UP Museums archiving knowledge: promoting International Archives Day

Posted on June 09, 2020

In the age of ‘fake news’, the need for trustworthy sources has become ever more essential. The perception of archives is usually vague, often confused with libraries, but essentially archives keep primary records and more importantly, are repositories of knowledge. Archives are sometimes perceived as difficult to access and thought to fall within the boring realm for the historian. Yet, nothing could be further than the truth. Archival heritage is a valuable testimony about the economic, political and social development of humanity.

In 2007, the United Nations were requested to create an International Archives Day and so 9 June 1948 marks the day that the International Council on Archives (ICA) was created under the auspices of UNESCO- and the rest, as they say, is history. The University of Pretoria (UP) Museums are promoting the International Archive Day campaign and are raising awareness among the UP community and the wider public about the importance of archives.

Throughout global history, archives, libraries and museums have been allies in the field of information. While they may have taken separate paths of professionalisation- they both have the common ancestor of the Mouseion (seat of the muse). One of the oldest archives and museums in the world originated from Africa, when the Musaeum at Alexandra in Egypt, which included the famous Library of Alexandria was founded as a scholarly institution by Ptolemy II, but by AD 272 was destroyed by civil war.  By the 1800s, museums and archives overlapped in physical and political space. Later, museums took control of object collections while archives took over other forms of records and mainly cared for historical manuscripts.

Museums and archives have returned to their traditional relationship, thanks to new technological tools and digital databases that make collaboration easy. Even with different types of collections under their curatorial care, both have a common goal: providing knowledge and access to people in the Information Age. Archives and museums also preserve the two-dimensional, three-dimensional collections and digital data in keeping, maintaining and generating new knowledge.

In recent years, the UP Museums have established the only Mapungubwe Archive in South Africa. In order to continue a collaborative relationship between museums and archives, they are also in the process of establishing the UP Museum Archive. These archives are the essential foundations for museum research, where historical knowledge is not only preserved for its enduring value, but new knowledge is generated and distilled into interpretative narratives within the museum galleries. The UP Museums are leaders in the field of preservation and have taken great strides to house, care for, and provide access to valuable archival and historical material from the university museum collections. Join the global movement to celebrate this important message that archives store knowledge, archives disseminate knowledge and archives search for new knowledge.

The International Council on Archives have announced 8 June to 14 June 2020 as International Archives Week and this year’s campaign is, “Empowering Knowledge Societies”, visit https://www.ica.org/en/the-archives-and-records-are-accessible for more information.

- Author Michelle De La Harpe
Published by Nicole Hoffmann

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