the country’s government records. Kitty But, an archives manager from the Lee Kum Kee Family and Corporate Archives in Hong Kong, shared how business archives can be harnessed to engage citizens and local communities and how companies can benefit from this contribution.

BOOK LAUNCH AND PERFORMANCE

The NAS Oral History Centre launched the publication The Sound of Memories: Recordings from the Oral History Centre, Singapore during the symposium’s opening ceremony. This book gave a glimpse into Singapore’s past through a wide-ranging selection of narratives assembled from the centre’s collection of 5,000 interviews. Each chapter has a theme ranging from arts to sports to local food.

A performance entitled “From Oral History Transcripts to Memory Boxes and Theatre” was staged at the welcome dinner by students from Singapore’s School of the Arts (SOTA); the performers dramatised a segment of the life stories and experiences of four senior interviewees from the NAS Oral History Centre’s Singapore Oral History Project. The stories included those of a former pilot who fought in World War II, a retired midwife, a professional singer/former disc jockey and a retired medical doctor/Indian classical dancer. The performance was accompanied by a colourful and thoughtful display of eight specially-constructed memory boxes which contained the curated archives of the interviewees’ personal belongings including objects, photos, documents, etc.

DELEGATES’ FEEDBACK

The 2019 SARBICA International Symposium, with its umbrella theme, workshops, keynote presentations and performances, provided participants a holistic view of pertinent issues such as the technologies of digital archiving, the integrity and authenticity of records and data, engaging the community with archives and oral history and reaching new audiences. The participants found resonance and relevance in the overall programming, and many shared that they had benefitted from the training and looked forward to implementing these lessons at their workplaces.

Finally, participants were invited to look out for the International Oral History Association (IOHA) Conference that the NAS will be hosting 22-26 June 2020.

AUTHOR BYINE

Irene Lim
Principal Archivist (Registrar’s Office)
National Archives of Singapore
National Library Board

(Download the December 2019 of "News in Conservation" for the full article)

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The 2019 edition of the symposium (held 24-28 June 2019 in Singapore) was hosted by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) as the finale to cap off the NAS Golden Jubilee (1968-2018) celebrations. This year’s symposium attracted 277 delegates from Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, North and South America and elsewhere; it included archivists, librarians, curators, researchers and specialists drawn from a broad cross-section of institutions.
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