National Archives award for creative visualisation

Media release: Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The National Archives of Australia will support a groundbreaking project that uses creative visualisation to interpret large sets of archival data, with its 2008 Ian Maclean Award.

National Archives Director-General Ross Gibbs has congratulated the award recipient, Dr Mitchell Whitelaw, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Design and Creative Practice at the University of Canberra, who will undertake the project. Dr Whitelaw is an internationally recognised researcher in new media and digital cultures.

'The proposal is to research and develop techniques to visualise large-scale sets of data, in order to support and inform both archivists and archive users,' said Mr Gibbs. 'This is a burgeoning area in the field of online access and discovery.'

The practical outcomes of the project will be prototype interactive, browsable maps of the National Archives collection that apply these techniques at different structural levels. A map of the whole collection will show the 'big picture' – the size, scope and historical distribution of different series of records, the relations between them, and their corresponding agencies and functions. A more detailed map will focus, as a test case, on a single series, accumulating data from individual records to reveal the distinctive 'shape' of that series.

'This represents a highly unusual approach to the study and use of the National Archives collection and has the potential to lead to new discoveries and fresh audiences,' said Mr Gibbs.

'Creative visualisation will be seen as increasingly important in years to come. As more archives are digitised, collections become available as large, rich datasets. While individual records are readily accessible, it is more difficult to gain a view of the whole and for users to orient themselves. The problem is not one of access but of presentation.'

The National Archives of Australia's annual Ian Maclean Award provides a paid opportunity for research that will benefit the archival profession. It is named in memory of Ian Maclean (1919–2003) who worked passionately for the archives profession both nationally and internationally for 50 years. The award was established to encourage and facilitate use of the National Archives' extensive collection of files, photographs, films and other items.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
  • Mitchell Whitelaw ()
    e mitchell.whitelaw@canberra.edu.au
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