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Beyond access: (re)designing archival guides for changing landscapes

journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-05, 04:01 authored by Michael JonesMichael Jones, Rebe TaylorRebe Taylor
In 2013, the authors of this article and their colleague Gavan McCarthy published Stories in Stone: an annotated history and guide to the collections of Ernest Westlake (1855–1922). The guide provided contextual information and digital access to the entire paper archives relating to the three large stone collections formed by Westlake during his lifetime: French and English geological specimens housed in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History from 1924, and a collection of Tasmanian Aboriginal stone tools stored in the Pitt Rivers Museum since 1923. The Tasmanian collections, formed by Westlake from 1908 to 1910, are highly significant to the Palawa (or Pakana or Tasmanian Aboriginal) community because they include objects made by ancestors, and words spoken by ancestors to Westlake and recorded in his field notebooks. Stories in Stone was created to improve access to Westlake’s Tasmanian collections for the Palawa community with whom author Rebe Taylor had worked closely since 1999. Nonetheless, the structural and technical design of Stories in Stone was not Palawa-led. It was driven by Australian and international archiving standards; by stipulations set out by the collecting institutions; and by the stories of collecting and subsequent scholarship on the collections. In 2023, Stories in Stone is offline, and the authors are planning a relaunch. This time they aim to reach beyond their original aim of providing archival access to the Palawa community, and work with Palawa community to co-design how that access is delivered. This consultative work will be done at the University of Tasmania, where Palawa advisors and other Indigenous scholars have been integral to developing international Indigenous data sovereignty principals. This article precedes those formal discussions and thus offers a timely reflection on the original aims and design of Stories in Stone as well as an extensive analysis of broader changes in the management and dissemination of First Nations collections and culture. Such changes include: international human rights frameworks; movements supporting data and archival sovereignty; co-designed archival technologies; and increased focus on archives as process not merely product. These developments will lay the foundations for the next version of Stories in Stone, which aims to go beyond access, scholarship, and standards by helping to facilitate First Nations’ aspirations for dignity, sovereignty, and self-determination.


Extinction, Survival, Resurgence: Indigenous and colonial histories : Australian Research Council | DP220101809


Publication title

Archival Science












History and Classics, Office of the School of Humanities



Publication status

  • Published online

Rights statement

Copyright © 2024 The Author(s)