As Heritage and Tourism Month draws to a close, the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies (DHHS) and the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) reflected on the impact that new technologies have on the conservation of heritage resources and visitors experiences of these resources.
This year was the fourth instalment of the collaboration between the DHHS and the SAHRA. The theme, "Heritage Evolution: Heritage and Tourism Technology", is a natural progression from the previous year's "Pandemic Practices in Heritage Management".
Participating speakers from the SAHRA, the University of Pretoria Campus Tours (UPCT), the University of Pretoria (UP) Museums, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Origins Centre and Road Trip SA shared their experiences of the technological evolution of heritage tourism management during a Webinar on 22 September 2021.
Adv. Lungisa Malgas (SAHRA CEO), who opened the webinar, captured the theme in stating that: "The rapidly evolving digital technologies are affecting every major aspect of cultural heritage, its preservation, management and enjoyment" and that "it is transforming our ideas of what heritage is, to whom it belongs and how it should be preserved and shared". She further elaborated on the impact of digital technology by stating that it strengthens "the framing of heritage in global and economic contexts, alter[s] the traditional understanding of access to heritage, influence[s] conservation and restitution issues and profoundly transformed memory institutions worldwide." She also briefly indicated the effect that the pandemic had on accelerating this evolution.
Professor Karen Harris, Head of the DHHS welcomed the delegates and congratulated Mr Hannes Engelbrecht, lecturer in DHHS, and Ms Kim Ngobeni, Heritage Protection Officer at SAHRA and alumni of the DHHS, for yet another very well-coordinated event between academia, government and the heritage and tourism industry. She also noted that the majority of the speakers were either current or former postgraduates from the DHHS who the DHHS were very proud of.
In their turn, each presenter further illustrated some aspects of these adaptations. Ms Hannelize Schepel and Ms Michelle Bester from the UPCT got the event touring with a brief and informative sampling of what can be experienced during a virtual tour of the University of Pretoria, its gardens, galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM).
Dr Tammy Hoddgkiss (Reynard) from the Origins Centre at Wits University reflected on Virtual and Augmented Reality Technology employed to engage visitors and enhance their heritage experience, both on-site and remotely. She further illustrated the use of satellite technology to analyse "heritage sites through using satellite and aerial images, regional maps and archival databases".
Ms Michelle de la Harpe, an archivist at the UP Museums, illustrated the relationship between new technology and conservation measures employed. These measures include 3D scanning and printing of models of fragile artefacts for exhibition purposes along with the utilisation of metadata from 3D scans for both exhibition and archival purposes to provide the ever integral "context" and "meaning" to a heritage object.
Ms Kim Ngobeni from SAHRA illustrated the use of audio-visual media to document our national heritage sites to communicate, educate and engage visitors remotely and help us in “getting to know our heritage”.
Mr Emile Coetzee from RoadTrip SA, and a lecturer in History at the North-West University, illustrated the all-important economic aspects, access to information and the awareness of the "heritage all around you".
As with last year's webinar, the event also facilitated a discussion about the possibilities and implications of heritage virtual versus physical experiences.
With time and distance during the pandemic lockdown, it would seem that there is a general agreement that digital technologies are preferred as a measure to "complement our work" in heritage management. Likewise, these technologies should augment the awareness and experiences of heritage resources rather than replacing physical presence at a site or in proximity to an object. "It can't replace the real" or "tangible" thing, at least not yet!
DHHS and SAHARA hope you enjoyed your heritage month and that you took some time and the opportunity to appreciate the heritage in your area.