Heritage preservation is something mankind has been involved in since the beginning. In the information era, however, new challenges arose. Digital media becomes obsolete and inaccessible, which means that information is lost, and we risk becoming the generation that will leave the smallest historical record behind. In addition, archives must keep pace with rapid technological development, in terms of both hardware and software, and since the 1990s there has been an information explosion that poses significant challenges to those who want to collect and preserve material. New information channels such as social media have also emerged over the past decade and a half that pose further unique challenges to archives. All of these issues occur against the backdrop of the so-called big data environment where large volumes of data are generated at a rapid rate in a variety of formats.
EPOG, from the Afrikaans “Ekonomie, Politiek, Omgewing en Geskiedenis” (Economy, Politics, Environment and History) is the follow-up organisation of SABRA (South African Bureau of Racial Affairs), established in 1948 as an independent organisation, although state funds were available to SABRA until the early 1980s. EPOG is a subsidiary of the Orania Movement, originally the Afrikaner Vryheidstigting or AVSTIG (Afrikaner Freedom Foundation), and is especially concerned with heritage conservation and publications. The archive was established in 2006 by Wilhelm Verwoerd, Manie Opperman and Adam Boshoff, and in 2017 the authors of the present paper became involved in the establishment of a digital archive as part of a heritage conservation and interdisciplinary research project.
The EPOG archive in Orania aims to preserve material relating to the history and development of Orania (founded in 1991), but since any information can be interpreted meaningfully only within a context, the archive has the further role of preserving material that relates to the context within which Orania was founded and currently exists, namely the Afrikaner’s identity, culture, heritage and position in South Africa. The core collection of the EPOG archive consists of publications, photographs, interviews, video material, reports, minutes of meetings, speeches and a variety of other documents related to Orania's creation and development. In other words, it is a multimedia collection that sets specific challenges for archiving, as discussed in the article. This is also the most important collection, as it is unique and not archived elsewhere. The collection that provides context to the core collection consists of material relating to the Afrikaner's history, cultural development, faith and customs, the rise of Afrikaans, the Afrikaner's pursuit of self-determination and the like.
The article discusses the creation of a digital archive under the auspices of EPOG at Orania against the background of big data, digital archiving, new media and the information explosion. Threats to digital archives, including a catastrophic loss of the storage medium, the slow physical decay of the storage medium over time, the natural decay of content over time, technological change that makes it impossible to read the storage media, technological change which makes it impossible to read the content, as well as human error, are discussed, together with solutions implemented at EPOG and at overseas digital archives.
The Open Archival Information System (OAIS) model describes six primary services of a digital archive: input, archival storage, data management, administration, conservation planning, and access. The article discusses processes that have been put in place at the EPOG archive within the framework of the OAIS model, with a particular emphasis on capturing data, in many cases automatically, from social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and the web. The article further discusses using technology to extract meaning from material that exists in a variety of formats and flows into the archive on a daily basis, as well as keeping records and using social media platforms such as Flickr and YouTube to make material available.
The article also serves as a reference point for other projects, as it shows how a digital archive can be established with a small amount of capital and limited manpower, and moreover, how collection methods should keep pace with today's information channels.
Keywords: big data; digital archives; digitization; heritage conservation; Orania; social media