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Panel and audience discussion

Chaired by Ian Coates, National Museum of Australia, 30 May 2008

IAN COATES: Welcome to the final session of today’s symposium which has been a really interesting dialogue with lots of different approaches, lots of different types of objects and representations. We are very lucky to have four experienced and innovative historians here with us on the panel to give some further thoughts about the themes that have come up during the day. I will give each of the panel members a short time to tease out some other issues that have come up and after that we will open up to questions from the floor.

GRAEME DAVISON: I have the sense of John Mulvaney and me resuming a conversation that began a long time ago because in the very early days of the National Museum the possibility that the collections of the Museum might be used for historical research was one of the questions we debated. I can remember a long discussion about what might be the potential use of a national collection of milk cartons which I think was the example we discussed. People have found much better things to collect than milk cartons. The answer to the question of whether museum objects can inform an understanding of history is best answered by example, and we have had some wonderful examples today. The quality of the case studies has brought out both the diverse potential and the richness of working with museum objects.

We have been asked to reflect a little on our own practice so I want to do that very briefly. One of the questions that interested me throughout the day has been what are the kinds of interpretive logic that we each apply to objects? Are there differences, for example, between the ways in which people in natural history or in archaeology use objects, where they seem to be somehow more intrinsic, compared with the way in which social historians use objects which often seems to be much more contextural. I was sorry that I got here a bit late this morning and missed hearing Mike Smith’s presentation but I have since had a chance to read his paper. I think the framework he provides is a very useful way of beginning to think about objects. You will recall he distinguishes between an understanding of objects through their provenance, thinking of objects as windows to discovery, seeing objects as sources in themselves and, if I can add one further category, the discussion we had this morning about materiality itself, about the way in which we actually relate to material world. They seem to me to be four of the things that we can learn through objects.

I want to very briefly cite two areas in which I have worked myself. Some of you will know that I wrote a book some years ago called The Unforgiving Minute, which was an attempt to write about time telling in Australia considered in its broadest way. I was conscious through work that I had done before of the way in which nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian society was a society increasingly ruled by the clock. If you try to examine that subject, you don’t actually find that people write in their diary, ‘This morning I got up and I consulted my watch.’ It is one of those silences in the written record, which in some ways is better understood, I discovered, by thinking about material objects and the ways in which in the first instance they are located in landscape. I spent a lot of time on that book travelling the countryside looking for clocks. My children came to object to this after a while because in every town we visited I had to take photographs of public clocks and I had to figure out whether the sound of the clock could be heard from different distances. But what I was trying to do was imagine myself into the world where the clock was a novel thing and where it was becoming an important part of everyday life.

Years later I had an opportunity to do something that amounts to an object biography when with others I worked on the history of the Powerhouse Museum. As many of you would know, one of its most famous objects for a long period of the Powerhouse’s history was the Strasbourg clock, the replica of the famous clock in the cathedral in Strasbourg that was made by a humble Sydney working man Richard Smith. If you have come across the book on the history of the Powerhouse Museum [Yesterday’s Tomorrows: the Powerhouse Museum and its precursors 1880-2005] you will know that I devote a whole chapter to the story of that clock, ‘The secret life of the Strasbourg clock’, I called it. For me it brought out all of the potential of being able to look at the life of an object not only the process of making it and not only the way in which it was taken up by the museum because Richard Smith remained the curator of that object – the mad curator as he was probably by the end of his life – but also it enabled us to look at the way in which that object was situated in the history of that museum.

More recently again, I was invited to write a chapter for a book on the history of domestic water consumption in Australia [Troubled Waters: Confronting the Water Crisis in Australia’s Cities]. This is a book mostly by social scientists who were interested in joining the argument about how our Australian cities should deal with their depleting water supplies. The suggestion was that there was something to be gained by trying to excavate the whole set of practices that we have for using water. When I got into that subject I very quickly discovered that first of all there are no statistics for water consumption in households back beyond early in this century. You have to reconstruct it. And what’s more you became aware that our practices of using water, particularly for bathing, are deeply connected with the ways we feel about our bodies - and not least about a subject that was talked about earlier in the day, body odour and smell. I found myself having to reconstruct the history of Australian attitudes to smell and odours of the body.

There is a wonderful story that I hope I have time to tell you: in the early 1960s the Bulletin magazine published an article by Sydney Baker, who was a famous lexicographer, in which he claimed that Ned Kelly was a homosexual. In support of this contention he cited two pieces of evidence. One was that he used perfume and the other was that he danced with other men. Norman Lindsay, who by then was in his 90s, read this article and wrote in objecting. He said he knew what Sydney Baker didn’t know that in the nineteenth century men routinely used perfume in a simple way in a time of different sanitary practices in which people put off what was otherwise the unpleasantness of having to meet with people in close quarters and deal with their body odour. So in search of the best sources on this I made my way back to the Powerhouse Museum where thanks to Kimberley Webber [Powerhouse Museum curator] I not only consulted catalogues but also was able to reconstruct much of the technology of water use in nineteenth century society.

In both the time telling and water use, I think what we are trying to do using museum objects is to fill what otherwise are great silences, matters in which we often don’t get direct evidence. Those of you who were brought up, as I was, on RG Collingwood’s The Idea of History will remember that one of his contentions is that what historians attempt to do is to think the thoughts of people in the past. What it seems to me we are often doing is also trying to re-experience in a fashion the sensory experience of people in the past or at least to replicate it. Whether that is something that is possible to do, I don’t know. I didn’t ask the people at the Powerhouse Museum whether I could find a piece of soap from that period and sit in their bath and actually simulate it, but something like that is what we are attempting to do. With that I will pass on to Paula.

PAULA HAMILTON: It has been a wonderful day. I would venture to say that, if we had more days like this of engagement and exchange between historians, curators and museum professionals, it would foster a much stronger sense of materiality amongst historians. I think it has been amply demonstrated, as if I needed convincing, objects in museum collections can contribute a large amount to our study of Australian history.

However, from this morning’s session I think you can see the limitations are also manifest. If we have a day here where we don’t have objects, it is even more difficult for historians to try to physically put objects in their narratives. But I think there is one more danger. I have listened to the stories about why we couldn’t have the three dimensions here and I am not convinced, I have to say. We are so much poorer for having only two dimensional objects here today and also they reinforce the sensory regime of the dominance of visual, as Maria Nugent made a point about this morning. In view of what Graeme is saying, we need to be attending to all the other senses in relation to material culture. It is that very three dimensional nature of objects that can help us to do that. That is the first thing.

The other thing is that, just as we have heard this morning about how material culture studies has had a profound transformation in the last 20 years, I was a bit worried that in some ways some people were setting up a kind of straw historian. What I would like to say is that the discipline of history has also undergone a huge and very significant revolution in the last few years. The questions about what is history and what is its purpose are being asked in very different ways by historians now. It actually involves historians thinking about the legitimacy of history in different forms. For example, there has been a big claim from film-makers about history being a legitimate form on film. The Internet and the scholarship in producing histories on the Internet is also now pushing into that question about what is history. It is not just a written account; it is any account in any kinds of forms where people are claiming the legitimacy of a history. So in that sense the question of how historians might use objects can be a much broader question, it seems to me.

The other issue that is related to the change and making history a more capacious concept is the question of audiences, which again was raised this morning. The question of who historians are writing for has become a very big issue since novelists seem to be all writing histories and doing it very well. Somebody raised the question this morning about whether we are just talking about academic historians here. Academic historians are only form of historians. It would be really interesting to try to get popular historians to engage more with material culture as well or people doing other forms of history, such as how do you represent materiality through Internet histories, et cetera. The questions become much bigger in relation to history.

What somebody else raised this morning was the centrality of experience to historical work of late. Graeme has just referred to that. The question of how people experienced objects - how they used them; what was their weight; how they smell; what sounds they made - they are the kinds of questions that people are asking about what Graeme has raised in relation to re-experiencing or re-enacting the past.

My other point is about memory. This morning Fred [Myers] gave a very good example of the way in which objects are important carriers of meaning across generations. What he revealed to us in the Native American context was that objects can carry meaning across generations, whether they are in museums or whether they are outside of museums. That was a very good example of the way in which it can even happen through - not ‘even’ but perhaps museums are a very important medium for connecting generations.

Along with history becoming a more capacious concept I think we can consider the issues that are raised by memory. What I mean by that is objects can provide powerful connection across generations, but there are some really knotty issues relating to remembering and forgetting that we could explore in relation to objects. Again somebody referred this morning to the way in which objects help you remember things you might otherwise have forgotten. They stimulate memory.

But as Margaret [Anderson] also revealed, what kind of social memory and what kind of history do we have if we only have what survives materially? As she very clearly revealed there are limitations to material sources in terms of how we can interpret them. That leads me back to the question of the intangible. Although some dimensions of humanity can’t be understood without materiality and some can, it raises the issue that has become very fashionable at the moment, which is the question of the intangible or what Roman Williams used to call ‘structures of feeling’. I believe objects can be a bridge between our mental and our physical worlds. But we need to be far more attendant to their multi-sensory dimensions. And by that I don’t mean necessarily that you try to use smell and sound in exhibitions, often with disastrous results. What I mean is that we need to be thinking about our language and the subtle connections you can make when you are thinking, as Graeme has very aptly illustrated, about how things smelt, how things sounded, how they felt when you used them and what the weight of them was. I think it enhances how we understand materiality a great deal more. That is all I have to say.

PHILIP JONES: It’s been a wonderful day and I think we owe a lot to the National Museum because I don’t think at the moment - certainly speaking for my own museum - there are many museums around this country that could pull this off. It’s wonderful to see all the practitioners here in the National Museum focusing on objects.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the book that was mentioned a couple of times this morning, Ochre and Rust and how that reflects my practice as a curator. I have been at the museum in Adelaide for some 20-odd years. Having begun there in the early 1980s some of you may remember that computers didn’t exist then and that it was a necessity to look through old ink written leather-bound ledgers if you wanted to trace objects in collections. One of my first jobs as a research officer was to do this drawing out objects from the lower Murray region in South Australia. This necessitated reading the collection, some 68,000 entries in the ethnographic registers in 11 volumes. The only way to extract the information was to read through every page and make a transcription in another register. This proved to be the best thing that ever happened to me in the museum, and it is something which is denied all modern museum researchers.

I wanted to begin with that anecdote and talk about two risks that lie in the area of the scrutiny or the interrogation of objects. In certain ways these two risks and possibly others have risen to the surface today. One is the risk that objects may become ends in themselves. It is wonderful to find one’s favourite object and then to have it worry you to the extent that you do interrogate it, you end up waking up at night thinking about it and having breakfast with it possibly, metaphorically. You eventually lay it to rest possibly by publishing it or exhibiting it.

But there is a risk there. The risk is that that illumination, that process, that energy and that electricity that you generate may not actually transfer to lasting knowledge; it may simply form its own vortex and eventually close over and disappear. When I began Ochre and Rust I had already been through the 68,000 objects. I had also written a PhD thesis on ethnographic collectors in the South Australian Museum. I identified 3200 ethnographic collectors across the Pacific and the Aboriginal collections and honed in on the 2200 collectors who were responsible for the Aboriginal collections and boiled those down to about 300 who I thought were significant. I then began a taxonomic exercise on those dividing them into the various levels.

Out of all that certain objects caught my eye that couldn’t be left alone, and it was those objects that came to the surface in Ochre and Rust. But they did so not just because they were transcendent luminous objects but because I believed that learning about them would illuminate an area of Australian history which I could see at that time was being characterised in a certain way. This was just before the history wars in which we all witnessed a polarising of stereotypes relating to Europeans and Aboriginal people on the frontier and we witnessed a stereotyping of the frontier itself as a hard and fast line which separated cultures. I believed what I was saying in these objects was a more complex set of factors which was proving the frontier as an interactive and interlocking zone of problematics, not necessarily one that totally resulted in heroes and villains in which heroes became villains and villains became heroes, but the objects themselves could act as witnesses. We have heard this term ‘biography’, a term I like. I think a lot is an object as a witness. It is a witness into a whole series of activities that have occurred in its own existence but also more broadly. What I mean is that these objects were selected because they had this capacity to illuminate a broader subject. I think that as museum curators we have this duty to resist the temptation of the alluring, luminous, transcendent object in its own terms but to find possibly more mundane non-descript objects that can actually take us into an area of history which either is poorly understood or is being misunderstood.

The second risk, which in a way Ochre and Rust represented an engagement with, was a risk that has emerged more and more in these few years elapsing since beginning the project and the book’s publication last year - this is the risk of a diminished engagement with objects by curators. There is an extreme irony in this because here we have this room full of people who are all engaging with objects one way or another, and I don’t think we have to have objects in the room to do that. We have the power of our imaginations. The risk is that curators are more and more disenfranchised from the collections in museums. This is occurring all across the country and all across the world, as far as I can see it.

What has happened is that collection management has been professionalised, and access to collections is more regulated than it ever has been before. This is a very good thing in many ways because it preserves the material possibly for future generations more so than the old regime. But it means that a curatorial oversight, the capacity for serendipity as one used to get in libraries that had books on shelves in stacks and you could move through them and turn from one to another in the same way moving from one wooden container that tells you something and then to another is a wonderful thing. Perhaps we have this risk now of losing this capacity. That is something that with Ochre and Rust I benefited from not having this regime necessarily being imposed at that time in history. It would be wonderful if there was some way of bringing back those capacities for museum researchers to encounter collections without the hoops they have to go through today.

MARIA NUGENT: One of the advantages of going last is that I can be very brief because it would be great if we had lots of time now for questions. I have a number of things to say. Most of the work that I have done around objects has been in relation to place. It has been about trying to write histories of conversations about people’s different ways of remembering the past. Botany Bay was an important site for being able to look at the materiality of historical remembrance in its uneven balance between quite heavy materiality in the monumental form compared with say the local Aboriginal communities’ efforts to have their histories preserved in material form while their occupation across place is genealogically long. I was interested in using material and objects to draw out those discrepancies between fleeting histories and long histories and the different materialities around those.

I have been interested in today’s discussion about where the object comes in to your history, whether you start with it or you do it as a supplement or you do it at the end. In a way, when writing place histories it is impossible not to use objects as a source along with the documentary, the ephemeral, the naming and the commemorative performances. Objects in that sense are so central. But also in tension with what Paula was saying about intangibility always in tension with the tangible or the immaterial, and some of it has come out.

I enjoyed this morning’s session for the different disciplines. It’s a bit of a shame that you have ended up with four historians at the end of the day. The anthropological approaches that Fred was talking about, the idea that objects are occasions for story telling and that in fact it is not the biography from the cradle to the grave but those moments in which they come back into circulation or they become occasions for story telling was incredibly important in that work on Botany Bay.

I want to move away from the idea that the object exists and you can write histories of it to the idea of thinking about historical moments or events with objects central to the thinking. I feel I am allowed to do this because Captain Cook has already been mentioned today, and the project that I am working on at the moment is about Captain Cook. You can’t think about Captain Cook in Australia without thinking about objects and, in fact, you can’t think about him unless you think about his attitude to objects and to things. He was using things as evidence. In his distribution of trinkets what he wanted to do was to test ideas about people’s attitudes to things, how they used them trafficking in things.

What is then interesting in this work is where you look at Aboriginal stories after contact about Captain Cook, he is remembered mostly as the man who gave things that Aboriginal people didn’t necessarily want or they did want them so they made distinctions between them, but he figures as a giver of things. Those ideas about objects, if you think about these histories with objects at the centre of your mind, thinking about how objects are structuring relationships and encounters and understandings after the event, the problem is that I don’t think the Museum has any of those Captain Cook objects, which is a shame because we don’t get to tell histories about Captain Cook which are fundamentally about what he thought he could do with things when he came to Australia. That is my point about thinking about things in the absence of things.

IAN COATES: I would like to open it up to questions.

QUESTION: Maria, I found that point really interesting about the absence. Having followed along the trail of object histories and what they give or don’t give, I am wondering about the absence of those at all and whether or not hierarchies within that become created by how many objects surround our history. And perhaps in the case of Iraq where objects are lost becomes another kind of history about that loss of objects. How do we start to talk about those histories when those objects are gone? I am interested in where we go from here.

MARIA NUGENT: To some extent people are doing that all the time when they talk about the objects they have, and I thought that came through in some of the presentations today. The existence of an object starts you off, but all around there is a whole series of lost objects as well. There is not a kind of presence of objects and absence of objects, but those things are always around as people are trying to write history. So in the end - and this has been floating through – there is that sense of contingency about what remains but that can be used quite productively.

QUESTION: But if there is no object is there no history? Is that the end point you might end up at if you get obsessed with the object?

MARIA NUGENT: Only if you are really committed to an idea of object history. Only at the point that you want to have an object with history. There are so many books about lost things, it seems to be almost an obsession to write about absence, loss and ruin.

IAN COATES: It does offer challenges to museum exhibitions. I remember the Museum of Contemporary Religion in Edinburgh was faced with an issue - Edinburgh being a town split in half between Catholic and Presbyterian. I think it was when the Church of Scotland came in they destroyed a lot of the catholic icons and things. So they had no material culture of their own that was linked very strongly with the Church of Scotland but there was a strong tradition of objects relating to the Catholic Church. You had this imbalance of objects to draw upon to tell the history of those two religions. I can’t remember how they resolved it but it was a major curatorial issue.

QUESTION: This is just a comment really on a thought that has been running through my mind all day but generally in my association with the Museum recently. It was triggered by the last session’s discussion about what do you do with materiality. What worries me as an historian is that here is a great opportunity to grasp the material nature of the object to understand how it is put together – which is partly your point, Graeme - how it functions, what it is made from. But so often it seems, even in our discussions today, there is this kind of tension between material histories and an object must tell a story. It becomes a kind of cipher for some narrative that you want to draw out of it. The unfortunate thing about that is that we don’t often pause to dwell on the material nature of the object that we are looking at. We always jump to say, ‘What kind of story can this tell us?’ Partly from dealing with some postgraduate students recently, I am finding that increasingly they are moving beyond texts to considering materials. They want to find ways of writing about materials partly because they don’t want to tell the seamless, breathless, one-dimensioned narrative; they want to explore other ways of understanding history and history as it is believed in by communities.

There are lots of problems with the new museum of ethnology in Paris, musée du quai Branly, but what really struck me and it has stayed with me since I was there is that they don’t caption things as a description full stop. They often caption things as a statement of its material quality and a question. Why did these people use dots or dot dashes as decoration? What does this suggest to you? Why have people done there? So often there is a scope in the way in which as curators but even as historians we present material not to assume that our readers are going to want the resolved story but maybe they are going to want a bit of a prompt to think about ‘What kind of question can you ask of this, because I don’t have the answer. Your perspective is going to be very interesting to me.’ That is something we can dwell on: to ask people to engage with the material rather than jump straight into the cipher of the story that it ought to represent.

PHILIP JONES: I agree completely. One of the projects that we are involved in at the South Australian Museum is a chemical finger-printing project on red ochre. Mike Smith has been one of the people who inspired this idea through his work. But if that comes off and we end up with a suite of diagnostic techniques for provenancing red ochre, we can suddenly draw lines between objects in the museum at different levels and link them in ways we have never been able to do before. For example, to be able to say that the ochre on this spear thrower comes from the mine that produced the ochre on this shield which actually belonging to another cultural group. I think to expose the logic of curatorial inquiry in the museum is the key thing rather than just simply asking a question. If all those questions are pointing to once again another area of knowledge which is being unearthed, then maybe the public can form the view that the museum is pushing forward coherently rather than just indiscriminately asking questions.

QUESTION: If I can just add to that: one of the great pleasures of bringing postgraduate researchers in history into the museum and having curators talk to them is that all of a sudden they realise there are exactly similar processes behind curatorial decisions that they undertook as textural researchers. It was such a breath of fresh air to realise there wasn’t some kind of seamless full stop provenancing that had gone into the object that they saw; there were a lot of very intricate research-based questions. I would encourage curators to grab that opportunity and say, ‘Look, the work that we do is research based. It is interrogative. It is about asking questions rather than just finding the problems.’ People have that assumption about curatorial work. It is just not true.

QUESTION: by Mat Trinca. Further to that and also picking up on Paula’s comments about widening a sense of historical accounts, it is useful to think about the technology of the exhibition in museums - we have touched on it a couple of times today but we haven’t talked about it exhaustively - the capacity of objects in that context and the relationship qualities of objects in assemblages within exhibitions actually provide opportunities for different kinds of historical meanings to erupt really. In a sense the discussion about more instrumentally thinking about objects as sources for histories that one might write, while not negating that opportunity or saying that that is not one that should be followed in terms of museum practice, perhaps it is the technology of the exhibition as an original historical account in that sense that provides some of the best opportunity for the museum as a theatre of objects in some ways to bring its perspective to bear in creating new understandings of the past. It is a strong element of the work that is happening at this museum. I think it promises also a great deal in terms of engagement with audience and for audiences to understand their relationship to a past and to understand some of the way that they are produced by the material world.

PAULA HAMILTON: I couldn’t agree with you more, Matt. That’s a really important point. I would argue that museums have taken up quite a bit of the ground that has shifted in relation to historical authority and museums are taking up the ground of telling some of the important Australian stories. With a more capacious understanding of what we can do museums will increasingly become important. But we need much broader engagement with curators with curators being out there more, I think. I am not quite sure what the problem is.

QUESTION: by Mat Trinca. Laina Hall, one of the curators here at the Museum, touched on this earlier today. She was asking a question about: What is the meaning that is produced through the relation of objects in an exhibition? One of the senior curators in that team, Kirsten Wehner, asks a very strong question that is germane to this discussion about the lack of a language to properly explore the kinds of historical meaning that emerge in the three dimensions of a museum exhibition. Part of this issue is about trying to construct a way of speaking and talking about exhibitions that doesn’t see them simply as translators of ideas a priori that have been generated outside the exhibition but are already produced in the context of the exhibition itself. I think there is much in that, but there is a need for a more involved discussion about the kind of historical meaning that is possible in the context of an exhibition.

MARIA NUGENT: I can’t think of an example but you are saying assemblages and things put together and relationship, yet the kind of model that people have talked about mostly today has been biographical. That seems to be at odds – I think someone else has already made this point – with that idea of bringing together disparate objects in some way in terms of the relationships you want to draw between them to tell a new narrative. It goes back I think to James Clifford’s work around thinking of different ways of writing which might be more like montage and juxtaposition rather than linear narratives, which no matter how the new, modern biographies are working, they work still as a linear thing. I think Fred [Myer] is right in that if you get too far down that track you make no sense in a way. It was the sort of stuff I tried to do with Botany Bay through bringing together an eighteenth century picture of Tim Bray, which comes from a French expedition that is in one museum, a breast plate of another Tim Bray which is in the Australian Museum and then a boomerang by a fellow with the surname Timberay to create a new kind of family history. But each of these objects belonging in different museums to tell very different stories unrelated to the locality or to the family. You are not saying that exactly, but these assemblages are critical.

QUESTION: by Clinton Johnston. I was wondering whether you feel this scientific deconstruction of objects has a negative impact on the aesthetic and emotional qualities of these objects or whether it creates an understanding of these objects that informs an appreciation of those qualities.

PHILIP JONES: I will set the ball rolling. I think you can do both, and we do both. The more you know about the object, the more likely it is that the emotional story that you can draw out of them is going to be believed. I don’t think this is an either/or; it is really a combination. The best biographies carry the reader emotionally and similarly with an exhibition.

GRAEME DAVISON: I can only add that you clearly see in different exhibitions different weight given to the aestheticisation of objects. There are some exhibitions which, by the way in which the object is presented, encourage you simply to stand back in awe and not to interrogate. Then there are others that really demand much more of you. I think part of the challenge in exhibitions is to find the means of enabling visitors to be able to engage in a variety of ways with objects. For example, I like the Pergamon Museum because there is a minimum of labels but they now cleverly use electronic interpretation to enable you to drill down to pretty much whatever level you want. So if you want only 10 seconds on that object, you can have 10 seconds; or if you want to go on interrogating it, you could stand before that object for about half an hour and keep asking questions. Technology is not always the answer, but I think we need to find means of presenting objects, whether it’s in an exhibition, in a catalogue, in a book or whatever, that cater for those different ways of approaching objects.

FRED MYERS: This is maybe not a good ending point, but I am struck, as we come to the end of the day, that there has been no discussion about photographs, which is a big part of archive that many people consult. We are really emphasising three-dimensional objects and ignoring another kind of object which is highly theorised and very complex in terms of capacity to tell reverse invert stories and so on. I don’t know that implications that has, but I think by accident in a way we have not got around to discussing some of those things. Maybe that is another symposium.

PAULA HAMILTON: Elizabeth Edwards has written a fantastic paper about the nature of photographs as material objects.

GRAEME DAVISON: I take seriously that suggestion that it’s a terrific topic for another symposium since those of us who are historians in Australia often access photographic collections these days through the National Library’s catalogue. In a way our first port of call is the object, and it is only afterwards we begin to recognise its provenance and where it is located. Thanks to that wonderful tool we are able to access a huge number of photographs but we are not necessarily engaged in the first instance directly with their provenance or the curatorial practices that have brought them into being and govern them. I think it would be wonderful if the National Museum perhaps together with the National Library and other people could bring together a symposium on photographs and photographic collections and how we interpret them. It would be fantastic thing to do.

IAN COATES: I think we might close it there. Thank you very much to the four panel members.

Date published: 1 September 2008