Perdeby spoke to Director of the University of Pretoria Archives and Professor of History in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, Prof Karen Harris to find out about UP’s archives, located in the Old Arts building on Hatfield campus.
What do you store?
In a nutshell, the archive is the memory bank of the university. We only collect university related material. That means from the top, right down to the bottom. We’ve got all the personnel records for example of every person who has ever been employed here, whether they are in academic administration, whether they are in academia, rectors, the works. We’ve got all that information, all the human resources information. We’ve got information about students. We’ve got all the financial records and so on. We try and keep a track record footprint at the university and we’ve taken the history at the university way back to prior the South African war. We also have the history of residences, student life [and] Perdeby. We have closed collections as well. We are completely in compliance with the National Archives Legislation which is across the country. We are also in compliance with the access to information and then also with the PIA (Privacy Impact Assessment) act, which is your privacy. While information is available you also have got to protect the individual.
How old is the oldest item you store?
Probably [from] the 1890s.
Why do we need to store these items?
It’s a human thing. Everybody wants to know where they come from. If you don’t know anything about yourself you are nobody. It’s your past that makes you who you are. And I think it’s imperative that the university builds on its heritage, and its heritage is a chequered one. It’s a story that reflects the political and economic and social climate of the time and this university has been through various phases. It’s been through the Apartheid history and that’s not something you can hide away from, that’s something that’s part of the history. It’s a human curiosity, it’s the foundations, and it’s what gives us an academic profile. Our archive is involved in the teaching dimension.
Who has access to the archives?
The archive is an open entity. We are open from 08:30 to 15:30. We do prefer that you make an appointment.
How is it stored and for how long is it stored?
[It is stored] forever. We have an appraisal situation, so somebody will retire and give us all their documents. We store the stuff in acid free boxes. We have a cataloguing system, which is almost like a bird’s eye view of the university. It is all categorised in different sections.
What are some of the more interesting things that you have in the archives?
The early documentation [is what] I always find fascinating and what students did then. With Fees Must Fall we have made an entire collection of everything that appeared in any of the media and it’s a huge file. It all depends on what you’re keen on, you just want to reflect back and go and dig up the past.
How can students get involved?
Come to the archives. Students are very welcome if they have projects or if they are just interested in the archives.