DHHS and UPA event – Honours “prospectors” gather to celebrate the gold rush!

Posted on June 09, 2023

In February this year, enthusiastic Department of Historical and Heritage Studies (DHHS) “prospectors” arrived with little mining experience at the “archival goldfields” located at the Old Arts Building. Equipped with only pen, paper, soft hands and inquisitive minds, prospectors quickly formed groups of three to four members to pool equipment and shared quarrying tasks. Mining chiefs assigned a claim to each group, and the backbreaking toil started earnestly. The months of hard manual labour paid off, and on the evening of 6 June 2023, each prospector revealed the golden nuggets they had found. Friends, family, colleagues, and UP academics joined in the happy celebrations.

Too good to be true? Not so! ‘Golden nuggets’ were indeed displayed in the form of interesting presentations delivered by the honours students of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies (aka the prospectors). The UP archivists (‘mining chiefs’) gave each group a box (aka the digging claim) consisting of unsorted archival material that was transferred to the UP Archives from the Transvaal Education Department Museum. Students were expected to appraise, arrange, and describe these records. In addition, an accession register was to be created, and the research potential of the documents was identified. Furthermore, each student had to select one document with a “wow” factor or was of a ‘golden nugget’ research value.

This hands-on project, called “What’s in the Box?”, devised by Prof Karen Harris, Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, is unique to the University of Pretoria History honours module in methodology. For the past five years, this task has helped students to understand and appreciate archives and equipped them with the necessary understanding and skills to work with archival material.

- Author Alta Jamison

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