The Indian Ocean iconographic heritage network: digitising to improve diffusion

The Indian Ocean iconographic heritage network project aims to improve the digitisation of the iconographic heritage of countries in the zone (Réunion, Mayotte, Comoros, Madagascar, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Mozambique) and to promote this heritage to the public via a website and virtual exhibitions. The main aim is to improve the availability of the tools and services that help to create cultural content in a digital form throughout the Indian Ocean area. 

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Map of the Mozambique Channel, containing the isle of Madagascar, with the coasts of Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to Malindi ©Département de La Réunion Iconothèque Map of the Mozambique Channel, containing the isle of Madagascar, with the coasts of Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to Malindi ©Département de La Réunion Iconothèque

" ‘The Indian Ocean iconographic heritage network is being established as a result of two professional seminars, one in November 2018 and the other in June 2019, focusing on pooling skills and resources, and on training regarding the stakes and techniques involved in digitising and processing heritage images.’ "

Annabelle Albany, Project Manager for the Indian Ocean historical image library, Department of Culture and Sports at the Réunion Departmental Council

Cooperation regarding the iconography of Indian Ocean countries has been strengthened in several stages. Areas of work were identified in collaboration with the countries and institutions concerned by these challenges. 

It was necessary to set up multidimensional partnerships, which were simultaneously scientific, technical, pedagogical and legal, in order to democratise access to digital resources and disseminate the iconographic heritage of the Indian Ocean to a wide audience. 

The sharing of resources and means

Cultural institutions and individuals in these territories collect, keep and use iconographic archives from the Indian Ocean countries. Inventory, digitisation and promotion projects using publication, online dissemination or in situ circulation are in development in various places. However, these face difficulties due to the lack of suitable equipment and the shortage of staff trained in archival digitisation techniques. 

The Indian Ocean iconographic heritage network started with a project to digitise the available collections; this relied on the sharing of resources, expertise and knowledge, and on an introduction to the image environment and the technical specifics of digitisation. The next stage involved the creation of a network of iconographic heritage professionals with training in document processing, who shared their professional skills and experiences. Finally, virtual exhibitions focusing on the shared heritage of these islands and territories, as well as temporary interactive digital installations, were designed based on the available digital collections. 

The digitisation and publication of the available collections

Via the recruitment of a project manager in charge of the international development of the Indian Ocean historical image library, the first stage of the project focused on preparations for the digitisation of the available collections and on identifying (among the partner institutions) some of the collections eligible for the digitisation campaign, as well as the project’s resources, needs, obstacles and support. 

A first batch of 300 images from the Mayotte Departmental Archives was published on the Iconothèque image library website on 14 June 2018, and a Mayotte departmental press conference was held in regard to this milestone. A second batch of 200 images from the collections of Mauritian artist Serge Constantin was also made available on 22 September 2018. 

Organisation of an inaugural seminar

An inaugural seminar was held from 11 to 16 November 2018 in Mauritius; this was devoted to the pooling of expertise and to training on image-related issues and digitisation techniques. It brought together 15 scientific and technical experts from the following partner institutions: The Comoros National Centre for Documentation and Scientific Research, Madagascar National Library, Madagascar Photography Museum, Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique, Instituto de Investigação Sócio-Cultural (Mozambique), the Mayotte Departmental Archives, the Seychelles National Archives, the Blue Penny Museum (Mauritius), the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund (Mauritius), private collections (Mauritius), and heirs of Serge Constantin. This seminar allowed the sharing of various professional practices related to images, the construction of a unique diagnostic methodology for priority iconographic collections, and training on how to use the chosen digitisation equipment. 

Total investment and European funding

Total investment for the ‘Indian Ocean Iconographic Heritage Network’ project is EUR 331 642. The European Regional Development Fund contribution is EUR 281 896 through the “Interreg V Indian Ocean” cooperation programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the ‘protection, promotion and development of cultural and natural heritage’ priority.