Digital kitambo: Decolonising narratives and bringing the past into the future at the national museums of Kenya

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.52152/heranca.v6i1.667

Keywords:

Heritage studies, Post-colonial museums, Digitisation, Collections management systems, Experimental museology

Abstract

The Swahili word ‘kitambo’, which refers to occurrences in the past that are understood to be at least indirectly connected to the speaker, can be used to describe experimental museology through digital cultural heritage. There is a need to improve access and enhance conservation goals within African cultural heritage institutions, and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) has been developing innovative technologies and communication tools with the Kenya Heritage Resource Information System (KEHRIS). This paper will discuss Digital Kitambo—a pilot project completed at NMK from 2013 – 2019 to create the spatially integrated database KEHRIS, digitise 10,000 artefacts and specimens from the archaeology and palaeontology collections, and develop digital learning programmes to engage a wider audience.  Qualitative research methodology included participant observation, qualitative interviews and focus groups with museum staff as well as focus groups with primary and secondary teachers to develop curricula for local schools. This paper traces the evolution of Digital Kitambo from its inception and reflects on both the successes and shortcomings of the initiative with particular attention to its goals of decolonising the museum’s collections and contributing to new national narratives by engaging the public through digital initiatives.

 

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Author Biographies

Kristina Dziedzic Wright, University of Leicester, United Kingdom

I have master's degrees in English and art history, both from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a PhD in museum, gallery and heritage studies from the University of Leicester. Through comparative case studies of contemporary art exhibitions in Nairobi and Seoul, my doctoral research investigates tensions between art as a facilitator of cultural understanding, driver of economic development and tourism, and conduit for communicating national narratives. I am currently revising my thesis for publication as a book.

I taught art history and English at Ewha Women’s University and Seoul National University in South Korea from 2011-2019 and consulted on a project at the National Museums of Kenya to develop a comprehensive cultural heritage management system, digitise the collections and curate an online exhibition. I work as an independent curator and am currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester and a visiting researcher at the Institute for Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at the University of Oslo.

David K. Wright, University of Oslo, Norway

Biography

My research interests primarily revolve around understanding interactions between humans and the environments they inhabit. Sedimentary geology and GIS analysis are the scientific applications to archaeology that I use as tools to accomplish my research goals. Over my career, I have used these tools to study earth processes, completing archaeological projects covering a variety of research objectives and geographic areas. However, human systems are incredibly complex to study, and I have learned that interdisciplinary collaborations produce the most fruitful and informative research projects.

Over the last several years, I have been pursuing archaeological research in the Desert Southwest of the USA and in different parts of Africa. I have recently begun a new research project in the Lower Amazon Basin of Brazil. In these projects, I have sought to understand how humans adapt to climate change on various scales. My primary research objective is to understand where sediments originate from and where they end up being deposited within a chronometric framework (source-to-sink analysis). This informs archaeological site preservation/taphonomy as well as human behavior and adaptations to landscape change. In that capacity, I work with archaeologists who develop synergistic research questions and approach past human occupations holistically, integrating environmental aspects of human settlement with the technologies people used to sustain themselves.

My experience in cultural resource management and numerous field projects allowed me to spend a lot of one-on-one time with excellent field archaeologists, which, in turn, informed my approach for mentoring students of my own once I had the requisite qualifications. Prior to moving to Asia, most of my post-doctoral teaching experience occurred at the bottom of a trench. In this regard, my success as a teacher depended on being an efficient and meticulous researcher, and I continue to employ that philosophy when I am in a classroom.

I use the scientific method as the foundation of my research and teaching philosophies, and apply scientific tools such as OSL dating and stratigraphic analysis to understand broader processes relating to human habitation of landscapes. For me, science is the process by which greater insights into the natural and cultural realms can be gleaned, not the objective. Great research happens when scientists from different disciplines bring their skills sets together to achieve a common set of goals.

Nicholas Wiltshire, OpenHeritage NPC, South Africa

 .

Jenna lavin, OpenHeritage NPC, South Africa

Biography

I received my MSc degree in 2010 which focussed on reconstructing past environments using palaeo-environmental indicators in Kenya’s arid Turkana region. Since graduating, I have worked in the heritage management sector, including both public service and the private sector. In my position as a Heritage Officer at both Heritage Western Cape (HWC) and at the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), I developed a sound comprehension of the National Heritage Resources Act and other relevant legislation. In my time as Assistant Director for Policy, Research and Planning at HWC, I developed policies and guidelines for processes that are still in use today. I also conducted research into the heritage significance of various kinds of heritage resources, which resulted in their formal protection as both Provincial Heritage Sites (Verlorenvlei Historic Settlement, Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Pinnacle Point Archaeological Site etc) as well as National Heritage Sites (David Green Fossil Shoreline, West Coast Fossil Park).

In 2015, I performed the role of Acting Deputy Director for HWC from April to December 2015, including financial management responsibilities, staff management responsibilities, problem solving and the training of new staff. In 2016, I left the public sector to become a heritage consultant specialising in archaeology.

Between 2016 and 2019 I have completed over 100 Heritage Impact Assessments, Archaeological Impact Assessments and Heritage Screening Assessments across South Africa, including projects within Table Mountain National Park and the West Coast National Park. In my current position, I am responsible for project management and quality control on all of our heritage-related projects. I provide specialist heritage and archaeological expertise when required and assist with the drafting of management plans, heritage impact assessments and archaeological impact
assessment reports. I liaise with clients, authorities and other specialists to ensure the highest quality product. I manage the budgets and financial compliance for all our projects and for the business in general. I also manage the staff in the Heritage Directorate. I have used, and have been involved in developing, various innovative archaeological recording systems including a site recording smartphone application that feeds directly into SAHRIS, among others.

During my career, I have maintained an active involvement in academic approaches to
archaeology and heritage management in general, Whenever the opportunity arises, I lecture on archaeology and heritage management at both UCT and as a part of international field schools. I also remain actively involved in the broader heritage sector, as a member of the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists, the Association of Professional Heritage Practitioners, the International Committee on Monuments and Sites for South Africa and as a member of the International Committee for Archaeological Heritage Management.

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Published

2023-03-08

How to Cite

Wright, K. D., Wright, D. K., Wiltshire, N., & lavin, J. (2023). Digital kitambo: Decolonising narratives and bringing the past into the future at the national museums of Kenya. Herança, 6(1), 22–38. https://doi.org/10.52152/heranca.v6i1.667