Rick Rohde attends SCOLMA Conference in Scotland, 11 September 2017

14 Sep 2017 - 10:45

On Monday 11 September 2017, Plant Conservation Unit (PCU) Honourary Research Associate Dr Rick Rohde attended SCOLMA’s (Standing Conference on Library Materials on Africa) annual conference at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. This year’s theme was, ‘Document to Digital: how does digitisation aid African research?' Rick collaborated with Samantha Venter (rePhotoSA project coordinator) and PCU Director, Prof. Timm Hoffman to present on, ‘Repeat landscape photography, historical ecology and the wonder of digital archives’. Rick largely spoke about his collaborative research with Timm in Namibia and Namaqualand and showcased a variety of repeat photographs (where the historical images were taken as early as 1876!). Rick also spoke about rePhotoSA, the repeat photography project of southern African landscapes, the collections used in the project and the impact that citizen science has had on research activities at the PCU.

Approximately 30-40 people attended the conference from Africa, Europe (Bodleian Library in Oxford, British Library in London, and various UK Universities, such as Edinburgh, St Andrews, Stirling, Oxford and Birmingham), and the USA. Speakers presented on a wide range of topics including projects involving digitised archives, photographs, grey literature and rare publications and how these have been used for academic research and wider accessibility. The invited keynote speaker, Jody Butterworth, spoke about the Endangered Archives Programme, which, working with local partners, provides grants for the digitisation of archives which are at risk around the world.

Rick gave some insight into a few presentations that stood out for him. The first speaker presented on their time at the Archive of the Church of Scotland in Nairobi (Kenya), which was like a garbage tip, full of mice and mites and mould and heaps of paper and broken boxes. The speaker spent three months sorting it out and cleaning it up where he made some very interesting observations about the ethics of archiving, as well as the political and sociological aspects of his project. Another speaker spoke about collaboration with the Rwandan government on a challenging project where 140 full time employees and some very smart software and a consortium of European partners were garnered to digitise 1.9 million trials, 60 million pages of documents. The online publisher, Adam Matthew, shared a brochure of some great photos of ‘frontier life’ and links to the apartheid archives among lots of other things (

Overall, Rick found the conference to be thought-provoking and a great success. Many attendees showed particular interest in his presentation, in spite of (or perhaps because), it was an outlier in terms of subject matter. He found that people are quickly drawn into the repeat images with much amazement in relation to the longevity of desert plants! In addition, Rick said that it was nice to be back in the solid atmosphere of the National Library of Scotland where he used to spend time during his MSc.

The research carried out by Rick Rohde and his attendance at the Scolma conference was supported by a research grant from the AHRC (AH/K005871/2, see

~ Article and images supplied by Rick Rohde