The University of Cape Town and scholars across the globe are working quickly to see how they can replace treasured materials that were destroyed during the Table Mountain wildfire last weekend.
UCT’s Special Collections consist of print and audiovisual material on African studies and other specialized subjects, including more than 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers. They were housed at the now-destroyed Jagger Reading Room in Rondebosch, which was built in the 1930s, the university said in a series of updates about the wildfire damage.
“The collection of books and pamphlets exceeds 85,000 items on African studies alone, and the collection on African film is among the most extensive in the world, with over 3,000 films available for viewing and research,” said UCT.
In some cases, the firefighting efforts destroyed what the fire itself did not claim. There is water in the Special Collections basements, though all is not lost, says UCT’s Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative.
Some materials can be recovered because scholars across the globe retain copies of materials acquired during research, and the university is establishing a dedicated website so that digital copies can be preserved and the collections restored.
There’s also an online form for academics to fill out to upload their own copies.
“Academics and other researchers around the world who have worked in these special collections and have taken photocopies or mobile phone images of documents may be able to contribute these to help recover some of the lost records,” the university asks. “Please fill in the form one time for each document you have. The results will be collated by Dr Maha Rafi Atal, Copenhagen Business School, and passed to UCT.”
Images: Lerato Maduna/UCT