[University of Sydney] [State Library of NSW] [National Library of Australia] [Monash University]

Australian Cooperative Digitisation Project, 1840-45


This major collaborative project will provide for the digital conversion of significant nineteenth century Australian material to enhance literary and historical research. The project will ensure both increased access to, and preservation of, this material through a process of preservation microfilming, digital scanning, self-indexing document control structure, network access, and selected full-text enhancement. The focus will be on serial and fiction publication in the period 1840-45, a time marked by an emerging sense of Australian identity.

The project will:

The Project

The period 1840-45 has long been regarded [1] as a seminal one in the development of an Australian colonial culture. This period, following the end of convict transportation to NSW and preceding the influx of the gold-rush migrations, heralded the introduction of representative government in NSW (then the east coast) in 1842 and witnessed the early years of mass free migration to the Australian colonies. It was a period marked by an upsurge in local publication in both the older and newer centres of settlement.

This project concentrates on two key aspects of publication in the period, each reflecting in a different way the new conditions of a now largely post-convict Australia. The influx of free migrants to NSW was accompanied by the growth of the planned free colony of South Australia and the even greater growth of the unplanned future Victoria. This increase in population and commercial opportunities led to an increased demand for journal and newspapers. They were now published not only in Hobart and Sydney but spread to most capitals and to important regional centres such as Geelong and Maitland. This period also saw the beginnings of publication of specialised journals in fields as varied as science, sport and temperance, as well as the first papers specifically directed to a working class audience. Like most nineteenth-century Australian serials, the 75 titles initially identified for this part of the project had generally brief lives - only six were still being published after 1855, though, amazingly, two are still in operation. Access to these publications will be particularly valuable for cultural historians, but they will also be of immense interest to social historians, economic historians and family historians.

The 1840s also saw the real beginnings of the publication of Australian fiction (only two novels had appeared earlier). The second aspect of the project will look at the novels published from 1840-45 which were also largely inspired by the changed circumstances of Australian life, beginning the concentration on the description of bush life which was to be so dominant in later fiction. While access to these texts, none of which has been reprinted this century, will be particularly important for literary scholars, cultural and social historians will also find much of value in them.

This project emerged from discussions with librarians from the participant institutions and several academics working in nineteenth century Australian studies from a number of institutions. The primary character of the project, ie the focus on preservation and access of retrospective print collections, was inspired by work being carried out in the USA under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Commission for Preservation and Access, and particularly the projects being carried out at Cornell and Yale University Libraries (the coordinators of these projects have both agreed to be international advisers to this project) [2] - in this sense this project is based on international "best practice". The content focus of the project was identified and refined through discussions with a reference group of academic staff [3], and the organisational and technical basis of the project was developed through a number of discussions with staff from the institutions concerned, as well as a small test project on material from the Mitchell Library. Agreement about the viability and parameters of this as a discrete project was made with the decision to proceed with this application.

The material identified for the project is relatively rare, and is mostly held in either the National Library of Australia (NLA) or the Mitchell Library of the State Library of NSW (SLNSW) - the major collections of Australian nineteenth century material. The material has been identified through Ferguson's Bibliography of Australia- the most comprehensive bibliography of nineteenth century Australian material. The list of titles to be handled in the project is attached as Appendix 1. Protection of the physical integrity of the original material will be ensured throughout the project - in this concern we recognise the Modern Languages Association's Draft Statement on the Significance of Original Materials [4]. To ensure the protection of the originals, proper preparation of material for filming/scanning will be an important aspect of the project.

Nineteenth century Australian serials are a rich resource still largely untapped by researchers in Australian studies. They are often only held in one or two libraries, are sometimes in a physical condition which limits constant use, and are poorly indexed (though this problem is being addressed through a number of projects [5]). This project will make these under-utilised resources generally accessible to the wide community of researchers. The project will convert serials (journals and newspapers) that began in the period 1840-45. A few of these serials continued to be published throughout the nineteenth century. To maintain focus on the target period, reduce costs and simplify logistics, the project will only continue with those titles to the year 1855.

Nineteenth Australian fiction is the subject of research in many institutions, and there are several funded projects are underway looking at various aspects of this genre (eg Academy Editions of Australian Literature). Digital scanning of fiction offers many opportunities for textual analysis, particularly when the text is enhanced by OCR conversion to ASCII or further mark-up enhancements (eg Standard Generalised Mark-up Language (SGML)). Fiction of this period will, as part of this project, be enhanced, through OCR conversion of the bit-mapped images, to allow for textual research. This process will also demonstrate the capacity for researchers to select images of text for OCR conversion to enable more detailed textual research. This ability to select material for valued-added processes as required illustrates one of the strengths of this project, ie large-scale conversion of material to a minimum standard form that will enable researchers to download material to be enhanced as they see fit for their particular purposes. In this sense this is an "open" project, not restricting use of digitised material by technical restrictions (or technical over-sophistication) of the data.

Technical Aspects

The technical aspects of this project are detailed in Appendix 2, briefly, the project will work through several stages. These are: selection of items, conservation preparation of items, preservation microfilming to Australian and international standards, preservation digitisation of microfilm to .TIF image files, conversion of selected microfilm to ASCII text, design and implementation of document control structure and interface, design and provision of network delivery system (including compression), documentation and training, and preservation storage of microfilm masters and master digital data files.

The project will build on the experience with filming and digital projects at the SLNSW (eg The Banks Papers) and the NLA, and foster the development of such expertise in University Libraries. This project is technically sound and coherent, and is based on proven technology and developments which will provide an effective electronic resource to support and further Australian nineteenth century studies

Organisational Aspects

The management and organisational detail of the project is provided in Appendix 3, and curricula vitae of researchers and advisers involved in the project are listed in Appendix 5. The organisation and management of the project is based on the working collaborative relationships that already characterise Australian research libraries (now more formally recognised as providing the Distributed National Collection).

Overall management of the project will be through a Project Management Committee comprising representatives of the core partners and principal academic researchers associated with the project, and chaired by Professor Webby from the University of Sydney. This Committee will be responsible for overall direction, leadership and coordination of the project. At the operational level will be a smaller Project Steering Committee for operational control and supervision of the project, made up of a representative from each participant institution. The principal academic researchers will also comprise an Academic Advisory Group to provide advice to either the Project Management Committee or Steering Committee as required. The project will also be assisted by a Technical Advisory Group to provide specific expert advice in addition to the technical expertise provided by the participant institutions

The Project Leader will be the University of Sydney with formal responsibility for administration of ARC funding and reporting.

The organisation and management of the project is broadly based on a collaborative model where each library participant brings particular skills and interests to the project, and where each participant benefits from the project in acquiring other technical and management skills. Similarly, academic participants bring particular skills and knowledge, and also benefit by acquiring other skills. All work together to bring the project to realisation.

In the operational organisation of the project, each library participant will have a general area of responsibility, by virtue of expertise or position. However, importantly, each participant will also be involved in all aspects of the project to gain the benefit of experience of the project as a whole. In these arrangements Sydney would be generally responsible for coordination and academic specification; the NLA, for network and design standards; the SLNSW, for technical and design standards; and Monash for conversion of digital images to ASCII text. All participants would be involved in the common issues of content, preparation, design, technical production, user focus, broad management issues, conversion.

The distribution of actual workload during the project will depend to a degree on where the appropriate material is located, so flexibility in organisation, planning and use of support staff is important. Given the distribution of material, production vendors will have to be used in both Sydney and Canberra, so quality standards must be clear and consistent.


The budget for this project is detailed and justified by line in Appendix 4.

Total cost of the project is $A461,960, of which the participants will contribute in cash or kind $A116,410. This is a contribution level of just over 25% of total project

It should be noted that the value of this project is the content of the material freely provided by the participants, particularly the SLNSW and the NLA. This value is to an extent intangible, and has not been factored into the budget - but it provides the substance for the quality of the project.

The project is seeking ARC support in specific technological areas of the project for equipment and production costs associated with digitisation. It is these areas where the tooling of new facilities and the development of new skills needs particular support for the creation of this, and future, research resource infrastructures of a similar nature. To assist with the project we are also seeking funds for 3.2 research support staff. All management costs, and as far as possible all costs for "established" functions (microfilming, selection etc) are absorbed, though because of the importance of protecting the original materials some support is required here.

It is, in particular, assistance in the development of these new facilities, skills and expertise that will provide the basis for future infrastructure projects of this nature - in this sense the support sought is an investment.

The project will also provide opportunities for some cost-recovery in areas such as CD-ROM production, print reproduction, negotiation regarding commercial rights, other value-added products, and possible network user-pays arrangements. Overall design of the project needs to take into account potential income streams and opportunities, particularly as a means of assisting with maintenance costs. Direct income from the products of the project is not envisaged as significant, ie less than $A10,000 over 2-3 years after the project, and as any income will go toward maintenance it is very unlikely there will be any net income.

This is a discrete project designed around a twelve month funding grant. It is not envisaged that any next round RIEF funding will be sought, unless a new, discrete, project is developed building on the success of this project.

ARC Assessment Criteria

1. Excellence of research activity to be supported:

The period 1840-45 has been seen as a defining period in the development of Australian culture. It saw both the beginning of mass free migration and of freer travel within and between the colonies. It also saw an increase in the percentage of the population who had been born in Australia and so regarded it as home. The squatter and the merchant, rather than the government official and the soldier, began to dominate political and social life. The bush increasingly replaced Botany Bay as the dominant image in literary and other representations.

While the significance of the 1840s was recognised by George Nadel as long ago as 1957 [ibid, 1], Australian historians have still tended to concentrate their nineteenth-century work on either the earlier convict period or the post-1850s, especially the 1890s. Most will be surprised by the wealth of serial publications and fiction from the 1840s and by the range and sophistication displayed.

Researchers active in area are spread throughout institutions around Australia and overseas, and usually work as individuals or in small groups. There are few concentrations of research groups centred on specific facilities. The networking of these resources is the most effective means of provision, particularly when a critical problem in research is access to primary sources.

This project will create a unique infrastructure resource of primary material in nineteenth century Australian studies. Access to this electronic corpus via the National Library of Australia's network service to the internet will open the serial literature and fiction of this defining period to researchers throughout Australia and the world. In doing so the project will provide the conditions to extend and enhance the quality and excellence of research in the period. In particular, the serial literature of the mid-nineteenth century, an untapped primary source, will become accessible.

The advantage of these kind of network linkages to individual researchers in Australia and overseas are myriad. It will allow access at the scholar's workstation of material presently held in a few major library collections. Research groups will be able to download blocks of digital information for their own specific purposes. The digital nature of the data means it can be used and manipulated in a variety of ways by researchers, for example from etymological and linguistic analysis of the written literature (see Macquarie Dictionary support), to detailed historical research through the manipulation and analysis of historical records in a form not previously available.

More than just providing enhanced access to scholars, this project has the potential to generate increased research interest in nineteenth century Australian studies by simply making available in an accessible and manipulative form primary source material. The potential of such electronic collections to generate interest is recognised in the major digital projects of nineteenth century material in projects overseas, eg Making of America project, a major collaborative project looking to the conversion and preservation of nineteenth century American material.

The project itself is an example of high quality activity, drawing on international "best practice" in large-scale digital conversion of historical collections. As a benchmark project for the digital conversion of print materials, it explores and implements technical production standards (in filming and scanning), standards in the creation of document structure that facilitate easy searching of the material, and tests the network platform and other options for distribution of converted material (including CD-ROM).

The success of this project will also provide a basis for further collaborative projects that will link and encourage a variety of infrastructure activities through the digital conversion of historical textual material.

Between them, the academic and library researchers associated with this project bring a combination of skills and knowledge which will ensure its success. Details of curricula vitae, experience and publications are included in Appendix 5.

2. Degree of concentration and quality of the research group.

This project will facilitate quality research in nineteenth century Australian studies by using network access to provide, in essence, a distributed research collection of primary sources within the parameters of the project.

This project is totally consistent with national initiatives associated with the concept of the Distributed National Collection through the opening of rare or unique material presently located in a few major collections to a new level of resource sharing. Moreover this initiative is consistent with and integral to the recommendations of the Towards Federation 2001 Summit [6], particularly those relating to access and preservation of Australia's documentary heritage.

The project is consistent with the thrust of federal government policies including "Open Learning", and "Creative Nation" where information technologies are addressed to "transmit the heritage of the past and create the heritage of the future" [7]

The melding of academic excellence in the content of the subject and the initiatives of technical best practice are the key to the strength of this application.

3. Value to industry and other users of research results and potential for commercial development of research results leading to national benefit.

The value of projects such as this to the developing Australian communication and information industry include:

  1. A direct contribution to the development of industry skills and expertise in the conversion of cultural material to digital format for use by researchers and in the communications industry. Vendor work in production filming/scanning for this project to quality standards will facilitate development in this industry.
  2. Commercial benefits through the provision of cultural content in a digital form that can be directly used in multimedia and similar technological developments (see Discovery Media supporting letter)
  3. Benefits to existing database projects, which, as well as being of scholarly importance, also have industry dimensions (see support from Macquarie Dictionary and the Australian Defence Force Academy Library)

The issue of copyright in relation to digital form of converted material is complex and unclear, and this project may provide an insight to this important issue.

Other national benefits to, and beyond, research, through the creation of a unique networked electronic corpus include provision of this material to libraries, schools, universities and individual researchers around the world, with the potential to create increased interest in nineteenth century Australian studies.

In its way, this project address the main themes of the 1992 White Paper on Science and Technology [8]. These are the innovative use of information technologies to support research, assisting to raise awareness of technology through use in Australian studies and humanistic research, and assisting with the creation of a skills base in a specific use of information technology leading, in turn, to infrastructure creation.

4. Increased institutional capacity for consulting, contract research and other service activities.

This project will provide an increased cooperative/collaborative capacity for further digital projects as the technical skills and management expertise develops with experience. It will lead to an improvement in skills and expertise for all participants. As an project centred on academic need and interests it will also provide a bases for the development of the skills and expertise of researchers and scholars in the creation and use of such digital information.

Experience in this project, will stimulate similar developments providing benefits to the national resource infrastructure, and create opportunities in consulting and service activities, including acting as a "digital content providers" and other contractual opportunities for participant institutions as their staff develop technical and management skills in digital conversion.

5. Ability to contribute to international links in research and innovation leading to national benefits.

The immediate and direct benefit to researchers internationally is, that as a network-based project, this will offer world-wide access to Australian nineteenth century material via the internet. This will be of particular benefit to research groups studying Australian history or literature in institutions overseas. In general it supports the thrust of the "Creative Nation" statement of taking Australia to the world.

A particular strength of this project are the direct links to leading edge projects in the USA through agreement of the coordinators of the two leading American benchmark projects at Cornell and Yale to act as international advisers to the project. This proposal will, then benefit directly from the best advice and practice of those projects. These linkages will ensure that world class skills and innovations in digital conversion of print material will be developed in Australia, with the benefit and advantage of experience of overseas trials.

The product of this project will form part of the growing virtual library of Australian documentary heritage being developed, primarily through the NLA and the SLNSW.

6. Ability to contribute to effective research training.

By creating an electronic infrastructure of primary sources in nineteenth century Australian studies, presently only accessible by attending the major library collections, this project will open these resources to senior undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as academic staff. This will provide those students with both the resources and the opportunities to develop skills in use of digital resources for textual manipulation and analysis. As full-text digital database become more common the development of these skills will become fundamental to the research processes in the humanities. The emergence of these databases in Australian studies will make these skills a necessity.

7. Effectiveness of the cooperative arrangements between institutions including access and resource sharing.

The project is firmly based on the established cooperative relations between libraries, and introduces a new level of resource sharing - that of making material that is relatively rare available across networks in a digitised form. The outcomes of this project will extend beyond the traditional cooperative models of shared or coordinated acquisition and access via inter-library loan. It is a collaborative project seeking to enhance access and utilisation of relatively rare textual resources to support and extend excellence of research, and to preserve them for future scholarship.

The four participant libraries have come together with common objectives in regard to purpose and content of the project. As a collaborative project it builds on the individual expertise and interests of each participant to bring the best to the project. Similarly it is a collaborative project between researchers and librarians from different institutions working together toward the realisation of a common purpose.

Cooperative relationships between participants and supporters of this initiative are well established both in formal (Australian Bibliographic Network, Distributed National Collection, Inter-Library Loan) and many informal activities. Examples of relationships include shared purchasing, coordinated collection development as well as commitment to formal cooperative links.

University Libraries - Additional Guidelines

The DEET memorandum of June 1994 in relation to University Libraries and Infrastructure grants, and the Report of the Selection Panel for 1995 Grants advised that applications for library resources should promote ways of sharing such resources nationally.

It should be clear from the description of the project and responses to the Assessment Criteria that this project does meet those requirements. Not only in terms of resource sharing, but as importantly, within an academic context that will produce specific benefits in furthering and facilitating high quality research outcomes.

This project, by sharing these resources and developing means of access to researchers and scholars irrespective of location, also offers these resources to all libraries. The project will support and encourage the study of nineteenth century Australian history and literature throughout, and to the benefit of, the community.

Continue to Appendix 1 or Return to the Start

Text last updated 31 December 1996
Links updated 3 September 1999