The Five Hundred Year Archive (FHYA) project is the focus of Grant’s post-doctoral research fellowship at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative. The FHYA aims to develop and promote understandings of the archival possibilities of materials located both within and outside of institutions and to facilitate their engagement.
The project team has selected a limited number of bodies of material pertinent to a small region (the southern Swaziland-KwaZulu-Natal region) in a limited time period (the late independent period, from about 1750 to various points in the late nineteenth century), drawn from diverse collection settings, covering a large range of disciplines (archaeology, botany, ethnology, history). In short, a small focus drawing on a vast array of “sources”. In so doing the project is attempting to deal with the maximum complexity involved in creating an archive in relation to a tightly circumscribed focus. The aim is to use this as an opportunity to think through the problems involved and, in the form of a sample project, to attempt to address them.
An important output of the project is creation of an online digital archival exemplar, which is capable of bringing together, through the use of digital technologies, visual, textual and sonic materials relevant to these periods. As an exemplar it is not an archive that will exist in perpetuity in its own right, but rather a sample or prototype designed to show what is possible. The exemplar aims to be a conceptually innovative intervention geared to work across geographic and disciplinary boundaries, across multiple institutions (both in South Africa and internationally), and to incorporate a variety of media formats such as digital images, text and audio.
The FHYA project has a number of external partner institutions from a variety of disciplines so as to make the exemplar responsive to a wide range of institutional concerns. The project team has worked closely with many of the partner institutions to ensure mutually beneficial relationships, including the Swaziland National Archives and the KwaZulu-Natal Archives, amongst others. The institutions are Wits University Historical Papers, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, the Swaziland National Archives, the Killie Campbell Africana Library, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Bews Herbarium at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Cambridge University Library, with relations with AMAFA KwaZulu-Natal and the Voortrekker / Msunduzi Museum in process.