As mentioned in one of the class discussions, by a fellow classmate, it’s almost impossible to be objective. In a sense, I believe that to be true. There is no 100 percent guarantee that we can be absolutely unbiased, impartial, and objective. The human experience is shaped by how we experience life. For some, their opinions of the world around them are influenced by the oppressive nature of societal constructs. For others, their viewpoints of world happenings are formed by the power they inherited by societal constructs. In those cases, and everything in between, we can never experience or observe something that hasn’t been affected by the lens to which we see this world. So, it is futile to even think that we can approach anything without bias.
However, I believe that we can approach the world with the idea that we should be open to learning what other people’s perspectives are especially if we are observing their way of life and to hold steadfast to their truths before we try to distill their experience through our lens.
When reading through my volume of reports, I saw glimpses of that in the patrol officer’s writings. Often times they try to report factual events over contextualizing the happenings of those events in their daily diaries. And just as often, those diaries seem so excruciatingly mundane and repetitive. But, when they interpret their daily diaries into the official reports, we get to see how their biases shape the reports as they try to contextualize the factual events that were recorded. Many times it seemed that these reports were written with their audience in mind. Behaviors and actions of the indigenous, and others living in the villages, were evaluated by comparative contrasts of Western European standardized societal constructs; with those standards being the golden standard. Hygienic and sanitation standards of the villages are often succumb to these Western superiority standards. Even worse when personnel evaluations of constables and counselors are subjected to the interpretations of right and wrong, good and bad, that seem to be arbitrary to the officer’s own personal moral beliefs.
But I believe that its where the trouble, or difficulty, may lay in reporting/recording history. Often times when we are trying to contextualize what we are experiencing and observing, we need to filter it through the lens of our audience so that they can make sense of what is going on.
This is where I found fault in the processing of these reports for this class. Often times I became conflicted with even trying to process these reports because I knew that I was only working with one point of view. So, I was forced to accept and process these reports from that one biased point of view into another biased lens – the consideration of who currently has access to these files, who has made the most use out of these files and who, in the future, may use these files if kept under academia control.
I feel that the inner conflict was also fueled by my experience in journalism. In journalism, we are taught to question everything, listen to all sides of a story and to disseminate the true, neutral and unbiased story; often this means only reporting was is verifiable and telling all sides of the story without our personal beliefs or commentary.
So, being told to work with historical documents that only have one perspective and to try to contextualize and summarize the report, or volume, into a system that is created and maintained by the privileged, really makes the entire experience at odds with the overall theme of patrolling the Papua New Guinea people through the decolonial lens.
Since the course has the requirement of processing these reports for this privileged and specialized institution, created by Westerners/Europeans, I had to relegate myself to conforming to these standards. But working in the methods of library science was not difficult to perform. I had four years of experience as a library aide for my high school’s library. Although a lot of the considerations of labelling, categorizing, and metadata were new to me in practice, it was fairly easy to understand the concepts because I had used them so often on the end user level and helping the end users try to think along the library system’s methodology.
It was this influence (from a former library aide’s perspective) to which I drew upon deciding how to develop aboutness statements and selecting key terms. I also kept in mind a duality of sorts when it came to selecting key terms. I opted to select broad, more encompassing terms, at the volume level – keeping in mind that perhaps a researcher, or even student as myself, who may not know anything about Papua New Guinea but has a need to find information from these reports can have a point of entry into these documents. On the flipside, I worked under the context that each report be more specific to include those researchers, or even Papua New Guineans, who are well versed in the country, culture, and/or history to offer more opportunity to search in specificity to their needs. It’s also on this second level that I decided to try to use the language and spellings of the terminology found in those documents since the context is inherently embedded into the words of that time and from the Australian culture. Again it circles back to those who are familiar with Papua New Guinea, their history and the colonial influence who would understand the importance of those specific terms and who may appreciate the ability to search through terms with historic accuracy.
Although I value, and truly appreciate, the cultural learnings through the assigned readings, I didn’t make too much consideration in adjusting the terminology to suit the culture for a few reasons: 1) making assumptions for adaptability on a subject that I’m not fully learned can cause more damage than good, 2) creating a revisionist history based on inoculating an offensive term through key terms wouldn’t do the real history justice, and 3) I didn’t find any overtly culturally insensitive or highly offensive language. Of course, the latter is very subjective to my interpretation of culturally insensitive or highly offensive, but with that I was really on my experience of being a minority and other lessons I may have learned about being insensitive or offensive to guide me in that sense. I have been learning about Latin American history and how they’ve dealt with the process of perceptions, oppression institutions, colonization, decolonializations, and representations to which I also leaned on in evaluating any questionable terminology.
But that is also why I mentioned during the course discussion that it is imperative that Papua New Guineans be brought into the fold of examining these reports and their terminology so that they can have their say on what may or may not be insensitive or offensive to them. After all, it is their history that was, and is, being reported on and as such should have the final say as to how the information gets disseminated about them. If we do not collaborate with Papua New Guineans, we are only imposing our beliefs and institutions, once again, on them and thus never really allowing Papua New Guineans the opportunity to decolonize.