HAPA: Rebecca Glade on Creating an Archive

In this post, HAPA Fall’16 recipient, Rebecca Glade, discusses her progress with her HIA project of the establishment of an archive based in the History Department of Khartoum University as well as an accompanying website. She also notes the logistical difficulties for her endeavor, which include the issues of language and technology.

In the beginnings of this semester, I have worked with the help of HIA to establish the Sudan Historical Photo Archive in Khartoum University’s History Department and create a website to display photographs from the archive. Since I am doing the preliminary work from abroad, much of the work during this period has been one of conversation—conversation with those in the department on what they would like to see and conversation with those at Columbia on what can be done.

To begin with, these conversations led to the purchasing of essential equipment for the project. In particular, we purchased a scanner that can process both standard photographs as well as negatives. We have also purchased equipment for storing negatives, and basic software for some photo restorations. This equipment will travel to Sudan with me in December, when I will put in place in the department and begin using it to scan photographs for the archive. It was necessary to buy the equipment, particularly the scanner, early so as to ensure that the proper permits could be obtained for their travel to Sudan.

These conversations have been ongoing about the website and what should be put in place there. Creation of a website for the project has been challenging in that I have needed to liaise between groups with very different skill sets. First and foremost, this website must reach out to a Sudanese audience, presenting the project and seeking community support. As such, the website must be in Arabic. At the same time, we would like to eventually have an English version of most pages, so that those outside the Middle East can also use the site and engage with the photo exhibition. The issue of language compatibility has meant that certain software, such as Omeka, have proven less useful, and instead, we have begun to assemble the website using Github. Important as well has been the issue of what to say about the website. Drafting the website in Arabic, then seeking feedback from Khartoum about the quality of the writing and what we should be highlighting has taken serious effort.

The website itself is still a work in progress. We hope to begin distributing it on social media in the upcoming weeks, so as to gain greater support for the project prior to beginning activities in mid-December, once the text of the introduction pages has been finalized. Simultaneously, we are preparing a database system for the website so as to catalog posts that I will make in December with images from the archive.

In many ways, this preparation links into broader conversations that we are preparing to have about how to treat photographs and handle digital engagement for the archive as a whole. While we will certainly have an exhibit on the website for the project, we are still determining how much of the archive will be online and how much will be stored off-line. This links in to issues of privacy as well as the political and cultural environment of Sudan, since we are conscious of both the wishes of those who might donate photographs as well as the potential for sensitive subjects being discussed through photography.

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