by Tim Sherratt


  • research

Last year I was lucky enough to spend a few days with the most excellent folks of the State Library of NSW’s DXLab as a ‘Digital Drop In’. While I was there, I started playing around with a remarkable collection of photographs accumulated by the Tribune, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia. The photos document a wide range of political issues and protests — from the Freedom Ride of 1965 through to the First Gulf War. More than 58,000 of these images have been digitised and are available online.

The first thing I did was to harvest the metadata from the catalogue, so I could start poking around inside — looking at things like people, places, and word frequencies. As more and more of the images have gone online I’ve been updating my harvests at regular intervals and sharing CSV-formatted versions through GitHub. I’ve so far managed to find at least one example of an event that was photographed both by the Tribune and by ASIO — offering rather different perspectives. I also talked a bit about the collection at Sharing is Caring 2018 in Aarhus.

I even found a picture of me at Pine Gap in 1987.

But the DXLab has been patiently waiting for me to build something. In my usual, easily-distracted way, I’ve struggled to decide what that something might be — a discovery interface, a visualisation, a timeline, a bot?

Now I think I know.

A few weeks ago, Bonnie Wildie spoke at the OpenGlam Miniconf, part of Bonnie created a wonderful #redactionart dress using the little critters I discovered living in ASIO files at the National Archives of Australia. In her presentation she talked about the thinking behind the dress — not just making, but critical making.

It’s funny to see your own practices through another person’s eyes. Bonnie described how I’d shared my ASIO explorations from the start, and how the #redactionart hashtag had helped turn a practice designed to withhold information into an opportunity for public engagement with the records.

I’m wondering if we can do the same with the Tribune photographs.

Just today, Kathleen Fitzpatrick opened a draft of her new book Generous Thinking for public comment. In the section on ‘Working in public’, she argues:

if we hope to engage the public with our work, we need to ensure that it is open in the broadest possible sense: open to response, to participation, to more new thought, more new writing, and more kinds of cultural creation by more kinds of public scholars.

There are many researchers and activists around the country who know more about the history of political action than I do. There are many people whose lives have been touched by the events documented in the Tribune collection. At a time when restrictions on people and information are being increased in the name of ‘security’, it’s important to remember the role of resistance.

I might make an interface. I might make a bot. But I’ll be more interested in what other people might do with the Tribune collection and how I can help them. The thing I’ll be creating is an ongoing experiment in openness, engagement, and critical making. I’ll continue to poke around in the metadata, creating new points of access and exploration. I’ll also be exploring how we can connect the Tribune photos to other collections around the country.

Who wants to join in? I’ll be using the #recordsofresistance hashtag, and posting updates to my open research notebook. If you find something interesting in the photos, write something about the events they document, or make something with the data, please share the results using #recordsofresistance. Let’s build something together.