How I Started – James Lowry

In the late ’90s, I started film school with the idea of becoming an editor. The editing equipment was a bulky computer that required us to be in the editing suite to get any work done, and the software was so slow and buggy we often had to be in the suite overnight while images rendered. The system often crashed and we’d have to start from scratch. These were transitions and effects you can do on your phone now. After many late nights struggling with this system, I decided I wanted to be as far away from technology as possible, and mistakenly thought that archives might be the place to do that. I was interested in film archives in particular, and after I finished my degree I enrolled in a Masters in Information Management (Record-Keeping and Archives) degree programme and wrote my dissertation on legal deposit for cinematographs.

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James Lowry with colleagues in Khartoum, Sudan, 2015

Though I’d hoped to go into film archives, I was living in Adelaide, South Australia, and the only jobs going were in state government departments. The first job that came up was in the urban planning department, and I was surprised to find that I really liked it. My role was to do business process mapping, identifying where and when records were being created, as the basis for a classification scheme that would be used in the impending EDRMS. I loved the work of process mapping and classification, but I also loved the culture of public service, and most of my work since then has been in government record-keeping. The aesthetics of the records we were managing also appealed to me – aerial photographs of remote desert regions like the ones I remembered from my childhood in the Northern Territory, and plans and contour maps like the ones drawn up by my father, a surveyor. Land records are particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons, and I’m currently finishing a doctoral thesis at UCL that’s looking at open government data about land use.

After that first job, I joined a local council as a records clerk. They had a computerised registry. It could have been the last of its kind in that part of the world; it definitely felt antiquated. Anyway, it gave me a good grounding in records management, though a lot of my work was transcribing authorities for interment in the local cemetery. I kept taking short-term contracts – appraisal projects, cataloguing, policy writing – mostly in the public sector. There were permanent jobs available, but I didn’t feel like settling on one type of work or one organisation. Taking fixed-term contracts is a great way of getting a range of experience and building your skills quite quickly, and I’d recommend it to any newly qualified archivist.

In 2007, I moved to the UK and continued taking on fixed-term contracts and consulting projects before joining the International Records Management Trust (IRMT) in 2009 as a project manager, eventually becoming Deputy Director in 2012. I stayed until 2015, which is a record for me, but I enjoyed the diversity of the work, as well as seeing the impact our projects had. I led projects in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda, and in my last project for the IRMT, I was based in Trinidad and Tobago, where I worked with the National Archives on a policy benchmarking project.

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Government registry, Nigeria, 2013

I moved to Liverpool in September 2015 to teach at the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies (LUCAS). In addition to teaching on the Masters in Archives and Records Management (MARM) degree programme, I’ve continued working in international development, most recently on projects in South Sudan and Rwanda. I’m working on research projects such as Postcolonial Archives and Refugee Rights in Records, and with colleagues in Nigeria on archival education development. Working at the intersection of record-keeping and international development has taught me a lot about the value of records for administration and the protection of people’s rights. I’ve also seen some interesting sights. I never thought I’d find myself in a helicopter in Zimbabwe as a result of training as an archivist.

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The cover of Displaced Archives, published by Routeledge in 2017

I’m just about to start work on a new project called Sudan Memory, and I’ll be working with film archives for the first time.

James Lowry

Lecturer, Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies

 

 

 

 

 

 

One comment

  1. Hi, Mr. James Lowry, I would like to get in touch with you. I am Dr. David Luyombya on deeluyombya79@googlemail.com and dluyombya@cis.mak.ac.ug

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