An experimental project

Metsemegologolo was started in 2019. It seeks to find innovative ways to blend the archive with the landscape with a view to create an open-source multimodal online platform for archival materials pertaining to early Tswana urban spaces straddling the South Africa–Botswana border from the 18th century onwards. We began the project with only a slender set of things that existed in digital form, so needed to build up a usable ‘archive’ for the development of our platform. So we are not concerned in the first instance with bulk digitization, although we are digitizing many things along the way, rather we want to develop a system that is geared towards making particular materials accessible for the purposes of exploring our theme.

The materials we are in the process of digitising include museum objects, maps, archival texts, published works and oral sources across a range of different institutions in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere. In addition, there is a body of ‘born digital’ data from recent excavations, palaeoclimatic data, and related fields. One of the challenges is to find ways to bring the sheer diversity of materials into a common digital environment. Internationally the field of digital archiving is well developed, technically and theoretically, but it has been rooted primarily in traditional documentary archives. Many of the sources available for the study of the deeper past are not texts and have traditionally been seen as something other than ‘archive’ – our aim is to enhance the archival functionality of these materials and to supplement what is available with lesser-known voices and agencies, dealing also with the realm of the unarchived/unarchivable. Materials that are relevant for us include texts but are mostly non-textual – rather, they are visual, material, spatial and intangible. In other words we are exploring the relevance of key archival principles in relation to materials not traditionally considered archival – while also exploring the use of space and landscape as a fundamental principle around which to design an archive.