The Project

Digitization and Heritage Protection: Ghadames as a Laboratory of Community-Based and Collaborative Strategies

This blog presents the achievements of a research and heritage protection project, based at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin and supported by the Patrimonies Funding Initiative of the Gerda Henkel Stiftung. The project is developed with the University of Tripoli and the Ecole nationale d’architecture et d’urbanisme of Tunis, in cooperation with the Ghadames Association for Heritage and Conservation (Jam’iyya Ghadames lil-Turâth wal-Mahfuzât). The project aims to digitize a large amount of high-value historical archives and manuscripts that have been partially saved from the rubbles of buildings in Ghadames (Libya) that were destroyed during World War II. Some manuscripts and archives are still under the rubbles of the local mahkama (qâdî’s house, the medieval court of justice). Thanks to the desertic climate and to the resistance of the traditional terracotta boxes they are stored in, the archives and manuscript already excavated are in a good state of conservation. Historical academic research, in situations of emergency, sometimes has to engage not only with the interpretation of existing and safely preserved historical sources (manuscripts, archives), but also with their very protection and conditions of existence. It is the case as for these sources of extremely high interest and relevance. Experience has shown also the need to promote community-based protection processes and to link them with a vision of heritage that articulates historical research and interpretation: not only a one-off protection. A reflexive look at the concept and practices of community-based heritage management and conservation is thus at the core of the project and of the blog. The physical conservation of archival artefacts cannot be indeed separated from a reflection on the functioning of contemporary societies and on the very practice of historical research in dialogue with civil society. This is precisely the spirit of this conservation and research project to combine protection necessities expressed by civil society locally and a network of scholars researching the very sources that the process is aiming to protect. Protection is also conceived here as the conjunction of the physical restoration of storage facilities, their insertion into processes of governance in the hands of civil society locally and an effort of digitization that allows both stability and open-access. This blog is conceived as an interface between all partners of the project (Ghadames, Berlin, Tripoli and Tunis), which belong to a diversity of civic and professional positionings and academic backgrounds, as well as a way of communicating the achievements of the project. It will present for both civil society and the scholarly audience the various steps of the archeological endeavour, of the restoration and digitization process, as well as the various seminars and workshops developed as part of the project. It will also present the academic work produced within the project.

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