Deb Lee-Talbot

HDR student

Thesis title: Kaleidoscopic archives: finding feminist histories in the Pacific records of the Australian Joint Copying Project.

This thesis examines how London Missionary Society records were created, preserved, curated, and disseminated from 1861 to 2020. I examine how materials that originated on the mission fields of Rarotonga and Papua evolved from paper documents of remote Oceania missions to Imperial records of the LMS in London, before becoming microfilm artefacts of Australia’s post-war political and historical interests in the Australian Joint Copying Project. Paying particular attention to the AJCP phase of the LMS records, this thesis weaves analysis of documents from the mission fields and the formation of archives with the writing of Pacific histories, to explore issues of gender and identity. 

Kaleidoscopic archives draws heavily on scholarship concerning the ‘archival turn’ of the last ten years. The research of the historian Arlette Farge and the anthropologist and historian Ann Laura Stoler have significantly informed my research. Yet I am more interested in the history of surrogate archives, such as the AJCP. I consider the long series of choices made in relation to these documents, from 1867 when the evangelical Christian Jane Hercus Chalmers created documents detailing her life at the mission house on Rarotonga to the moment in 2019 when I stepped into the State Library of Victoria, threaded the microfilm M612 onto the reader and opened her letter, addressed to ‘Dear Harrie’.

  • What has been the highlight of your candidature so far?

    Travelling to Papua New Guinea. Meeting members of the Hanuabada community, hearing their perspectives, and seeing the landscape that I had written of, and imagined, for so long.

  • What has been the most unexpected moment of your candidature so far?

    Dealing with a pandemic and losing access to the archives, conferences and communities I had intended to interact with and learn from. Also, people actually want me to talk about my research. It has been a valuable experience to learn how to adapt to unexpected inference during a project and that I can adapt my research in response.

  • You are stuck on a desert island with four books. Three are related to your field/area and one isn’t. Which books do you bring with you?

    Shaking Hands on the Fringe, Tiffany Shellam 

    White Women, Aboriginal Missions and Australian Settler Governments, Joanna Cruickshank and Patricia Grimshaw.

    Gathering for God: George Brown in Oceania, Helen Gardner.

    How to Survive on a Deserted Island, by Tim O’Shei.

  • Writing is big part in the HDR process. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing mood/vibe/mindset?

    If I am at the writing stage, some freeform or journal writing for ten minutes. If I am editing, listening to a specific music playlist. 

  • If you could research another area/field/topic outside of your current area/field/topic, what would you research?

    Creation, negotiation and transformation of gender roles in asylum seeker communities within Australia. Research into changing trends in religion would also be of interest. Engage with museum practices to improve access. How particular books shape societies and culture.

  • What do you do to relax and unwind after a long day of research/writing? (Alterative question: what do you do when you’re not working on your HDR?

    Enjoy hearing what my family have been doing that day, listen to blues, jazz, talk with friends, garden, restore vintage furniture, craftivism, hike, haunt GLAM locations.

  • Imagine an ideal world with no constraints. What would you be doing with your HDR/where would your HDR take you?

    Upon completion, my PhD would take me across the Pacific and into various communities where I can learn from various people and societies what it is to belong to the Pacific, what it means to be what it is to be a man or a woman in these spaces and how religion functions in these communities. I’d also engage with archives at a deeper level, working with archivists to promote preservation, access and equity for these resources.

Australian Policy
 and History

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