PE leads the way in mapping its visual history

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality has created a digital treasure trove for the town’s history lovers, scanning and mapping over 10,000 old photographs to create a dramatic visual representation of the city’s history.

February 22, 2012

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality has created a digital treasure trove for the town’s history lovers, scanning and mapping over 10,000 old photographs to create a dramatic visual representation of the city’s history.

The archive was the brainchild of local architect Bryan Wintermeyer of The Workplace, who partnered with fellow architects at The Matrix to champion and lead the project.

“Part of the drive for the project was to preserve priceless old photographs by putting them into a digital archive,” says Andre Steyn of Aspire Solutions, the company that created the archive. “By locating each photograph on a map of the city, the archive also becomes a valuable resource to help town planners judge the heritage value of any erf.”

Aspire Solutions scanned every picture in the city libraries’ extensive collections, then used optical character recognition (OCR) technology to capture catalogue information for each photograph.

Historian Margaret Harradine then reviewed each photograph, placing it on a map with information about where it was taken, and what direction it was taken in. Database users now have the ability to search for photographs of any location in the city.

“The database and map viewer are a hugely valuable resource for anybody with an interest in the history of Port Elizabeth,” says Steyn. “Searching the database by key words can only take one so far: The catalogue information might not always be comprehensive, or the names of places may have changed over time. Being able to search directly on a map as well makes it a very powerful, user friendly tool.”

Steyn says the archive should prove popular with school learners and neighbourhood groups as well as town planning professionals.