Hello everyone, Katie Carline here. I’m a student of South African history in my second year of PhD studies in the Department of History at Michigan State. I look forward to blogging about my experiences in the CHI Initiative as I learn the tools of digital cultural heritage, apply them to my own research interests (consumer culture in early twentieth century South Africa), and reflect on my position within the wide network of South African digital history scholarship.

And a wide network it is, too! South African history has a diverse representation in the digital sphere. At MSU I’ve learned from digital scholarship produced by my supervisor, Peter Alegi, and colleagues like former CHI fellow Liz Timbs, as well as many digital Africana projects by MATRIX. In South Africa itself, numerous digital projects aim to make history accessible to the public – from the independent volunteer-based encyclopedia South African History Online, to the massive digitization project at the University of Witwatersrand’s Historical Papers. Moreover, the Digital Humanities Association of Southern Africa recently established itself as a member of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations.

However, there’s no simple equivalence between the digital and the public/accessible. For one thing, not everyone has equal access to the internet.[1] As I begin the CHI fellowship, some of the questions I’m reflecting on are: who is the audience for the digital project I create, and how will my work relate and compare to the many established digital presences in the world of South African history?

Ambrosia Tea Advertisement, Umlindi we Nyanga, 15 November 1939

My plan for the CHI fellowship, as it stands now, is to explore advertisements in black newspapers of the 1930s and 1940s. In this period, South African companies stepped up marketing campaigns targeted directly at black consumers. I’m especially interested in testimonial-style advertisements, where “real customers” had their photographs or addresses printed to advertise a product, like Mrs. Ntisana’s endorsement of Ambrosia Tea in the picture here.

I think there are many interesting questions to be asked about this genre of advertisement – what sorts of people and products are advertised in this way? What does this tell us about consumer culture? About advertisers’ perceptions of black South African consumers?

I look forward to exploring these questions, and thinking about digital cultural heritage answers to them, over the next year.







[1] Just one example of how, in South Africa, internet access shapes access to information and education: Toks Dele Oyedemi, “Digital Inequalities and Implications for Social Inequalities: A Study of Internet Penetration amongst University Students in South Africa,” Telematics & Informatics 29, no. 3 (August 2012): 302–13.