EJANZH: Martyr reviews Traces of the Past

Perth 1997. CD-ROM-0 86422 540 7 Minimum Hardware: 68030 Macintosh Computer, 14″ Colour Monitor (246 colours), CD-ROM Player, 8MB RAM (rec.) System 7.0; 386 IBM Compatible, VGA Monitor, 8-Bit Graphics Card, CD-ROM Player, Sound Card, 8 MB RAM (rec.), Windows 3.1

Reviewed by Dr P J Martyr.

The development of CD-based information technology has been significant for history-teaching, but its full impact is only just beginning to be felt in University history departments. Many historians and teachers of history express surprise, hesitation and fear when confronted with new technologies for the delivery of learning. Some believe that such developments will render them obsolete; others feel that students will become mere drones parked in front of flickering screens.

Developed by Dr Jenny Gregory (Centre for WA History, University of Western Australia) and Roger Dickinson at DUIT Multimedia, also at UWA, Traces of the Past may prove a useful resource in combatting some of these fears. Traces is based on the National Trustís register of Western Australian buildings. It is easy to use, and good to look at, with a very simple and clear point-and-click format. Even the most technofear-stricken academic may find this database accessible.

By accessing the SEARCH function in the title page, you can search the register by, for example, the date of a buildingís classification, or simply by location. I searched my old stamping grounds – Subiaco, East Fremantle and Fremantle – and was impres sed by the quality of the photographs used in the entries.

Each entry, where possible, has included the architect, the builder and the date of building. You can flip to a text-only page with a longer description of the building if you choose. It is also possible to search the register by the name of a particular architect, or by the date of building or classification. I thus found the 1629 West Wallaby Island stone huts, built by survivors of the Batavia wreck, whose existence I had never guessed at before now.

Obviously the projectís chief limitation is that it is based on the National Trust list, and not all interesting historical buildings are National Trust. But the range is enormous – cemeteries, drinking fountains, memorials, cairns, ruins, lookouts, ho spitals, hotels and even a genuine Folly, built as part of the old Loreto convent in Perth. The scope is also comprehensive, including far-flung parts of Western Australia, and ethnically intriguing – including, for example, the Japanese cemetery in Broome.

But some local colour is missing – I did a text search for the Quokka Arms on Rottnest, and drew a blank. The Quokka Arms, of course, does not exist in law; it is simply the rude local name for the Rottnest Hotel.

Itís a bit annoying to use the CD when also using word processing (as I am doing at the moment), as I have to open and then quit the CD each time I want to write something. The quitting credits are worth the price of the CD, I think – the DUIT multimed ia team have had some fun there.

This is an extremely useful resource, and would be well-placed in any reference collection in any library, public or private, which deals with Western Australian history. It may also help to thaw the hearts of the more chilly academics who believe whizz-bang technology has little or nothing to offer historians and history-teachers.

Dr P J Martyr is an historian and a devotee of whizz-bang technology, who teaches at the Tasmanian School of Nursing. She is the book review editor of the Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History.