Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Description, digitisation and metadata applied for post-mortem photographs in New Zealand Heritage Institutions

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posted on 2021-11-14, 04:20 authored by Gable, Lucy

The intention of this study is to identify what criteria Photographic Curators/Pictorial Librarians in New Zealand Heritage Institutions use when cataloguing post-mortem photographs (mort photographs). In addition to the main intent, this study will endeavour to proffer theories about the popularity or lack of popularity of post-mortem photography in New Zealand during the years spanning 1870-1940. This time period, the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, heralded many cultural changes and saw post-mortem photography become a major part of mourning tradition in countries such as England, America and parts of Europe. Data will be gathered from the photographic cataloguing field on topics such as; the number of post-mortem photographs held in New Zealand collections; policies surrounding the collection and display of images of deceased people/animals (often under the policy umbrella of human remains, war and sensitive cultural topics) digitisation of these photographs and the style and processing of images available in New Zealand. By researching the institutional, historical and anthropological handling of mort photographs, the data will form theories as to how the tradition of mort photography was viewed in a New Zealand social context. The value in this study will be two fold. Looking at the decisions cataloguers make when working with sensitive topics will initiate a discussion on policy surrounding the most sensitive areas of our photographic collections. By using post-mortem photographs as an example, the researcher will hypothesis theories as to how difficult subjects may be researched and approached for discussion in the institution and with the general public by using educating them and dispelling a long held taboo. The second point of value will be enhancing the understanding of aspects of early New Zealand society and how our distinctive cultural backgrounds has have moulded our present day traditions, beliefs and national identity. The beneficial outcomes of this study are multi-faceted. In addition to the sociological insights, the researcher will endeavour to propose how an institution, such as the Auckland War Memorial Museum, can best catalogue, digitise and display items such as morts. The primary benefactor will be the Library at the Auckland War Memorial Museum as a case study based on this research will offer a series of guidelines on which a collections policy could be built for the acquisition, description and digitisation of a collection of post-mortem photographs. Another benefit of this study will be from undertaking research into the social history of New Zealand during its formative years. The topic of death and mourning in early New Zealand history has very little research at this point. Understanding death and how we have traditionally processed our grief will pose questions for further anthropological research such as traditions surrounding death and mourning, sociological studies into grief & loss, visual ethnological studies into the inclusion of photographs as extant documents in historical research and information studies into the cataloguing and digitising of sensitive items.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Information Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Information Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970108 Expanding Knowledge in the Information and Computing Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Masters Research Paper or Project



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Information Management


Wellington, Shannon