Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Digital Access to the Formation of National Identity in Australia

Ross Woodrow.

Often the erasure of pictorial sources in historical discourse has been motivated by the difficulty in finding analytical or interpretative strategies to deal with visual images. But on a more pragmatic level the ephemeral nature of the most ubiquitous popular images from nineteenth-century Australia has meant that those that have survived are only accessible to the most intrepid of researchers. In this paper I begin with the obvious proposition that the development of digital archives of such ephemeral graphic images will radically change the construction or production of historical meaning and identity. To illustrate the potential of this transformation of our understanding of visual culture I will examine one data set of digital images and show the scope for its application in both constructing an individual historical identity and gaining an understanding of the ideological formulation of national identity. The digital data I will use is a database of over 1000 digital reproductions by Australia’s most prolific image maker of the nineteenth century, the cartoonist, painter and photographer Montagu Scott (1835 - 1909). For over fifty years Montagu Scott produced a weekly front page or double-page spread in one of Australia’s major papers in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane but only now with the speed and accessibility of the digital archive is it possible to speculate on what these images reveal of the process of creating an individual identity and an identity for Australia. The methodology I adopt in examining these images will combine semiotics and hermeneutics but most importantly my primary source of evidence comes from the images themselves.


Ross Woodrow  (Australia)
Postgraduate Coordinator
School of Fine Art
University of Newcastle, Australia

Born Mackay, Queensland. Studies at University of Queensland and University of Sydney. Currently Senior Lecturer, Coordinator of Art Theory and Postgraduate Coordinator, School of Fine Art, University of Newcastle, Australia.

  • Visual images
  • National identity
  • Semiotics
  • Image databases
  • Visual analysis
  • Cartoons
Person as Subject
  • Scott, Montagu

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)