In mid-May 2021, the APC’s Five Hundred Year Archive team launched re-source, a hands-on Digital Curation initiative option. The option is offered as part of the UCT History Department’s MA course, History in Public Life. However, re-source is envisaged as a multi-purpose Digital Curation opportunity for researchers more generally.
Re-source takes the form of an online digital archive combined with an exhibition/presentation functionality. It is platform for re-archiving, re-presenting and re-curating inherited materials; for archiving excluded things; and for making these re-worked or new archival offerings and their innovative curation accessible online.
An epistemological (and political) opportunity
Re-source is an opportunity for doing things differently and building new kinds of archive that open to new epistemological futures.
Collections mostly depend on the vision of a collecting agent who may be a motivated individual or may be an organisation with a particular mission. Archiving such collections typically involves the collections being subjected to institutional archival regimes and requires institutional commitments for posterity and enormous resources to ensure sustainability.
Using re-source, students and other researchers become collectors whose vision enables unique assemblages. The online platform offers a low-resource, sustainable and robust opportunity for archiving the collections. This presents a remarkable opportunity to give new shape to archives. The researchers frame and give the material an organisational logic that they think is the best possible. And the researchers make it accessible, both archivally and in engaging online curations that take the form of digital exhibitions, podcasts, presentations, bibliographies, and anything else they wish to try out. Moreover, researchers can ensure preservation for posterity through re-source.
A digital skills development opportunity
Many students taking the History in Public Life course (one of the constituencies, but not the only one) for whom re-source has been designed) want, somehow, in future, to work with historical materials. Where in the 20th century that meant mostly working in museums or archives, perhaps in the area of historical film, or on publications, in the 21st century much of that work takes a digital form. This initiative is thus an opportunity to develop skills and forms of critical thinking relevant to the emerging field of digital humanities in the academy and in public life.
In an experimental and supported environment
Participation in the re-source initiative is supported by the Five Hundred Year Archive team. The team has both the necessary technical skills and an explicit orientation towards supporting innovation and experimentation in the Digital Humanities. Support is offered in the areas of copyright and intellectual property (legal regimes; negotiation of rights to use material and the development of tactics for getting round any limitations where needed); ethical considerations; critical engagement on questions of how to arrange sources “archivally” including the development of meta data (information that frames the sources) and considered adherence to data standards; and in linking archival materials directly to digital exhibitions and other kinds of presentations.
Re-source is based on a home-grown open source software, Simple DL, developed in the Digital Libraries Laboratory (http://dl.cs.uct.ac.za/) led by UCT’s Professor of Computer Science, Hussein Suleman. The software is suitable for low-resource conditions and is designed to be highly sustainable and accessible. The APC, through its Five Hundred Year Archive digital project, work closely with the Lab to use Simple DL to realise - at the level of the software functionality itself - the kinds of archival critique and innovation fostered by the APC, including critique of historically determined limitations and assumptions built into the DNA of much Euro-American ‘gold-standard’ open source archival and exhibition software. Simple DL is underpinned by the Laboratory’s on-going research, including, inter alia, on African language information retrieval.