By Kathryn Creely, Melanesian Studies Librarian, UC San Diego and Sherri Berger, Digital Special Collections Program Coordinator.

Take an “armchair voyage” to Oceania!  Nearly 6,000 photographs depicting the people and places of the Pacific Islands are now available on the Online Archive of California (in the three collections described below) and Calisphere.  The photographs were contributed by UC San Diego’s Mandeville Special Collections Library, from the collections of the Melanesian Archive.

Collection Highlights

Researchers and students in anthropology, history, and other disciplines will find much to explore in these images, which document life in the islands of the southwest Pacific over several decades.

Many of the photographs were taken in the Solomon Islands by anthropologists Harold Scheffler and Roger Keesing.  Photographs from the Scheffler papers depict the people, cultures, and landscapes of Choiseul, Rendova, and nearby islands in the 1960s.  Images from the Keesing papers document the researcher’s work with the Kwaio people of Malaita from 1963 to 1990.

The oldest photographs in this online collection were taken by public health physician Sylvester Maxwell Lambert, who travelled widely in the Pacific from 1919 to 1939.  They depict aspects of indigenous and colonial cultures in the region in the early twentieth century, as well as Lambert’s involvement with medical research and health education.

About the Project

Providing online access to these materials—the first from the Melanesian Archive—was no small task.  One of the challenges was providing titles and subjects for the images, in order to provide context for and better access to them in a variety of search environments.  A team of librarians worked closely with anthropologists to select the materials, devise appropriate descriptors, and ensure the project responded to concerns about cultural sensitivities.  Over the course of a year, catalogers Rubi Palomares and Shelley Guyton—both undergraduate students majoring in anthropology—applied terms to the images one by one.

An added dimension of this project is that it contributes to the Melanesian Archive’s long-standing practice of giving back to Melanesian communities by providing facsimiles of materials in its collections to libraries in the Pacific Islands.  Online access and detailed cataloging of the images will be a boon to students and researchers in those countries.  More poignantly, the images will be of immediate personal importance to the descendents of the people depicted, who may not have any other photographs of their parents and grandparents, nor of cultural practices that are disappearing in the wake of modernity.

This article is part of a series highlighting new digital objects on the OAC and Calisphere.  Subscribe to the Digital Special Collections RSS feed for future stories about new content.

Images, from top: Map_OC-Melanesia.PNG, via Wikimedia Commons; “Boys playing on beach,” taken between 1958-1961; “Elota hangs up valuables for the opening payment of his son’s marriage,” taken between 1963-1989.