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The Soweto '76 Archive: HASTAC 2010 Review

Technologies of Memory in the New South Africa: The Soweto 76 Archive

Angel David Nieves

 

The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and the Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum (HPMM) have created the Soweto '76 3D immersive Archive, allowing visitors to experience what they have termed a digital cultural heritage trail.  This Archive is a virtual recreation of several significant locations during the South African Apartheid.  This presentation was a demonstration of that Archive, showcasing the ability for users to read and share their own memories or simply gain a better understanding of the Apartheid by visiting the sites.  Better still, the Soweto '76 Archive gives people access to history in a new wayrather than reading about the important locations and events of the Apartheid, the Soweto '76 Archive brings the experience to your screen by linking related video, text, memories in one interactive interface.

 

A visit to the Soweto '76 Archive is much like a visit to a very expansive museum: you can walk through buildings while reading descriptions of events related to each location. What makes the Soweto '76 Archive stand out is the interactive featuresvisitors can add their own personal Apartheid experiences to this site, essentially creating a living museum.  Because of this sharing, one visit to the Archive will never be like the next.  The creators of the Soweto '76 Archive hope that this interaction will raise questions about the creation of history of newly created democracies by interrogating how history is constituted and who gets a say in the creation of such history and why.  By opening up the Archive to everyone, the history of the Soweto '76 uprisings will not be limited to a few individuals, but instead it has the capacity to be comprised by individuals with personal memories they wish to share. 

 

Even though this presentation was only a brief demo of the in-progress Archive, I can see the potential for other worldwide historic places appropriating MITH's project.  This Archive is like no other web-based experiencenowhere else can visitors actually see and walk through such important locations while at the same time contributing to its very structure.  The combination of spectatorship and contribution will make the Soweto '76 Archive truly a new way of learning about and contributing to history.  If interactive museums become the new trend in historical archiving, then we are certainly directing our collective intelligence in the right direction. The Soweto '76 Archive is a five-year project (which I believe began in 2007), and once it is officially launched, Im curious to see how rapidly the site grows, and how other sites of history become modeled in its likeness.

 

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