Summary of the article: “Archivbericht Neuseeland” – 2009

Almost 15 years ago, in 2009, the german archive journal “Archiv, Theorie & Praxis – Zeitschrift für Archivwesen” of North-Rhine Westphalia had published a general overview and introduction of the Aotearoa New Zealand archive system. You can find the article as a .pdf here under this URL online in german language.1

Heusterberg, Babette: Archivbericht Neuseeland, in: Archiv, Theorie & Praxis – Landesverband NRW, 62, 2, 2009, p. 176-182.

With this blogpost, I would like to offer you a brief summary in English language of the article: Archives are an essential part of preserving and providing access to historical records and cultural heritage. The authors explores the archival landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand, with a particular focus on the National Archives /Te Rua Mahara o te Kawanatanga. The article provides an overview of the history of archives in New Zealand, the current state of archives, and the various initiatives that Archives New Zealand has undertaken to improve its services and increase access to its collections.

The history of archives in New Zealand:

The history of archives in New Zealand dates back to the early colonial period, when the first government records were created. However, it was not until the late 19th century that a formal archival system was established. The National Archives of New Zealand was started in 1957 and changed to Archives Aotearoa New Zealand in 2003.

Current state of archives in Aotearoa New Zealand:

The archives in Aotearoa New Zealand are classified into three primary categories, namely government archives, private archives, and community archives. Archives New Zealand is responsible for preserving and providing access to the records of the New Zealand Government and other records of national importance. Then the author describes the various functions of Archives Aotearoa New Zealand which includes appraisal, acquisition, preservation, and access. The article also discusses the obstacles faced by Archives Aotearoa New Zealand, including the limited resources and the necessity to balance access with privacy concerns.

Archives New Zealand initiatives:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has undertaken numerous initiatives recently to improve its services and increase access to its collections. These initiatives include the digitisation of records, the development of online finding aids and the creation of partnerships with other institutions. The article also discusses the various outreach programmes that Archives New Zealand has developed to engage with the wider community, such as school programmes and public exhibitions.

Digitisation of records:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has undertaken a significant digitisation programme to make its collections more accessible to researchers and the public. The digitisation programme includes the scanning of records, the creation of digital finding aids and the development of online databases. The article notes that while digitisation has many benefits, it also presents challenges, such as the need to ensure the long-term preservation of digital records.

Online finding aids:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has developed a range of online finding aids to help researchers navigate its collections. These finding aids include online catalogues, indexes, and guides to specific collections. The article notes that these finding aids have greatly improved access to Archives Aotearoa New Zealand’s collections, but there is still work to be done to ensure that they are comprehensive and up to date.

Partnerships with other institutions:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has developed partnerships with other institutions to increase access to its collections and promote the importance of archives. These partnerships include working with museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. The article notes that these partnerships have been successful in raising awareness of archives and creating new opportunities for research and engagement with the wider community.

Outreach programmes:

Archives Aotearoa New Zealand has developed a range of outreach programmes to engage with the wider community and promote the importance of archives. These programmes include school programmes, public exhibitions and online resources. The article notes that these outreach programmes have been successful in raising awareness of archives and creating new opportunities for engagement with the wider community.

Challenges and future for archives in Aotearoa New Zealand:

Despite the many initiatives undertaken by Archives New Zealand, there are still challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of New Zealand’s documentary heritage. These challenges include limited resources, the need to balance access with privacy concerns, and the need to ensure the long-term preservation of digital records. The article concludes by calling for continued investment in archives and greater collaboration between archives and other cultural institutions to ensure that Aotearoa New Zealand’s documentary heritage is preserved and made accessible to future generations.

  1. Heusterberg, Babette: Archivbericht Neuseeland, in: Archiv, Theorie & Praxis – Landesverband NRW, 62, 2, 2009, p. 176-182. []

Race against time to preserve records

In 2023, PARADISEC1, the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures, celebrates two decades as a vital online repository for the cultural heritage of endangered languages and musical traditions. Founded in 2003 and based at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Archive focuses on preserving recordings from endangered regions such as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Australia, with a particular emphasis on Oceania. The archive’s vast collection has grown over time and now includes audio and video content in 1,350 languages. With a focus on Oceania, the archive contains recordings of performances, narratives, songs and oral traditions – a staggering total of more than 15,700 hours of audio and 2,600 hours of video. This collection of over 200 terabytes offers a profound insight into indigenous cultural practices.

A pressing challenge for the archive’s team is the digitisation of analogue material dating back to the 1950s and 60s. These analogue recordings, which are prone to degradation, risk becoming unplayable after 2025. In contrast, digitised versions offer longevity and accessibility. The PARADISEC team is racing against time to ensure these records are preserved and accessible, especially to communities with limited bandwidth. A unique tool using portable Wi-Fi networks makes it easy to access digitised materials. The importance of PARADISEC goes beyond preservation; it serves as a bridge between past and present cultural practices. The archive is central to preserving the identities of Indigenous communities, underpinned by language and music. Steven Gagau, a Tolai man from Papua New Guinea, emphasises how PARADISEC empowers speaker communities, enabling them to access and engage with their cultural heritage.

Dr Amanda Harris, Director of PARADISEC’s Sydney Unit, highlights the creative potential unlocked by the preservation of language and song recordings. The archive not only preserves traditions but also inspires innovative uses for the future. Over two decades, the collection has grown in both content and community engagement, fostering a deeper connection between Australia and its Pacific neighbours.

Jodie Kell, audio engineer and manager of the PARADISEC laboratory in Sydney, highlights the challenges faced during the preservation process, including the fragile condition of some analogue tapes. Despite these hurdles, digitisation breathes life into fragile recordings and brings invaluable cultural artefacts back to life. The archive’s online accessibility ensures that recordings of cultural heritage are available to speaker communities and researchers alike. As technology evolves, PARADISEC remains at the forefront, exploring innovative ways to engage remote regions. Recent collaborations have highlighted the symbiotic relationship between archives and communities, demonstrating that reviving ancient practices through singing can be a creative, transformative endeavour.

  1. Paradisec (2023): Race against time to preserve pacific recordings, in: The National Tribune, “https://www.nationaltribune.com.au/race-against-time-to-preserve-rare-pacific-recordings/?fbclid=IwAR1yohHggDrLzgF4LVK2inGtKbd2eDfOg33LvV5gscNeuF65_R3_cbriA5Aedin.com/analytics/search-appearances/, [Last Access: 15.08.2023] []
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