UP celebrates National Archives Awareness Week 2024

Posted on May 10, 2024

Held on Wednesday 8 May 2024, this month’s MD Club in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies (DHHS) at the University of Pretoria (UP) took place during the National Archives Awareness Week for 2024. Since 2004, South Africa’s National Archives Week is observed annually during the second week of May and strives to “promote the importance of good record-keeping practices”. Additionally, National Archives Week also aims to engage with members of the public to encourage discussions around the significance of archives and archivists.

As a celebration of the 20th annual South African Archives Week, this month’s MD Club focused on the importance of the archival profession. Head of the DHHS and director of the University of Pretoria Archives (UPA), Prof Karen Harris kicked off this month’s meeting with an introductory presentation, where she quoted Verne Harris, recipient of an honorary doctorate at UP who states that “the work of Archive is justice.”

Prof. Karen Harris during her presentation

This was followed by a screening of a short film produced by History Masters student, Justine Binedell. Justine produced her film using footage that she captured during her research. Her film visually depicted the archival research process and defined terms such as “counter archive” and “alternative archive”. Additionally, Justine’s film also includes interview footage with UP Archives’ very own, Dr Ria van der Merwe. Her film artistically portrayed the powerful message: archives do not only contain official records but also capture the feeling of a time in the past. 

Following this, Dr Bronwyn Strydom from UP’s Archive gave an insightful presentation titled, “Reflections on Archival Practice and Power”. In her presentation, Dr Strydom referred to the term coined by Verne Harris, “the archival sliver”, referring to the documentary record of the past. She also illustrated that the archive is not always a mundane and mechanical entity, as is often associated with the day-to-day activities. Dr Strydom also depicted possible limitations of the archive and demonstrated the archival need for accountability and transparency. In her presentation, Dr Strydom highlighted the duality of archival records, as both a product as well as a part of a process. The presentation reflected on the significance of the archive in historical research and the intimate relationship between the two, and as asserted by Dr Strydom:

“Historians are the primary users of archives. So somewhat, the existence of archives is justified by the existence of historians. And the raw material for history is largely located in archives.”

And that

“Having worked in an archive over a number of years, it's been helpful to personally be a researcher and historian, but you can also reverse the roles and say, it's actually good for all historians to understand the inner workings of the archive.”

This special edition of MD Club concluded with an archive-inspired pop quiz, in which the winners received vouchers sponsored by Haloa Coffee

- Author Robyn Schnell

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