This year, the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Adelaide celebrates its 100th birthday. And in a somewhat crazy turn of events, Adelaide-based content strategy agency Brutal Pixie was the one to curate a display celebrating this milestone.
Tracing the history of the school, and digging through Civil Engineering's archives, the Queen Pixie may have been heard to giggle. For, within the depths of the archives were gems like monographs titled The Engineer: Man of Science (from the 1950s), and photographs of Miss Engineering from the 1960s (with its accompanying apology, thanking her for her unending patience) in Hysteresis, the Adelaide University Engineering Society's journal, which was produced for many years.
It's an unusual task, for a content strategist, curating historical materials. But on reflection, not a strange one. Especially for this agency, which has been working with Water Engineering within the school to improve their content, over the past two years. To celebrate the timeline of the School takes many of the same skills that Brutal Pixie's team use every day: Storytelling, collecting and collation of information, research, and presentation appropriate to the audience.
But most of all, it was good fun.
'Civil Engineering is not just 100 years young this year, but it is also one of the top 3 engineering schools in Australia,' Queen Pixie Leticia Mooney commented. 'Sometimes we can get caught up in ideas that our institutions are poorly funded, or that their teams are rationalised, or even that their own staff members are focused on the next thing in a very busy year. But when we take the time to stop and celebrate, to reminisce, it shows us just how far we have come, and just how ingenuous we can be'.
Throughout the school's 100 years, there has emerged a greater female presence. In the 2000s, female students won awards for outperforming the male students. Yet, reading through the history, one gets a sense that this gender balance has been sought after, since its earliest days.
'Some of the articles in Hysteresis, particularly, lament the fact that there aren't more women,' Mooney commented. 'Of course, some of that was simply the desire of a university-age male, which you would expect; but there were also serious calls for increased participation, many of which weren't heard for a long time. The sciences know that they were lacking in this respect, and they are still, and are very consciously, doing their best to make up for it.'
The School of Civil Engineering's display encompasses the full history. It includes photographs of the building being constructed in the 1940s; the original papers, financials and invitations for new lecture series. Now fixtures of the School's calendar, these were originally established and paid for by both staff and students, because the university did not fund them: A remarkable feat for those of us who have come to expect that 'crowdfunding' is a new thing.
And yet, to Brutal Pixie's team members, the display is a poignant reminder that the digital age is eroding our ability to find and display our histories effectively.
'We had no trouble unearthing journals, papers, photographs and documents up through until the 1990s,' commented Mooney. 'But over the past 18-25 years, it became progressively more difficult. Newspaper articles are harder to find, or need to be paid for; letters became electronic and weren't saved (or saved haphazardly); photographs are digital and locked inside social networks like Facebook, unavailable to University archives. The richness of the Society's journal (Hysteresis) of the 1970s and 1980s is missing from the remnants of the 2000s and 2010s. Celebrating the next major anniversary - 150 years - with a public display will be a much more difficult task.'
As a content and communication agency that specialises in complex industries like engineering, Brutal Pixie can advise on how to create the right processes and workflow that enable you to retain important information. It's easy to take retention for granted in the world of digital technology. But it's when you don't pay attention to the use of information that you can suddenly find yourself unable to access, read, or see the records that you thought you had preserved.
'It's important for organisations of all sizes and types to pay attention to their histories, if they want future generations to know about them,' Leticia pointed out. 'You can start that very simply, by creating retention and archiving policies, and then ensuring that the formats you retain will be useable. We often talk about usability of digital assets in terms of customer service. What we also need to pay attention to is the future-proofing of our own stories, too. That's the kind of content we'll never get back when people leave or technology fails.'
While you can, go and see the University of Adelaide's display inside the School of Civil Engineering. The timeline begins at the school office and winds its way down the corridor to the Culver Lecture Theatre. The display will be available, and is accessible to the public for free, until the end of the year.
Brutal Pixie Pty Ltd
Brutal Pixie is a B2B content agency. We're on a mission to make communication human in complex industries, like law and engineering.
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