Centralising data. Centralising expertise.
The Female Factory Online is a public history project that centralises data relating to the Parramatta Female Factory in one searchable and browseable open access database. This public history project has two major aims: to centralise data and to centralise expertise for the benefit of the local, national, and international community of academics and the general public alike.
The first aim relates to consolidating, for the very first time, the fragmented and dispersed data relating to the Parramatta Female Factory in one place. This will be achieved via transcriptions of primary sources and archiving of multimedia resources or, at least, links to copyrighted material in other online databases. Searchable and linkable profile pages on individuals associated with the Parramatta Female Factory institution from its earliest incarnation at present-day Prince Alfred Square (c.1802–1821) to its first purposely-designed incarnation at the present-day Cumberland Hospital site (1821–1848) will also be a major part of the database. Where available, the profile pages of individual convict women in this database will include reports of criminal proceedings, fully transcribed. However, convict women were not the only people who spent time at this multi-purpose government institution. The young children of these convict women were born and, in many cases, died here, so they are also included in this database. Some free women who were patients in the Female Factory’s “lying in” hospital are likewise found among the fragmentary records of the Female Factory, as are the male convicts assigned to work here in various positions, free people who worked at the Female Factory, and, of course, those who were responsible for its design and construction.
The second aim is to create a public yet academically credible platform on which experts in the field can confidently disseminate their research on the Parramatta Female Factory to the widest possible audience in the form of peer-reviewed essays. At the core of this second aim is a commitment to giving qualified historians opportunities to raise their professional profiles via participation in a sorely needed project about a much-loved National Heritage Listed site and to enhance their online presence and following via promotion on The Female Factory Online’s established social media platforms.
The project began in July 2014 as a social media campaign with a simple premise; to educate the public about the history of the Factory with regular, brief, entertaining and informative posts of “police incidents” featuring Parramatta Female Factory inmates sourced from the colonial newspapers and, thereby, raise the profile of the Factory and garner support and signatures for community petitions for its national and world heritage listing. Every tweet and Facebook post etc, included a clickable link to the petitions. Since then, the project has grown to become a full-fledged online database as well as a publishing arena for academics interested in producing community engaged public history.
With this in mind, the FFO team has not forgotten its strong community focus and acknowledges the valuable contribution that local “history enthusiasts” with a keen passion for the site can also make to a world class, professional, digital, public history project. The FFO is open to discussing ways of collaborating with community groups with interests in the Female Factory, subgroups within the Factory’s prison population, convict history, and Parramatta history and heritage generally.
Ultimately, all of this is with a view to make this project one in which senior academics and early career researchers from universities all over the world as well as the Professional Historians Association (PHA NSW & ACT), history undergraduates involved in the Department of History’s community engaged public history course “History Beyond the Classroom” at the University of Sydney, and local members of the community with a passion for the Female Factory can all work together and pool knowledge, resources, and data on the Factory.
It is no secret that the Parramatta Female Factory has been a highly contested space in recent years in relation to how the public has responded to official plans for the site’s adaptive reuse. The time is right for a world class community engaged public history project that celebrates and honours the convict history of the site specifically and has proven its ability to raise the Factory’s profile locally as well as internationally. The time is right for a project that crosses institutional boundaries, connects with professional historical organisations, already reaches across local borders to involve people and scholars internationally in the audience and in the very near future as contributors, and sees academics working alongside members of the community to “centralise data and centralise expertise.”
The FFO is currently seeking funding opportunities for a feature collection of open access multimodal essays for each year of the second Female Factory’s operation (1821–1848). These will collectively tell a chronological history of the Factory online and will be written and peer-reviewed by professional historians with a diverse, public audience in mind. Like Dr. Catie Gilchrist’s recent piece ““Mystery Always Begets Suspicion”: Defending the Open and Public Nature of the Coronial Inquest,” these essays will interpret, contextualise, and draw larger arguments from the otherwise raw data in the database, enabling the general public to improve their understanding of the Factory’s history and policies within the broader context of the penal colony. In addition to ongoing transcription work and general activities related to constructing a database that will be user friendly, increasing the density of content for individual Factory profiles or “life archives” is also a priority.
There are already thousands of individual pieces of evidence fully transcribed, sourced, and integrated via hyperlinks as well as profiles of verified individuals associated with the Factory (free as well as convict men and women and children) in the FFO database. In many cases, individuals related to each other either via birth, marriage, or even as accomplices are already digitally connected here in this database! Moreover, features are already being built in during the progressive construction of the database that will be used to activate the site’s full browseability. At that point it will be possible to visualise statistical information as well, providing insights into Factory life, conditions, and experiences on a grand scale.
(please note: this database is currently under construction)