DHASA2017 – Abstract

The Five Hundred Year Archive: Building a Digital Archive for the Southern African Past before Colonialism

Hamilton, Carolyn; McNulty, Grant
University of Cape Town

The southern African past before the advent of European colonialism remains one of the most under-researched aspects of the history of the region. There are several reasons for this, of which two stand out. Firstly, while some of the relevant resources are text-based, many exist in other forms, the archival potential of which is not readily apprehended. The second reason is the way in which the materials pertinent to the remote past have been shaped by disciplinary conventions (such as museology, archaeology, anthropology etc.) and colonial and apartheid knowledge practices, to be treated as timeless, traditional and tribal materials.

A key move in the Five Hundred Year Archive (FHYA) project is the creation of a digital exemplar (in the form of a web platform), which is capable of bringing together digitally, textual, visual and sonic materials pertinent to these periods. The exemplar aims to be a conceptually innovative intervention geared to engaging, in a critical manner, inherited forms of knowledge organisation. It is being constructed to work across multiple institutions and disciplines, to include multimedia (digital text, images and audio) and to provide context, by taking into account the provenance of the various materials, as well as their multiple histories, and how they have changed over time.

This paper presents some of the challenges involved in translating the conceptual thinking behind the FHYA into a practical project. It proposes a standardised framework for the FHYA Exemplar that can accommodate the variety of materials emanating from different partner institutions and disciplines.