Epiphany 1

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A friend, who I had not seen in a while, asked me how I had been.  I gave an answer that I had been involved in work, gym and church, and that kept me busy.  It would be good to do a summary of my progress.

Work has not been entirely satisfactory.  A conflict of personalities was resolved by the end of the year.  The leadership of the last year and more has been lost.  I feel disappointed over this waste of spirit.  New leadership will be appointed in early 2016.  I hope that this will prove to be a more stable relationship and a better workplace.

Gym and physical exercise is something that I do when I get time, usually any evening that I am free of appointments I fit it in.  Last year I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, 80/150 I think, and resolved to do something about it.  Diet made the biggest benefit, getting my weight down to 70 kilo.  I’m thinner, if not slimmer, through changing to low fat milk and edam cheese, as well as religiously reading the fat and suger content on everything I buy.  If it’s above 5 grammes per serving I look if there’s another option.  Exercising regularly helps.  I do a cardio programme of treadmill, stepping, and running at least a couple of times a week if I can.

I live across town to my preferred church, usually a forty minute walk.  Often I can get a ride.  I don’t depend on it.  I don’t get to many social events as available as when I live closer.  I’m an office-bearer and I’m over there for meetings regularly.  It acts as a social encounter for me.

There are projects on my computer that I continue with.  The imaginary language Brithenig continues to grow in lexicon.  I visit the university library to create new words from Welsh and Romance languages.  I continue other projects, an imaginary city which I add details to when I hear description, and a folder of imaginary characters I created years ago for writing fantasy.  The writing was never finished, the characters still remain.

My life continues, quietly, in one place.  There is always new books to read, new ideas to discover.

Hocken Lecture 2015: Archives, Public Memory and the Work of History

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Professor Tony Ballantyne, Department of History and Art History, University of Otago, New Zealand

Professor Tony Ballantyne, Department of History and Art History, University of Otago, New Zealand

This lecture was given by Tony Ballantyne, Professor of History and Head of Department of History and Art History, before an audience of nearly two hundred people on Thursday the 6th of August.

How do archives shape the past?  Historians rarely share their stories of archives in public.  Nor do they list the archives they have worked in.  Archive stories shape a historian’s story of the past.  Primary source research takes a historian into the gossip, controversy and arguments of the archive records.  Ballentyne has discovered the violence that occurred among first generation missionaries with limited resources and their own personal politics; and the transnational history in the exchange of letters, books and notes that occurred in an empire that crossed the globe, the rule of paper in communication.  The life-blood of empire was the networks of exchange connecting collectors in a global system.  The rise of national processes obscures global colonisation.

New history must emerge as the archives of colonial collectors are investigated.  Our history under the Waitangi Tribunal has been an investigation of the enquiry whether the Crown breached the Treaty of Waitangi in the colonisation of New Zealand.  As this question is resolved for this generation, at least, a new singularity emerges.  The opportunity arises to research the role of colonials hidden in the nation-building story.

Historians can only find what is in the archives.  There will be complexities and silences that affect the historic writing, the things the collectors never mentioned, who is included, and who is marginalised.  The reading of a cursive style of writing, ‘joined-up writing’, most of us no longer practice or read.  Marsden Online gives the historian access.  They also have to remember to see and handle the original document.  Electronic retrieval is not enough.  Historic figures in archival collections must capture historians.

Questions remain.  Is it inevitable that the archive stories and research become biographical?  How much more can historians do to encourage their students to come to the archives, to see and handle the original documents?

What Covers (and Protects) our Past, and everything in between

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Something different, an open lecture at the Centre for the Book, by migrant New Zealander Fenella France, a conservator at the Library of Congress in Washington D. C.

As usual, some thoughts I noted at the lecture:

The Library of Congress contains 155 million objects.  At least one historically important collection is counted as one object.

She needs to know about the sensitivity to light of a cartoonist’s felt-tip pens, the ones he ducked out for to his local newspaper stand.

The current fiscal environment means more collaboration between institutions.

A lot of work with imaging technology.  This is interesting comparing what is happening in New Zealand museums with Maori artifacts.

Thomas Jefferson expurged the reference to ‘fellow subjects’ from the Declaration of Independence, smudging it out and replacing it with ‘fellow citizens’.  She has ‘de-expurged’ the words with technology.  We discover how history is created, and written, right down to different hand-writings of various writers, quite literally.

Are those really President Lincoln’s finger-prints left on the second page of the Gettysburg Address?  Along with others in the lecture theatre I will wait to hear.

People believe that that big display is the original, overlooking the lesser object that might be displayed beside it.  Don’t they realise the economies of history?

Pay attention to fellow workers in other disciplines who work with the materials and handle them.  They might have something interesting to say, and open new avenues of discovery.

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

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This proved to be worthy of a visit.  I went twice to museum for a visit, the second time because ARANZ Dunedin, the Archives and Records Association held an end-of-year tea and we wandered around having a look.  I have already started referring to the museum as Toitu, a Maori word meaning To Preserve Forever and the name of a stream that runs under High Street.  People seem to know what I refer to, it’s easy to remember and less long winded than calling it the Settlers Museum.

The Presbyterian Archives donated a stonking huge pulpit bible to the interactive settler’s hut display.  It had been sitting on my workspace for half a year because I knew that there was someone who needed one.  I though it was a parish who was looking for a new pulpit bible.  It’s found a new home now.  The idea that the settlers brought a huge bible like that across for their spiritual comfort which would have taken up precious space that they had for luggage is an act of faith.

If you visit the display then try out the bed.  It’s padded with rushes and absolutely no give.  Could we have lived like that?  It would be a challenge and demand sacrifices.  They were a hardy lot.

We admired the big chunky horses that the museum had created as part of the carriage display.  Perhaps they come alive at night and race around the museum.  It would be quite fun to imagine a fantasy written using the elements that are available in the museum.

I found my ancestors among the portraits of the first settlers.  It was easier to walk around the walls until I found them than use the screens.  The display of the Chinese who settled Otago is gone as a unit.  Parts of it are scattered in other displays around the museum.

Even after two visits there is still a lot to see.  I will be going again.

Despite the end of the Mayan calendar the end of the world is not come upon us.  This means I will have to go out and do the last of my Christmas shopping.  Hopefully I beat the rain.

Reviving the Flame

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A couple of weeks ago I examined a historic document of the Presbyterian Church to consider the Church’s position relating to marriage equality.  The document in question was Chapter XXIV of the Westminster Confession, an English document imposed on the Scottish Church which for historical reasons has been our standard since then.

I’m sure the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has produced a statement on marriage and divorce which is more relevant; and even though it contradicts some of what this chapter states on marriage and divorce, does not have the authority of being a subordinate standard.  The modern confession Kupu Whakapono says nothing about marriage and divorce.

For my own understanding of the text I translated it into a created language I use for journal keeping and translated it back into English.  As the original document is written in dead sixteenth century legal language it was the only way to read it that was relevant for me.

In the confession only opposite-sex marriage is practiced.  Monogamy is expected.  Reformed Christians shouldn’t marry inter-faith, Papists, nor idolators; it will only lead to trouble.  If a spouse dies the remaining partner is not allowed to marry the late spouse’s relatives any closer than would be expected to be incestuous among their own siblings.  Sex outside of marriage or abandonment are the only reasons for divorce, and only after reconciliation is determined to be impossible.

The proverbial ‘dead wife’s sister’ slipped away be the turn of the last century.  Presumably early-to-late modern Victorians hated the idea of property slipping out of family hands and changed the rules about who could marry whom.  Presbyterians were resistant to this idea.  It delayed the union of Synod of Otago and Southland to the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand by a generation.

I find the modern resistance to marriage equality, and other socially liberal trends, among Presbyterians is comparable to the sectarian group, the Destiny Church.  At least they are honest about the code of conduct that they expect from their members.

I am also reminded of a document I have seen in several collections at the Presbyterian Archives.  It belongs to the Church Union debate, about the time the Plan For Union was going to fail.  It was copied from the New Zealand Listener, and described the membership in the old mainstream churches as being of two camps.  One stream saw the united church working towards the transformation of the society.  Our old friend Rutherford Waddell would have been a nineteenth century ancestor of this camp.  The other camp, resistant to Church Union, worked for change through the conversion and discipleship of individuals.  The presence of these two streams in the Presbyterian Church is evident in that both approaches are included in the Church’s statement on the Five Faces of Mission.  They exist like yin and yang.

I continue to support marriage equality, and the inclusion of people of diverse orientations into the Church.  I claim no sexuality.  As a younger man in deciding whether I was gay or straight I decided that I would chose to be neither.  I would be a celibate.  It was a gift, easily chosen, a charism from god.  I suspect there are a handful of others who have made the same choice.  In our sexed-up culture of identity it is not discussed except as a disorder, a taboo.  Still we can enjoy others’ identity because ours is fluid, a liminal state, on the threshold, the maiden aunts and uncles.  Perhaps some day I may return the gift if I chose to lay it down.  While the Church rules no one in a queer relationship can be a leader in the Church my gift is being used as a millstone on the innocent, and we are all suspect and distrusted.

Mother Kirk does not trust me, her errant and heterodox boy!

Risk Management Training

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This was a one-day course that I did through Triptych Conservation Services.  It was held at the University Library and despite being midwinter the room was fuggily warm.  The course was presented by Joy Culy and Stephen Williams.  Stephen had first-hand experience of a significant fire in a memorial library in Norwich 1995.  People for the course came from around Dunedin, Invercargill, even one person who was available from Auckland.

Stuff I wrote down:

Map drawers laid criss-cross act as good suppport for documents.

Wax boxes can create a damp micro climate.  They are also flammable so archives, libraries and record services using them need to rely on good fire suppression.

It doesn’t take much water to expand a book.  We were shown a telephone directory they had prepared earlier, in a bucket, with a cup of water.  The directory absorbed all the water over three quarters of the pages.

Big collections should go back into boxes while processing.  I should have followed that advice while I was doing Hoon Hay Parish.

Document the process of managing a disaster for insurance and tracking.  In some cases the insurers may get in before the archivists.

Processing for freezing:

layer documents into plastic crates, or sturdy boxes.

bag or interweave books using freezer paper or freezer bags.  Lay the books flat or with the spine downwards to preserve its shape.

avoid loading boxes too heavy, use smaller-sized boxes if necessary.

Archives NZ or National Library have access to vacuum freeze-drying.  There is no specialised unit in the South Island.  Cost does come into play here.  Any labelling or tracking notes should be included on the paper or in the book, notes on the plastic wrap will be lost in the process.

Blotting paper can be used for air-drying, useful stuff.

Triptych has disaster kits.

Coloured archive tape leaks when wet.

Make sure everyone knows their place in the action plan.  Review and test the plan.

Co-ordinate with other institutions; keep contacts up-to-date; trust your network.

Deaccessioned material is useful for using in realistic mini-disaster exercises.  There was some talk after the event of organising doing our own exercise.  I would be keen.

I didn’t get any new advice on how to get the smokey smell out of burnt records.


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It’s the end of the week, and I did things.

It’s Archives Week and we went to Archives New Zealand on George Street in Dunedin to see the displays the local archives had put out there.  The theme was on Scandal.  The Settlers Museum put on a display about the Vauxhall Gardens, which was family fun to visit during daylight hours and a meeting place for those of negotiable virtue after dark.  Yvonne prepared a display on the Scandal of Neglect for the Presbyterian Archives, what happens to records left forgotten to vermin, in ceilings under the heat of iron-clad roofs, and wrapped in moisture-holding plastic in damp vaults.  National Archives prepared two displays, one about Amy Bock, who scandalised conservative nineteenth-century society for disguising herself as a man, even marrying another woman; and about Superintendent Macandrew, the provincial governor of old Otago, who when sentenced to gaol for debt, managed to have his own house declared his prison for a while, the first case of home detention.

I was told on Wednesday that the Department of Anatomy had organised a memorial for Grace that afternoon.  She did not want a funeral.  Most of the people there were from her workplace and were not familiar to me.  I drank a cup of excellent coffee and listened as others spoke to her memory.  I don’t mingle willingly and left after half an hour when the speeches ended.  It was an unfulfilling occasion.  I am determined not to do the same to those who remember me after my death.

Currently reading Streetlife by Leif Jerram.  It’s a social history of European cities written from the perspective that great men do not begin events, it is in the movement and motives of people on the street that history happens.  What an exciting book!  It is bursting with ideas.  I’m loving reading it!  I was inspired to get out of the library because I had seen it in the University Book Shop window and I wondered what it could tell me about the life of cities.  Now that I have started reading it I am considering buying my own copy.  I think it is an important book.

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