“Digital Humanities” operates at the intersection of the humanities and computing. Scholars using the methods of the Digital Humanities can make use of a variety of tools, from algorithms that help with textual analysis, to image recognition, or Big Data techniques. They can digitize and transcribe large databases and analyze individuals’ characteristics and behavior. In the absence of other information of South Africans, particularly black citizens, who were often excluded from censuses and reports and underrepresented in other types of archival records such as personal collections of letters, individual-level records are a treasure trove of information about the economic, social, demographic, health, labor, genealogical and migration histories of the Cape Colony and South Africa.
The good news is that such individual-level historical records in digital format are rapidly becoming more available. The life histories of individuals can now be reconstructed at a fraction of the research cost of manual archival research. This is important, because even though digitised records are available online, they are mostly inaccessible to most South Africans. In fact, the only systematized series of birth, marriage and death records available at present represents only the white population. By making historical information easily accessible, the Biography of an Uncharted People project will thus give dignity to black, colored and Indian South Africans, enabling them to bring to light histories of families that were overlooked in the past.
Besides transcribing and disseminating these large, previously unexplored datasets of microdata, the project will also begin to analyze the information systematically in order to contribute to debates in South African history.