The art of context

The art of context

Carleen Dekarski In the news

I recently visited a friend who was keen to show me a collection of newspaper clippings. The clippings were not particularly old, 2001. They were nicely framed up and covered the historical accounts of a bombing raid during World War 1. The papers were a special edition memorial about a particular event in which his great grandfather was involved. I provided advise about how to deal with the newspaper clippings which were framed but the glass was not UV protected and they were stored in a humid and light filled room. The papers had already turned quite yellow. To be honest I would have advised that as it is a readily available publication the need to preserve his own copy was more for his own sake that anything else. So enjoy the clippings and look after them but there was no need to undertake an astronomical expense for permanent preservation. Another copy from the digital version online or the paper record at the library would have been available.

However, this is where it is always important to spend time listening and understanding why people do things. This is where the concept of context needed to be accounted for. Why was he so keen on keeping these particular newspaper clippings and preserving them?

The newspapers took on a very different significance when it was revealed that the event covered in the memorial edition related to the events written about in letters he held from his great grandfather who was present at the event. The letters were stuffed away in a draw with little thought to preservation. It was at this point that things got interesting. I explained to him that the letters were important to preserve alongside the clippings. Why?

When reading the newspapers in parallel to the letters from his great grandfather they hit the mark on a number of areas that made the clippings more “valuable”. In particular; they provided a broader and richer source of information about the event when read together rather than each standing alone. We will call this, informational value. In addition, the letters provided a more personal insight to the event as there was now a real person involved with the story. This is magnified further when held by the family who connects directly to the letter writer. We will call this, personal value.

For me the circumstances surrounding why he was retaining these old newspaper clippings was sharply brought into focus. The content of the newspaper articles gave the letters greater context and vice versa. We could possibly glean more from the event in World War 1 by pairing the historical record provided by the articles with the eye witness accounts expressed in the letters. By talking it through my friend was able to understand more clearly the informational value of the clippings and letters he held.

Now the 2 collections (clippings and letters) have a different provenance i.e. they were created in different spaces of time and by different creators, so technically they would not be noted as one collection. However both collections if referenced to each other, or in this case held together, would provide a clearer picture in relation to the original event.

What a great end to a holiday, a great privilege to provide advice to a friend and see some family treasures given the care they need to preserve that much longer for future family members.

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About the Author

Carleen Dekarski

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I have worked in the quality management, information management and archival field over the last 15 years across Australia, England and New Zealand. The progression from information management to archives was a self taught journey and one that is not unfamiliar in many businesses and communities today. My daily expertise is grounded in local government archives however the principles of archiving apply to all. I am a member of the ICA and ARANZ.