Hidden Heritage

Preserving, presenting, and reusing personal collections

School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington

This project, run by a team of researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, looks at the heritage potential within personal collections of significant individuals and the issues people face when organising personal collections. A significant individual is a person whose actions during his/her life produced something relevant or notable for future generations, and whose collections of papers and artefacts has direct or indirect heritage value. A personal collection is a collection of photographs, videos, artefacts, documents, letters, books, newspapers, etc., in physical or/and digital format.

We investigate how significant individuals or the family members who inherit their collections organise and preserve personal collections. Organisation and preservation include, for example, deciding how to act (what to keep, what to discard, how to store, digitise), how to share these collections (how to negotiate with libraries, museums, archives, galleries), and how to deal with the psychological (emotions) and legal aspects of this process.

Research shows that family and personal records are considered critically endangered due to poor storage, media obsolescence, a lack of documentation, confusion over intellectual property, over-abundance, a lack of awareness or planning, and many other causes. Even though information institutions such as libraries, museums and archives have been working on solving these problems since their creation, much can still be done in a personal domain. To address some of these problems, this research project will examine the perspective of the individual and will explore:

  1. the discoverability, organisation, preservation, presentation and (re)use of personal collections of significant individuals whose life and work has potential heritage value,
  2. the implications that these collections have for galleries, libraries, museums, archives, and records units (GLAMR), and
  3. the role of technology in linking together personal and collective heritage.

The main objective of the Hidden Heritage project is to explore ways to preserve personal collections of potential cultural heritage value. During the research process, we as researchers wanted to raise awareness among participants about the importance of preserving personal and family collections and help participants build skills to organise and preserve their own collections and negotiate more successfully with libraries, archives, and museums. The research results will provide suggestions for more effective organisation of personal collections to protect future collections from being lost. The information from our research will be used in academic publications and conferences.

Putting university values into action

We aim to achieve our project goals in accordance with the values of our university, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington:

  • The research recognises and respects the reciprocal relationship between the researchers and the participants in achieving this aim where both teach each other and learn from each other (Akoranga).
  • The researchers acknowledge the close relationship between personal and collective in cultural heritage collections and aim to strengthen a sense of belonging through exploring how personal collections influence collective memory and identity, and vice versa (Whanaungatanga).
  • We are committed to gaining a better understanding of existing knowledge about cultural heritage preservation and use (Whai mātauranga).
  • We expect having participants with diverse ethnic, cultural and social background and therefore we will support and respect their sovereignty, autonomy and leadership in the research process (Rangatiratanga) by letting participants share their views and guide the research process on their collections as they find appropriate.
  • As researchers, we will share our views and knowledge with respect (Manaakitanga) and will aim towards joint guardianship of the knowledge creation process (Kaitiakitanga).

We use ethnographic and action research, including case studies with interviews and observations, to collect data. We interview participants about their practices of organising personal collections of documents and artefacts, and about their attitudes towards the potential value of such collections. If any considerable portion(s) of participants collection are digital and stored on their computer or external hard drives, we also invite participants to briefly use and provide impressions on software we have created that allows for annotating their collection for future (re)use.

This two-year project (August 2019 - July 2021) is funded by the Victoria University of Wellington University Research Fund. If you would like to partner with us or offer additional support, please contact Maja Krtalić at maja.krtalic@vuw.ac.nz. For matters related to this Website, please contact the Webmaster: jesse.dinneen@vuw.ac.nz.