The past is indeed a foreign country #GovHack #ClippertonProject #SIMResidency @UCHeritageHack

I have been home for just over a week and yet I still feel like I haven’t quite transitioned from my journey exploring connections to the past and ancestors. Perhaps it is because I haven’t settled into a sleep routine that is congruent with the time zone. Perhaps also it is the feeling that I have only started to build a picture of my ancestor Anton Benson (Berntsen). Or perhaps it is the sense that the more I know, the less I know.

Anton and Johanna, date and place unknown

Anton and Johanna, date and place unknown

When I go to social media it is obvious that some of the artists I met along the way are also still processing their journey. This is especially true of artists who participated in The Clipperton Project expedition to the Faroe Islands. Chloe Henderson and Nils Aksnes, two of the participants from Scotland have still been sharing wonderful blogs and images from our journey. This beautiful image featured below is from a pin hole camera that Nils made while on board the Johanna.

On board Johanna by Nils Arknes http://www.nilsaksnes.co.uk/

On board Johanna by Nils Arknes http://www.nilsaksnes.co.uk/

For some reason I am thinking about how we memorialise the past and how instantly a moment moves from being ‘now’ to being ‘then’. I feel nostalgic for those precious moments on the beach at Govnik.

Govnik Beach

Govnik Beach

I am reminded of my Masters research which explored the role of the souvenir in defining and articulating a sense of personal history. One of my favourite books was a text by David Lowenthal titled The Past is a Foreign Country. This text resonated on so many levels – arguing that we can never get a complete picture of the past as well as the idea that we can never separate ourselves from the past.

As mentioned earlier, the past is a funny thing – it is measured in all sorts of ways. It is a moment ago, a lifetime, last century, the rule of royalty, the governance of a nation, or the even bigger context of measuring geological time. How the past frames a place is incredibly complex and multi layered. There is the record, be it archeological, geological, written or oral but that only provides a small insight into that past moment in time.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland lays bare the evidence of a changing landscape in a powerful way, through the lava fields, craters and glaciers. Geological time is evidenced very clearly in this amazing place.

Lava Field, Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Lava Field, Snæfellsnes Peninsula

It would seem that I cannot escape such pondering and wondering. Over the weekend I participated in GovHack – an event which was originally an Australian initiative by Web Directions in 2009 funded by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce as part of their MashUp Australia initiative. It has grown from a small Canberra event in 2009, to having nodes in 31 locations and over 2200 competitors and observers in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Apparently this year it was even bigger.

GovHack is all about getting people together to play and make things with open government data. It is a concept that is close to my heart and sits will with my interests in digital literacy and online engagement. The event I was specifically involved was hosted by Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at University of Canberra and focused on using Heritage data – @UCHeritiageHack.

My intention was to go as an observer, but I ended up getting drawn into working with a team on a concept very close to my interests in family heritage. Our team was called CBR Heritage Data Team and the focus was on drawing information from data sets that could give a sentiment about a time and place. Here is the summary of our proof of concept:

Our project focused on using a range of data to tell a story about a place at a particular time in history. We are using a range of records and analytic tools to create a more vivid portrait of the past. We have created a proof of concept to be used by family researchers and historians to get a richer sense of the public sentiment at a place at a particular time, as well as providing an insight into what other factors, such as the weather, may have been at play. We used newspaper data from Trove, rainfall and temperature data from the Bureau of Meteorology, and data from the Commonwealth Hansard records to build a story about a place in time.

It would be great to see this proof of concept be developed into an application of some sort – it would be very useful for researchers I think.

Now I am back home in Australia my hope is to spend some time in Toowoomba and Drayton districts to further explore my family history. I also intend to do more research on Anton’s line of the family. My hope is that with the small amount of information I discovered in Norway that a pathway further back in time may open up.

About

Tracey M Benson is a lover of travel, having a diverse background as an artist, writer and researcher. Working with online environments since 1994, Tracey's experience includes providing digital media, web and social media solutions to government, non-profit, private industry and tertiary sectors. Tracey has made many contributions to TripAdvisor and is now concentrating on writing about her love of travel and many adventures.

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Posted in Collaboration, Waters of the Past

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