Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned much about cultural heritage and the processes involved in digitizing cultural heritage. UNESCO defines cultural heritage as material culture (artifacts, monuments, structures, landscapes, etc.) and intangible cultural attributes (oral traditions, language, social practices, cuisine, etc.) of a group, community, or society that are transmitted intergenerationally, used and maintained in the present, and preserved for future generations. In our CHI weekly seminars, we’ve focused on the different ways to represent cultural heritage in digital formats using computational and digital approaches. I wish to dwell on one component, the Vision Document, and its position in designing and implementing a digital cultural heritage project.

A Vision Document is roughly a two-page manuscript that describes your project’s nature and scope, audience, outcomes/deliverables, data, schedule, and partners. Essentially, a vision document represents the complete conceptualization of your digital project (in two pages). In the CHI Fellowship program, teamwork is central to what we do. So, in a challenge to develop a vision document, I worked with two additional fellows to design a vision document for the Robben Island Museum (RIM), a digital cultural heritage project based in South Africa. Our objective was to develop a complementary digital project in the form of a website (which we refer to as a “Community Forum”) that would allow users of the RIM to participate in discussions about the Island’s rich collections and, possibly, submit additional related artifacts to the RIM. Such a project will encourage active participation on the RIM’s digital site and create a broader awareness of the RIM’s archival and cultural heritage collections. It will also encourage scholars and other key stakeholders to deposit related cultural heritage materials. In our vision document, we envisioned our deliverables/outcomes to include a website with several notable tabs, including a home page and sections for audience, project collaborators, technology and data, and environmental scan.

We envisioned our project’s audience to be individuals or groups interested in Robben Island and the holdings of the Robben Island Museum. Our collaborators would also be the Robben Island Museum, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Western Cape Mayibuye Archives. These institutions share a common interest in promoting Robben Island’s rich history and archives through digital cultural heritage. The environmental scan component consisted of similar island communities in Africa and elsewhere that share similarity (as well as differences) with Robben Island. In our scan, we identified a few sites, including Ganvié in the Bénin Republic, Makoko in Nigeria, Gorée in the Gambia, and Nzulezo in Ghana.

Coincidentally, my dissertation research centers on Nzulezo and its people. It examines the social and environmental history of the Nzulezo community, seeking to explain how human interaction with bodies of water over time resulted in complex relationships between culture and ecology. It also demonstrates how such relationships often shaped ideas about community identity, spirituality, gender, and human adaptation to slavery and physically challenging environments. During my fellowship term in CHI, I plan to develop an interactive webpage that represents Nzulezo history, or aspects of it, in digital forms, like that of the Robben Island Museum. To accomplish this goal, I’ll first need a vision document detailing my project’s scope and length. I am happy working on a sample vision document with my colleague fellows. I am learning new ideas and approaches that will prove helpful when I begin to draft my vision document for the Nzulezo project. I will update you all about that when I get there!