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UCL Qatar: Introducing Innovation Labs to Zambian Cultural Heritage Institutions

GuestBlogger25 September 2019

By Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor, Library and Information Studies, UCL Qatar.

Over the years, UCL academics have contributed in different ways to the six Grand Challenges. One of them is Cultural Understanding, and it looks at the differing, complex, and evolving relationships between people, communities, and culture in the interconnected world of today.

After many years of digitisation in libraries, museums and archives around the globe, there is a vast accumulation of digital content. We are used to it at our fingertips on any digital device. But imagine that you are interested in the diaries and other objects related to the explorations of David Livingstone in Zambia. They have already been digitised, but you must take a trip to consult the digitised collection of the museum on-site because it is not available online.

This is still the case with plenty of cultural and scientific heritage digital content from the Global South, a region which suffers the digital divide.

The digital divide results in many deficits in access to knowledge due to missing, or the very slow adoption of, modern technology. In the cultural heritage domain, the digital divide results in the lack of exposure of digital content which exists but is not made available online. There are various explanations why this is the case – ranging from lack of suitable infrastructure for digital asset management to inadequate or missing policies for user engagement with the digital content.

Led by the desire to explore what this means in the Sub Saharan African context, I submitted a proposal to the most recent call for teaching activities in Africa and the Middle East of the Global Engagement Office at UCL. It aimed to deliver the first workshop in innovation labs in cultural heritage institutions for Sub Saharan Africa in Zambia.

Having two major obstacles in mind – inadequate infrastructures and lack of user engagement policies – we designed a workshop which addressed both areas. In a world where Open Science becomes increasingly popular, the opportunities for digital presence are changing. One solution to the issue of not sharing content online due to inadequate institutional infrastructure is to start using open platforms.

The exciting work started when my proposal received support, and we scheduled our workshop to be delivered on 1 August 2019 at Livingstone Museum, Zambia.

Fig. 1. Zambian digital content is mostly available for consultation in-house – thus world users cannot access it as a consequence of the digital divide

The rationale of the workshop was to spread the innovative knowledge accumulated at UCL Qatar to setting up successful innovation labs in cultural heritage institutions in Zambia. The workshop targeted professionals from Cultural Heritage Institutions who have responsibilities to manage digital collections and those with future intentions of engaging in the curation of a digital collection in Zambia. The workshop aimed to:

  • Equip museum and library professionals in Zambia with knowledge on the approaches to setting innovation labs and discussing how local institutions can work towards creating such labs.
  • Raise awareness on the role cultural institutions offering digital content play in boosting the digital skills of scholars, educators, learners, and creatives.

UCL Qatar worked with several institutions in Zambia to prepare and deliver the workshop, including the National Museums Board of Zambia – an umbrella institution for national museums, the National Archives of Zambia, and the Department of Library and Information Science from the University of Zambia (UNZA). It also included online interventions from the British Library.

We focused the content of the workshop on state-of-the-art digitisation, examples of digitisation projects from Zambia, and setting up innovation labs in libraries, museums, and archives. There was also plenty of discussions and a practical exercise on understanding better the needs of users of digital collections.

Participants

Initially designed for 15 participants, the workshop was delivered to a total of 27 participants (see Fig. 2)

Fig. 2.  Profiles of participants
Figure 3: Workshop participants

Feedback and impact

Eighteen out of the 27 participants provided feedback and it was overwhelmingly positive. The participants were asked to rate the content of the workshop and also to comment on the value of the knowledge for themselves and their institutions.

One participant said:

“The programme should be repeated for other professionals in Zambia and if it comes I will recommend it to others.”

There were also opinions on how to take forward the knowledge shared at the workshop:

“Put the knowledge acquired in the workshop to use ASAP, conduct a follow up workshop to determine progress in created innovation labs, and massive awareness creation of the existence of the innovation labs created to potential users”

“Embrace new trends and technologies relating to digital platforms and information sharing through innovation labs”

“I’m suggesting that maybe if its possible to continue having such workshops every year so that we learn more new techniques on how to improve our libraries. Also, the workshop should have taken at least three days to allow participants learn more”.

The workshop received media coverage from three newspapers and some local radio stations.

Another innovative outcome from this event was that UCL Qatar added the first-ever dataset of the potential for Innovation labs in Africa on the UCL repository: Dobreva, M., and Phiri, F.. (2019, August 20). Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs in Africa (Version 1). figshare. https://doi.org/10.5522/04/9685127.v1

A Google folder with all the presentations, press coverage, and photos of the event is also openly available: Innovation Labs Workshop – Zambia

Conclusion

The Funding from GEO made it possible for UCL Qatar to host this first-of-its-kind workshop in Sub Saharan Africa.

This has resulted in a beneficial collaboration with local institutions in Zambia such as the National Museum Board of Zambia, University of Zambia and National Archives of Zambia to deliver of the first-ever workshop on Innovation Labs in Sub Saharan Africa.

The workshop also inspired a new sense of enthusiasm in participants to make their digital collection accessible online.

Acknowledgment

I would like to thank Dania Jalees for the infographics, Fred Nuyambe for the photograph and Fidelity Phiri who collaborated on this project.

UCL Qatar’s collaborations shed fresh light on Doha’s rich architectural heritage

Sian EGardiner18 December 2017

Earlier this month, UCL Qatar joined forces with various partner organisations in a series of public events exploring the city of Doha’s architectural history.

Most notably, the British Council Qatar’s fourth annual British Festival included a panel discussion and exhibition brought to the festival thanks to the ongoing partnership between UCL Qatar and Qatar University’s College of Engineering.

‘The Streets of Doha’ panel featured the winners of the Unlimited Doha Design Prize (Deena Terawi, Gizem Kahraman, Ming Teong, Can Askoy and Alex Scott-Whitby) along with special guest speakers including Ibrahim Mohamed, CEO & Chief Architect of Jaidah Group and Dr Fodil Fadli, Head of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at Qatar University.

An educational partnership with the British Council

The panel’s wide-ranging discussion covered the distinctive character of Doha’s architecture, the transformation of the city’s built environment and its impact on architectural identity, everyday life and public space.

Professor Rob Carter, Professorial Research Fellow and Research Lead at UCL Qatar, was in the 120-strong audience to hear the discussions take place. Speaking about the event he said, “UCL Qatar is honoured to participate in this year’s British Festival as the British Council educational partners.

“We are proud to be the first British institution in Qatar to offer high quality UK Education, and of the outstanding outcomes we’ve achieved in developing research and capacity-building in cultural heritage in this country. I’m particularly delighted to be involved in this event and exploration of Qatar’s rich urban heritage, which is often underestimated in academic circles and public debate.”

Exchange of knowledge and ideas

Along with the panel, an exhibition showcased the Doha Unlimited Design Award 2016 prize-winning team’s vision for the city. Awarded by the British Council Qatar, the competition saw UK- and Gulf-based designers take part in a week-long design residency under the theme of ‘The Open City’, with a particular focus on mobility and making Doha more open and accessible to all.

Commenting on the collaboration between the British Council and UCL Qatar, Dr. Frank Fitzpatrick, Director of the British Council Qatar, said, “Both the United Kingdom and Qatar are well-known for their remarkable architecture, and we hope to strengthen our relationship with Qatar by creating opportunities for further collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

Ongoing collaboration with Qatar Museum

Following the festival, Professor Carter continued the exploration of Doha’s rich architectural heritage with a lively Rob Carter lecturing in Qatarpublic lecture, ‘The History Beneath Your Feet: What Urban Excavation Can Tell Us About Historic Doha and the World.’

The lecture provided further evidence for the breadth of UCL Qatar’s collaboration with external partners. The latest milestone in the successful architectural collaboration between UCL Qatar and Qatar Museums, Carter and Dr Ferhan Sakal, Head of Archaeology Operations of Qatar Museums, shared updates on recent achievements of the partners’ Qatar Old Doha Rescue Excavation.

The excavation helps to document lives of the people of Doha, from the town’s foundations being laid in the early 19th century through to the impact of the discovery of oil in the 1950s.

Following his talk, Professor Carter said: “Together with our partners at Qatar Museums, we have made remarkable progress in uncovering news and important aspects of Qatar’s rich history, building up a detailed understanding of the country’s past.

“The rapid, exciting development of Doha now adds a real urgency to our work – and whilst a great deal has been achieved already, thanks to the level of collaboration to date, we’re enormously excited about the next phase of the project.”

Unlocking Doha’s past: object conservation at UCL Qatar

KerryMilton20 August 2015

Peering through a microscope, Eleni Asderaki-Tzoumerkioti carefully scrapes at the blue-green corrosion covering a metal artifact. Eleni has been a conservator of antiquities since 1978, and is an Honorary Research Associate at the UCL Institute of Archaeology since 2002, and at UCL Qatar since 2012. She specialises in metals with an extra research interest in glass and pigments. This expertise guides her as she conserves artifacts excavated during the Joint QM-UCL Qatar Old Doha Rescue Excavation in 2013-2014.

Objects before conservation

QMA and UCL-Qatar Qubib Mosque Excavation

Conservation of these artefacts is critical; after excavation the artefacts can corrode remarkably, sometimes disintegrating completely while kept in storage. Conservation work both preserves artefacts and can help archaeologists identify details that were missed in excavation or obscured by corrosion.

Joint QM-UCL Qatar Old Doha Rescue Excavation

The Joint QM-UCL Qatar Old Doha Rescue Excavation team recovered several metal objects including coins jewlery, padlocks, daggers as well as objects for everyday use. Through conservation, Eleni has brought the artefacts back to life. Delicate scrollwork adorns the padlock that Eleni is working on, but when she turns the padlock over, there is a big surprise: the padlock has been forced open!

Eleni examining the padlock

There is a large puncture in the back of the padlock, only revealed under the careful work of a conservator. Eleni also X-rays the objects, revealing their inner workings, She then determines what they are made of through non-destructive XRF analysis.

X-rays of the padlocks

As research continues on the artefacts revealed by the Joint QM-UCL Qatar Old Doha Rescue Excavation, we gain insights into daily life in early 20th century Doha.

Passion for research, commitment to education: the archaeology programme at UCL Qatar

KerryMilton4 March 2015

Dr Jose C. Carvajal Lopez, Lecturer in Islamic Archaeology at UCL Qatar, reflects upon the establishment of the MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World degree programme, and aspirations for growth.

Jose C. Carvajal Lopez, UCL Qatar

One of the privileges of teaching at UCL Qatar is to find highly motivated students who need only minimal guidance to set up and accomplish interesting and valuable research projects. The first generation of our students on the MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World degree programme have addressed such varied issues as the ethnography of nomadic campsites in the Qatari desert, the technological transformations of Serbian pottery after the Ottoman conquest, the development of characteristic types of wares of the late Islamic period in the Gulf, the cultural connections of a piece of Fatimid woodwork conserved in Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, and the creation of a recovery plan for the heritage of the war-ravaged town of Aleppo, Syria.

Each one of these topics reflects the passion and commitment of our students, who have in many cases travelled long distances and adapted to a different culture in order to have the chance to give everything in their projects.

The first generation of our students hailed from countries as diverse as Lebanon, Serbia, Qatar, Syria and the UK. The second generation, already preparing their dissertation, have added new countries to that list: Egypt, Italy, USA, Libya, Czech Republic, Mexico, Yemen and Jordan. And the third generation, just starting, includes students from such distant places as Indonesia, Spain and Canada, only mentioning those countries that have not appeared previously in this list.

When looking at students across the whole department, enrolled on one of our five different programmes (MA Museum and Gallery Practice, MSc Conservation Studies, MA Library and Information Studies and Diploma in Academic Research and Methods), we teach more than eighty individuals from nearly 40 countries. The environment is exciting and enriching, as cultural exchange between us, the UCL Qatar academic staff, and these highly motivated students forms part of our daily experience.

The first generation of our archaeology students has set a very high standard, but this is in fact something that makes us proud and eager to follow up. Each single dissertation was a piece of innovative research that brings something new into the field of archaeology and, above all, conveys to the reader that the author loved and cherished the topic on which they wrote. This is a brilliant start, but it is nowhere close to where we want to go.

The archaeologists lecturing and researching at UCL Qatar vibrate with the passion lived in this environment, and we do worry about providing our students with the opportunities that they search and have worked so hard to find. Our flagship projects in Qatar, Sudan and Egypt have provided numerous chances of internships for some of them, and our involvement in projects with institutions in Spain, Palestine, Iraq, Greece, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Netherlands, Albania, Kuwait, Turkey, Uzbekistan and the UK have been exploited in field placements, exchanges and internships. The students demand and deserve more still: some of them look for projects and placements in Central Asia and India, and this is something that of course we take very seriously, as we are proud to be a Global University.

This is ambitious, but it is not without a realistic aim: to provide our students with the chance to develop their own potential and to satisfy the passion that has taken them away from their more or less distant homes to a place where education and research are heads and tails of the same coin.

27 nationalities represented in UCL Qatar’s third student intake

KerryMilton3 November 2014

UCL Qatar welcomed 51 new students from 27 countries on to its Master’s degree programmes and Diploma course in September 2014. The third intake of students to join the department, they are the biggest and most diverse cohort to date, reflecting the growing demand for the programmes both locally and internationally.

UCL Qatar’s most popular programme continues to be the one-year MA in Museum and Gallery Practice, where 17 of the 51 new students are enrolled, closely followed by the one-year MA in Library and Information Studies with 13. The nine students enrolled on the Diploma in Academic Research and Methods are each aiming to progress onto their chosen Master’s degree programme in 2015.

Among the nationalities, Qatar is the most represented, with Qatari students making up 24% of the year-group. The majority of Arab countries are each represented, with students from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Tunisia enrolling this year.

Outside of the region, students hail from the UK, Greece, USA, France, Spain, Somalia, India, Belarus, Montenegro, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Korea, Canada, Pakistan, Kenya and Singapore.

The programmes draw a combination of long-term Qatar residents and professionals, as well as students coming from overseas who hold a specific interest in the heritage and culture of the Gulf region. The majority of graduates remain in Qatar, pursuing roles in the rapidly growing museums and heritage sector.

This year’s new students join 27 returning students who are enrolled on the two-year MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World or MSc Conservation Studies, or who are undertaking a Research degree.

Other key facts from UCL Qatar’s 2014 cohort:

  • 70% female, 30% male
  • Age range from 21 to 62
  • 27 students in their 20’s
  • Average age of 30
  • English and at least 20 other languages are spoken, including Arabic, Swahili, Somali, Pashtun, Urdu, Greek and Montenegrin
  • Current and former careers include: archaeologist, Egyptologist, artist, curator, museum manager, ethnographer, photographer, architect and translator