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Thumbs up for South Africa’s Antarctic history project

Although still in its early stages, the Antarctic Legacy Project of which the Centre for Invasion Biology (C·I·B) is part, has received the green light from international polar scholars.

Thanks to the project, which is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), an extensive electronic archive is being compiled that includes oral, visual and tangible memories of the thousands of men and women who have worked in these cold regions over the years as part of, among others, the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP).

The online databases being built as part of the Antarctic Legacy Project were showcased to researchers from ten countries who attended the 7th international Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) History Action Group workshop, held from 26 to 29 July, at STIAS at Stellenbosch University. Along the theme of “Antarctic History: Probing the Unknown”, the workshop attendees from 10 countries reflected on current historical and archaeological research being done on Antarctica.

“The workshop was an opportunity for South African and international academics to discuss and critically evaluate how historians with Antarctic interests can most fruitfully use the growing accessibility of diverse source material to further research,” said Dr. Cornelia Luedecke, who chairs the SCAR History committee.

Workshop attendees amongst others also took note of successful efforts by its host, the Antarctic Legacy Project, to provide online archival databases containing the history of South African research endeavours in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic territories over the past six decades.

The Antarctic Legacy Project is run in association with the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (C·I·B) based at Stellenbosch University (SU), and the Department of Historical Studies and Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

South Africa, through SANAP, is the only African country with involvement in the Antarctic region, and manages research bases on Antarctica, Gough Island and Marion Island.

The C·I·B team are busy collating the private records and stories of South African scientists, artisans, engineers and mariners who have been involved in the annual resupply and scientific research efforts. This database will contain an estimated 30 000 photographs, documents and other materials.

“People who have worked in the region have been more than willing to share the memories and photographs of their experiences with us, and it has been wonderful to be able to include them in the archive,” says social scientist and C·I·B researcher Ms. Dora Scott of the support for the project. Although not yet complete, the database will eventually be available online to interested parties and researchers.