Here’s a glossary of terms for archival research. These are handy terms to know if you want to search the Archives yourself, or just if you want to know where this blog’s food-related files are from.
National Archives of Australia
Is like the a very large filing cabinet for the Australian Commonwealth public service. It’s the place where all the important, but old, files end up. It’s also where the new government information will end up so our grandchildren can find files in digital. When you look at some of the files you wonder why they were kept, but there are others that are just amazing.
Archives have a lot of files. They’re mostly lots of pieces of paper, but not always. They’re records of business, so sometimes they can also be photos, film, books or sometimes even statues.
Think of a computer keyboard without the computer attached. Noisy, heavy, and completely lacking the computer’s very handy functions of delete, copy and paste. The Archives has lots of typed files – letters – reports – minutes etc. Never assume that the people who signed a typed file actually did the typing. In fact, there used to be ‘typing pools’ populated by poorly paid (single) women. They did the typing on the files you see.
Have you ever wondered what the ‘cc’ stands for when you ‘cc’ someone into your email? it stands for ‘carbon copy’. This is is another old piece of technology – a sheet with carbon on it – that was placed between sheets of paper. The typewriter would produce an exact copy of the first layer – but a bit fuzzier. The fuzzy copy would be placed on file to record the letter sent out. Archives have lots of fuzzy carbon copies in its files.
People used to send each other letters instead of emails. The National Archives has lots of letters – people writing into government, and government officials writing back. There are quite a few ‘concerned Australians’ who wrote into the government who have had their letters stored for future generations. I hope future generations enjoy them.
You may remember getting your school reports after you’d completed a school year – it’s a similar principle. Has a public servant done something? They haven’t done it properly until they’ve written at least one report about it. Archives are full of reports. But don’t expect to find out what really happened in the report – you will have to look elsewhere in the files for that information.
Public Servants still write minutes to one another. Goodness knows why. However, if they want someone else to make a decision about an important matter, they write a minute. Archives are full of minutes.
Handwriting, usually illegible, is also heavily featured in archival files. Look for handwriting on the edge of typewritten documents – this is where the important people make indiscreet comments. This is a good place to start when trying to work out what really happened.
Earnest professionals who believe they are serving the Australian public when in fact they are serving the Australian politicians. There is a subtle difference here – despite the fact that politicians charmingly claim that they serve the public. Public servants are dedicated to processes, report writing and minutes. They are the reason the National Archives has so many files!
Earnest professionals who believe that their work in ordering and maintaining the enormous filing system of government goes unrecognised and is undervalued. They’re right.
Filing and Recordkeeping
Anyone can file stuff – you just put it in a drawer for later on. But Recordkeeping is the particular preserve of archivists. It’s the process (foreign to mere mortals) of keeping all the important information – letters, reports, minutes etc – for the right length of time to show how our government made decisions on our behalf.
So where is the food in the National Archives? Is there stuff about food really hidden amongst files and minutes in the Archives’ repositories? Well, yes. You need to look at policy decisions about programs that were implemented on behalf of the nation to improve health and wellbeing. You need to look at the copyright files, where people submitted their creative ideas – books, plays, works of art. Also at the ephemera of official life – such as the souvenir menus from a special occasion. There is food hidden – you just need to take time to find it.
-Zoe and Caroline