Preserving Cultural Heritage of South Africa

African Cultural Heritage Database

As the human race enters the 21st Century where our very survival is being challenged, understanding and honouring where we come from is becoming increasingly important. Zamani – a Swahili word meaning “past” – is a research group within the UCT Department of Geomatics which specialises in the management of spatial and other data from cultural heritage sites. The group developed out of a long history of heritage documentation using conventional mapping of archaeological sites. It now uses advanced digital modelling to capture complex sites.

Currently its focus is to develop The African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes Database. The database will create a permanent and unique record of important heritage sites and will provide material for education, research, site management, restoration and conservation and create international awareness of African heritage on a not-for-profit basis. Spatial data of architectural structures and historical landscapes are acquired by means of specialist techniques, including laser scanning, conventional surveys, GPS surveys and photogrammetric imaging with calibrated cameras. Satellite images, aerial photography and full-dome panorama photography are also employed as are contextual photography and videos.

The acquired data is processed to produce Geographic Information Systems (GIS), 3D computer models, maps, architectural sections and building plans and interactive panorama tours of the sites. The database is conceptualised as a holistic system and therefore spatial data acquired by the Zamani group is augmented by contextual non-spatial data which is acquired by ALUKA/JStor and made available to subscribed institutions worldwide. The Mellon Foundation has generously supported this project, and further funding of R10 million over three years (from 2012) is sought.  Read more about the Zamani project.

The Visual History Project at the Isaac and Jesse Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research

The Visual History Project aims to enable visual material to be accessible as interactive data for academic study and research. Building on an earlier oral history project conducted in the 1980s, the Centre is now seeking to expand and deepen our understanding of Jewish social history through this project, with the collection being available for both scholarly and general use. It will also incorporate oral interviews which will be accessible in internet searches.

The collections (both photographic and film) trace the journey of Jews in South Africa over time: from the platteland to the city; from the immigrant to the acculturated and from the “Jew” to the “South African”. Interwoven in these journeys is the dynamic notion of Diaspora in the South African and Jewish senses. The family collections tell stories of migrations that took place over time for a myriad of reasons – political, economic, cultural and personal.

A secondary aspect of this project is to unearth the bodies of work of many Jewish professional photographers and filmmakers who worked in studios and/or made a living from photography. These collections will untap a wealth of visual material and narratives, very often undervalued and unknown. The Centre is already acquainted with the collections of Jewish studios throughout the country, a profession that was seemingly popular for the newly arrived immigrant. The fundraising target is R500,000.

The Centre for Popular Memory


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The Centre for Popular Memory is an Africa-focused oral history-based, research, advocacy and archival centre allied to the Historical Studies department. Research prioritizes multilingual approaches to the impact of post-traumatic legacies in Africa and specializes in multi-leveled technology driven outputs through academic journals, exhibitions, film and including the development of scholarly content for portable media platforms.

The African Oral history archive contains over 3000 oral history recordings in 12 languages, many with full transcripts and translations. These collections have been preserved, migrated and gathered over the last 25 years, and concentrates on the analysis of such scholarly collections as critical knowledge systems within a larger South African and international context.

Current lead projects include the African Memory Project (AMP), which aims to increase access and publicity of oral and visual collections in South Africa and the continent, and collaborates with international leaders in fields of oral history and memory studies to analyze and engage with Africa-centered research material. Histories of the Present is a project around liberation, with specific emphasis on audio-visual collections of people living in South Africa between 1948-1994. The project model fosters critical debate in scholarly forums. Bridging the Digital Divide is an award-winning project that bridges the generational and cultural divisions between apartheid survivors and their descendants, and the IT skills divide between what is perceived to be a developing country and first world technology. Visit the Popular Memory website.

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