CRM Journal

Media Review

The Migration Heritage Toolkit
[updated address:]

The Migration Heritage Centre (MHC), New South Wales, Australia; accessed on July 29-31, 2003.


The preservation of place and cultural expressions is challenging for many contemporary preservationists as they seek to be inclusive of ethnic and minority communities. Resources that help expand advocacy efforts to include community revitalization and redevelopment remain relatively few, particularly guidance for communities on assessing heritage from their unique cultural perspectives. "The Migration Heritage Toolkit" was developed to help heritage professionals and local migrant communities in New South Wales, Australia, work together to identify, document, and evaluate the legacy of migrants that began arriving in 1788.

Completed in 2002, the toolkit contains guidelines and Web-rich resources to assist migrant communities with preserving and sharing heritage for future generations. The toolkit also brings a wide range of issues related to migration to the broader public's attention. Using the toolkit, migrants learn how to develop skills necessary to manage and protect artifacts, places, and experiences that comprise their migration heritage.

Available online and in print, the toolkit was developed in consultation with migrant communities and in collaboration with the New South Wales Heritage Office. The Migration Heritage Centre provided initial support for the toolkit. The most significant product of center's work is the establishment of a tangible link between the history of human migration to Australia and the cultural heritage of ethnic groups.

Projects sponsored by the center, like the toolkit, are dedicated to recognizing and promoting migration and refugee heritage as part of the larger cultural landscape of New South Wales. The center defines migration heritage as a historic and living heritage expressed through personal effects, language, food, music, beliefs, memories, buildings, and land. By establishing the breadth of what constitutes heritage significance, the toolkit immediately sets itself apart from the traditional canon.

The website itself reflects the center's commitment to the cultural diversity of Australia. It provides summaries of projects, including "Mapping Italian Heritage in NSW," "Tune in to Fairfield City: A Multicultural Driving Tour," and "Leaving the Crocodile: The Story of the East Timorese Community in Sydney." Other projects address "Shanghai and the Jews of China," "Lebanese and Arab Australian Communities Heritage Project," and an oral history project on the "Vietnamese Community in Australia."

The toolkit has three parts: Background Information, The Migration Heritage Study, and Resources. Each part is divided into subsections that allow the user to navigate to questions pertaining to a particular migration heritage study. Under the "The Migration Heritage Study" heading, four workshop scenarios are presented. The workshops are intended to gather participants to discuss, assess, and manage their migration heritage. The workshop guidance includes not only how to arrange presentations, but also the technical details of event organization.

Although not intended to promote a "top down" research approach, as seen by the breadth of the center's collaborative projects, the toolkit does leave the user wondering how a member of a migrant community might undertake organizing and implementing such a study. The toolkit actually is more useful to the heritage professional.

Furthermore, the toolkit does not provide the kind of critical background material on migration in Australia or basic research methods critical for a community member to assume a leadership role in facilitating the study as a coordinator. The toolkit relies heavily on an expert from the heritage profession—a historical society member, someone from a local or regional library, or a person involved in local government—taking an interest in an existing migrant community. Despite these shortcomings, few other sites provide as comprehensive a step-by-step approach to identifying places of cultural significance for migrant or refugee communities.

The toolkit presents a coherent package of text, audio, and visual sources to enable the user to understand the process of a migration heritage study. The site also provides a variety of other support and reference resources for developing the preliminary phases of a heritage study. Moreover, the site makes excellent use of heritage resources to provide users with a strong network of organizations at the local, regional, and national levels. Nearly all of Australia's cultural groups also found their way to other countries, making this website relevant to other countries, including the United States.

Angel D. Nieves
University of Maryland