Dream within a dream: An Intergalactic University Hall of Memory

Visualization of the University of Newcastle Intergalactic Archive in Space, the Hall of Memory. (Image courtesy of Stock Photos with additions by Gionni Di Gravio, 2011)

On the eve of Poliphilo waking up from his dream within a dream on the 1 May 1457 I share my dreams within dreams during our time of COVID-19 pandemic as a source of inspiration, amusement and hope.

On the 8 December 2011, came an opportunity to share a dream inspired by the Auchmuty Library “Space” Committee to create University of Newcastle Intergalactic Hall of Memory Archive in Space by 2020 with the then newly arrived Vice Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen:

“From: JohnDi Gravio
Sent: 08 December 2011 15:02:34
To: Caroline McMillen
Subject: Merry Christmas from the Keeper of the Historical Documents

Dear Vice-Chancellor Professor McMillen,

Please find attached a proposal we put together earlier in the year for a University Hall of Memory, I trust you will understand it as a dream.

Included is a metaphorical visualisation of it, that was inspired just weeks ago, and presented to the Auchmuty Library ‘Space’ Committee, that is in keeping with the ‘Galaxy Quest’ motif, and upholds the four principles of the design.

No University has an archive in space just yet. We could be that University. Frankly, with regards to our intergalactic standing, to date, who would want to know us, or introduce themselves to us human beings? We spend most of our time trying to destroy one another, and all life on our miraculous little blue planet. Building such a archive in space, will inspire intelligences to think we have turned the corner, and might just be ready to be civil and inspiring.

Welcome to Newcastle. Have a Merry Christmas and tremendous new year. Don’t let the vines get you.

Kind Regards,
Gionni Di Gravio”

Elephant’s Memory. [Elephant with obelisk] (from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili) Image courtesy of Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
This was a statement or “elevator pitch” prepared in 2012 for my new library manager for a University of Newcastle Memory Palace. 

“I see our University Cultural Collections/Archives/Museum Hall of Memory as a place of inspiration for our campus and wider regional community.

It is neutral ground to revivify the human spirit away from the administrivia and nonsense of modern life, into the santuary or special place, an intellectual ‘secret garden’. (See the most beautiful book of the Renaissance, if not the world, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili : the strife (war) of love in a dream by Francesco Colonna (1499))

To re-engage with words and ideas that have survived the collapse of civilisations and has been passed down over thousands of years, and that will undoubtedly survive the eventual collapse of ours.

To be placed in that realm of eternal wisdom helps to re-fresh us. The Renaissance was the most backward looking time in history, but it was also the time of greatest scientific and humanist advancements into the future. The more we immerse ourselves in our history, the clearer our future becomes because we learn how to act.

The irony is the more we turn our back on history and wisdom, the more stuck in the past we become. That is the paradox.

For our community it is important to protect, conserve and restore its archives and historical documents because a community without its memory is akin to a person with dementia, unable to know who they are, what they have achieved, who is friend, who is foe, where they’ve been or where they are going. They actions are demented and create unhappiness to all around them.

We have no identity without a story. History documents our achievements and our failures, and helps us to understand how we came to be and who we are.

Those who love and cherish history, should see themselves like cultural physicians, assisting communities to become more cohesive and creative, rather than fragmented and suicidal.

To explain ourselves to others, whether visitors, investors or state or federal governments, we have to be able to make and prove our case.  Without documentary and physical evidence you don’t have a case in a court of law, nor do you have a case for a culture. Without evidence all you have are tall stories.

We see the establishment of a University Hall of Memory as a modern state of the art centre for displaying the achievements and cultural values of indigenous, non-indigenous, international students and residents who together make up the modern identity of the University of Newcastle and the community it serves.

Our local history dates back over 50,000 years; imagine the knowledge and wisdom.

We define its focus in the dynamic and global nature of the staff, students and alumni within the academic context of the University, and not to duplicate the functions of the other institutions in the Newcastle district. But see the University as world’s best practice, the place to go to for excellent advice and knowledge.

To promote the idea of the University Hall of Memory as an introduction to a new era of University contribution within Australian society.

To establish a Hall of Academic Achievement to highlight distinguish the University as a highly regarded Novocastrian institution of global significance and to attract cultural capital to the city.

To provide efficient management of those collections across the University, currently existing in various buildings in less than optimal conditions, that are at risk with no access to sustainable preservation, research study, exhibition and recognition. A place that looks after its ancestors and their achievements is highly regarded in most civilised cultures.

Those who don’t look after their dead, don’t look after their living either.

To provide respect and recognition to the Aboriginal communities of  the Newcastle and Hunter Region and custodians of the land upon which the University was established.

Exhibition of art works and cultural treasures from the national museums and institutions, from the home countries of the international students of the university.

Retain properly trained and qualified staff with appropriate expertise and knowledge.

Create a building, which in itself is a signature statement of design.”

Gionni Di Gravio
27th July 2012

As a postscript, back in 2004 I did once make application to the University Librarian, following a request that they some extra funds to spend on things but not enough space to house them. So I challenged them to actually go with quality not quantity and buy an original 1499 original edition of the Hynerotomachia Poliphili that was on sale for half a million dollars! But I lost my nerve and requested close to $100K in beautiful facsimiles instead. This was rejected, but I got to restore a couple of items from the Morpeth Collection instead. We dream on.

Gionni Di Gravio, OAM
30 April 2020

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