Platform launched to promote the value of archives

26 October 2009

Dr Harriet DeaconRemembering for the future: Dr Harriet Deacon is the director of the newly launched Archival Platform.

If archivists, museums and heritage workers feel isolated and forsaken right now, the new Archival Platform hopes to set that right.

Based at and "fostered by" UCT, the Archival Platform was established as an independent entity by Professor Carolyn Hamilton as a civic initiative of her National Research Foundation chair in archive and public culture, in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and through wide sector discussions.

Billed as a network, advocacy and research project, the Platform aims to build a network of practitioners and resources in the sector. Easier said than done, given that those working in the sector are from varied professions and far-flung locations.

"At the moment the sector is very fragmented," explains Platform director Dr Harriet Deacon.

Central to building the network is developing a new sense of context, argues Deacon.

"This is not about archivists and heritage professionals dusting items on a shelf," she says. "It's about understanding the broader significance of the profession, in building citizenship, a sense of identity and social cohesion."

Beyond this lie two major objectives: talking with government on one hand and the public on the other. In the case of the former, the Platform has launched the Letters to Lulu campaign, urging those working in the field to write to the newly appointed Minister of Arts & Culture, Lulu Xingwana, to help her "feel the sense of the pulse of the sector".

"In the face of numerous failures in the national archival system, the Platform works to facilitate public engagement designed to ensure that government fulfils its mandate in relation to the national archival estate," says Deacon.

Next year, the Platform will reach out to communities; to those with a vested interest but, often, little say in the sector.

"There's no-one out there speaking on behalf of the public interest," cautions Hamilton.

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