As digital archiving goes mainstream in many countries, the preservation of cultural heritage is becoming an ever more realizable goal. Much emphasis has rightly been placed on the need to preserve cultural artifacts belonging to vulnerable communities (such as indigenous tribes), but efforts are now being instigated by all types of societies, from the vastness of Europe as a whole to the relative minuteness of the Plateau Peoples of America.
Archiving tools are now versatile and well-developed enough to allow for this range of different end users. The EU-funded Europeana Collections represent a high watermark for depth, variety, and scope in digital archiving. Meanwhile, accessible CMS tools like Mukurtu itself make the preservation of culture in a digital environment a possibility for much smaller communities.
As citizens of a globalized world, many of us find ourselves a member not just of many different communities, but of communities differing in size from the closest-knit (family or tribe) to the most incomprehensibly enormous (nations or even the world as a whole). In between these extremes, we find everything from ethnic to linguistic identities and social to interest-based identities.
The fact that each of us possesses a ‘membership’ to such a huge number of different communities underlines the need for digital archiving solutions that work on many different levels, from the most localized to the most global.
In this article, we explore three fascinating uses of digital archiving and how each one, in its own unique way, is contributing to the preservation and sharing of vital cultural assets.
Black Cultural Archives
The Black Cultural Archives is a UK-based charity that documents the long and fascinating history of African and Caribbean people in Britain. The organizers describe the charity as a “national heritage center” dedicated to the collection, preservation, and celebration of their community.
One of the most remarkable achievements of the team behind the archive is their creation of both a digital archive alongside their free-to-enter exhibition building in Brixton, South London.
Collections of particular note include the papers of renowned writer and historian Stella Dadzie. Stella was the joint winner of the 1985 Martin Luther King Award for Literature for The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain. She has been a key figure in developing and promoting anti-racist strategies that have played a significant role in shifting and modernizing public life in Britain. She is also a noted campaigner for women’s rights.
The center is also home to the papers of Dr. Jan Mckenley, a noted activist involved in the Brixton Defence Campaign. This social movement is historically significant within London as it represented a key moment in the backlash of black communities against institutionally racist policies and policing methods present in Britain during the 1970s and 80s.
A digital archive also exists for a fascinating collection of photographs documenting the lives of African and Caribbean peoples in London between the 1930s and 2000s.
The Europeana Collections contain a mind-boggling 51 million individual artifacts pertaining to the heritage, culture, and history of the continent of Europe.
The formation of this digital archive was helped along with financing by the EU. The European Union has been one of the most proactive political bodies in the world in exploring the possibilities of cultural digital archiving and even took the step of naming 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage.
The efforts of the Europeana Collections team and their partners have paid off handsomely and the online archive today is a treasure trove, not only for historians and scholars but for all people connected to or interested in the rich and varied artistic, literary and cinematic history of Europe.
Particular highlights include a fashion archive with items from household names including Emilio Pucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel.
Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal
The Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal is a leading example of the possibilities for small, threatened and often isolated tribal communities to digitally archive their unique heritage. Built with the Mukurtu CMS and maintained with the help of WSU, the portal offers a user-friendly means of exploring the cultural heritage of various different Plateau tribes.
These tribes, including the Nez Perce, are indigenous to the interior Pacific Northwest of the modern day United States and Canada. The archive contains neatly presented linguistic and photographic artifacts that serve not only to preserve the history of the tribe, but to spread knowledge and understanding of their unique struggle throughout history. The collection also serves to underline the fragility of indigenous cultures facing enormous outside pressures on their way of life.