All over the world migrants have influenced and changed the cultures of the countries where they have settled, and they have built new communities that have retained connections, to differing degrees and by various means, with their original homelands. The multiple traces that they have left in official and unofficial documents potentially provide a rich resource for supporting and celebrating a sense of identity within such communities and for capturing and maintaining their histories. The gathering and preservation of these histories are also fundamentally important for enabling research on immigrant cultural heritage and thereby contributing to deeper understanding of cross-cultural and multicultural issues in an era of unprecedented global movement of people away from their homelands. In the case of migrants, collecting information that can provide relevant data is complicated by the fact that at least two countries are involved, with different laws, policies and conventions for data storage and access, and also in most cases, different languages.
In this project between two countries, via close collaboration the Digital Humanities Research Group at the University of Western Sydney, Curtin University and the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague, sets up processes for overcoming barriers such as these that have stood in the way of cross-national research on migrant lives in the past.
The importance of cultural heritage to national economies and social capital is widely recognised. In 2014 the Council of the European Union adopted the ‘Conclusions on Cultural Heritage’ confirming cultural heritage as ‘a strategic resource for a sustainable Europe’. The ‘Conclusions’ recognised the role of participatory governance in ‘triggering new opportunities brought by globalisation, digitisation and new technologies which are changing the way cultural heritage is created, accessed and used’.[*1] It is these new opportunities that this ‘Migration, Mobility and Connection’ project responds to.
Documents and evidence of the history of migration are spread very widely, and in most cases have been almost entirely inaccessible for research purposes in the past in Australia. This project is a study on Dutch-Australian mutual cultural heritage. Its aim is to begin the process of finding, assembling and organising into accessible and searchable formats, information in selected key archival records, in both Australia and The Netherlands, relating to Dutch emigration to Australia.
The project is conceptualised as a pilot that addresses difficulties faced by transnational collaboration of this kind and proposes ways of overcoming them. It will work through archival and custodial challenges in the discovery, collection, preservation and content management of traces from the past and propose new digital approaches that may lead to solutions. While the initial focus will be on migration, in the context of the maritime and mercantile history that the Netherlands shares with Australia, the project aims to establish a model that can be utilised for further Netherlands–Australian mutual heritage work and, potentially, for other immigrant groups.
Joint activity is underway to design a database for the project that integrates data in Australia with data in The Netherlands. Three digitised datasets contain representations of migrant travels: (a) Netherlands database (registration cards); (b) National Archives of Australia database (casefiles from several series); and (c) Nominal rolls / ships’ passenger lists (representing a high percentage of digitisation in the National Archives of Australia). Items (a) and (b) are to be used for the data backbone; item (c) can be used for a more geographic visualisation (migrant mobility between the Netherlands and Australia and vice versa) and enrichment of the data backbone. The three datasets are different sources of information about the same people and voyages; they can therefore be used to determine where each of them has structural gaps (if any) and make it possible to produce a more detailed estimate of the numbers of people that migrated and the way they travelled.
migration, identity, cultural heritage
[*1] See http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52014XG1223(01) (accessed 25 May 2016)