National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA): Possible PhD topics

1. From archival collection to contemporary exhibition 

For the first time in many years, the National Film & Sound Archive is developing an original exhibition drawn from its vast collection of over 2.8 million items that it collects and preserves for future generations. This ambitious multi-year endeavour, which will culminate in a large touring exhibition in 2022, involves many aspects of the organisation, from Curatorial to Collection Stewardship, from Engagement to Communications. 

The candidate will be embedded with the Exhibitions team at the NFSA and use the development of the major exhibition over the next three years to carry out research into how an archival collection can be shared with renewed relevance for audiences in a contemporary market. The candidate will be involved in the project not just as a key curatorial voice but as a significant contributor to the value chain, with a real opportunity to shape its outcomes. Doctoral research outputs will include project-based outcomes including exhibition text, exhibition catalogue essays and associated symposiums, for example. The NFSA is open to interest from all Schools and Centres within the Research School of Humanities and the Arts and candidates with an interdisciplinary approach will be considered favourably. 

2. Indigenous Collection Analysis 

The National Film and Sound Archive holds a unique First Peoples collection, encompassing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander items as well as elements from neighbouring countries (for example Papua New Guinea and New Zealand).   
This collection has not been examined in depth in some years and would benefit from an analysis. 

Possible outcomes: 

  • Identification of pathways how to engage Communities and connect Communities with the NFSA First Peoples Collection. 
  • Catalogue – Indigenous Collections : First Peoples Australia and International Collection 
  • Collection gaps analysis to develop the NFSA First Peoples Collection to better represent the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia 
  • Investigate procedures and protocols relating to the management of Culturally Restricted Digital Collections 
  • Identify Language Groups connected to collection items 
  • Significance Assessment of the Collection 

3. Environmental humanities - Climate change in social/cultural/archival  context   

Used effectively, the stories and evidence held in audiovisual archives can transform social values and challenge cultural norms. As a result, archives have a role beyond the capture and preservation of culture; they also need to be active participants in social discourse relating to global issues.  Productions such as An Inconvenient Truth have already proven the effectiveness of combining audiovisual works with environmental science to significantly change the world's reaction to climate change and, perhaps more significantly, humanity's relationship to nature.  At such a significant point in human history, should an archive's social responsibility go beyond standard preservation and access programs? Are there new ways that archives can facilitate research into our collections? Can archival collections present a cohesive narrative of Australia's attitudes and responses to social issues - especially when many views are so diverse? Do we have the correct information structures to satisfy the needs of current and future researchers? 

This project aims to prove the value of archives in environmental humanities studies with a focus on climate change.  The project will focus on a specific geographical area (e.g. the Murray Darling Basin) and then: aggregate audiovisual content that relates to that area, including works made in the area or about the area;  develop information structures that facilitate interaction with a range of environmental science systems and organisations, such as Geoscience Australia, CSIRO and the Murray Darling Basin Authority; then, present outcomes that demonstrate Australia's scientific and cultural response to climate change in the area, potentially leading to a symposium relating to the use of archives in scientific studies. 

4. Social impact question: 

Within the humanities there has been considerable research into the intrinsic and instrumental value of arts and culture, including the consideration of the role, purpose and social impact of archives. In recent years consideration has been given to whether qualitative analysis of impacts, driven through government funding programs and arts policy requirements, is adequate to assess, report and grow the social impact of memory institutions such as the National Film and Sound Archive. An added complexity is the rise of the use of technology to facilitate access to collection material and curated collections, with page views and searches used to quantify success and impact. Models such as Simon Tanner's Balanced Value Impact Model have created ways in which to assess the success of digitised and distributed humanities content, and provide a structured approach to considering social impacts within strategic frameworks and business priorities. 

Could the National Film and Sound Archive be used as a test case/model for best practice in planning for, measuring and assessing the social impact and value of screen and sound collection material? Do we have the right balance in our strategic plan to deliver core functions of archival collecting and to deliver significant social impact to the Australian public? Where does the NFSA sit within the broader digital and entertainment ecosystem in Australia (and the world) and what does that mean for developing strategic direction? What role does the NFSA plan in the broader cultural economy of Australia, and are their areas of social impact (health, wellbeing, education, employment) that are areas of priority? 

The question of social impact of the NFSA could also be closely tied to particular collection areas or themes. For instance, the social impact of the accessibility and use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection material could be considered through case studies. 

5. Decolonizing audiovisual archives 

How to actively revision audiovisual archives such as NFSA  to balance out the colonial over/undertones of history with 21st century desire for a "democratic" collection. 

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Updated:  3 October 2019/Responsible Officer:  CASS Marketing & Communications/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications