Case Studies

Posted: 05 December 2022

Digitizing at-risk archival collections from the 20th and 21st Centuries

  • Programme:

    Preserving endangered culture

  • Focus area:

    Archives and Manuscripts

  • Grantee:

    The University of California, Los Angeles

  • Project:

    Modern Endangered Archives Program

  • Grant awarded:


  • Years:


At a time when cultural heritage materials are targeted and destroyed around the world, the Modern Endangered Archive Program (MEAP) works to preserve global knowledge. Through MEAP, the UCLA Library supports the work of archivists, librarians, scholars, cultural heritage professionals and community leaders to create digital collections of endangered cultural heritage materials. These collections often speak to the experiences of individuals around the world who have been largely left out of historical and national narratives.

MEAP preserves this kind of heritage by awarding grants to projects that document and digitize at-risk archival collections from the 20th and 21st Centuries. In its first five years, MEAP has funded 118 projects across the world, preserving all forms of media materials, including audio recordings, political ephemera, studio and vernacular photography, film and video, financial ledgers, newspapers and cultural productions.

MEAP also hosts a public-access repository, ensuring that collections are preserved and looked after in their home countries and are made freely available online. All digital objects created through MEAP projects are published at, inviting use by researchers, teachers, and communities from anywhere in the world. Over 52,000 individual objects are currently available online. The UCLA Library also provides digital preservation services for all funded projects so that the digital copies remain even if physical collections are lost due to war, political volatility, climate change, community displacement or material degradation.

Project examples

The Photographer Who Woke Up from the Dead: Mohlouoa T. Ramakatane

The archive of photographer Mohlouoa T. Ramakatane, the renowned portraitist of the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho, sheds light on Lesotho’s history and cultural memory as distinct and separate from those of South Africa. This project digitized 2981 photographs and negatives from Ramakatane’s career spanning more than five decades. The images include portraits from his studio as well as photographs from across the country, and of the Lesotho Royal Family. The collection also contains evidence of his activist work in Lesotho and South Africa.

Ramakatane archive 2260. His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II wrapped up in a Seanamarena standing next to Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan, photographed in Thaba Bosiu in 1980.

Regional Documentary Film in Uruguay: The Carlos Alonso Collection

The Carlos Alonso Collection, owned by the Archivo Nacional de la Imagen y la Palabra (SODRE), consists of forty-five rolls of nitrate film that record the countryside of Uruguay between 1920 and 1940. This collection captures a rich visualization of Uruguay’s historic countryside and documents the landscape lost to industrialization, as well as a local culture altered by modernization. The planning grant project, hosted at Universidad Católica del Uruguay and led by the team at Cine Casero, resulted in an inventory of all film rolls as well as a detailed technical assessment to prepare the film reels for future digitization.

Negatives of a little boy singing and playing his guitar. From The Great Film of Uruguay: Carlos Alonso Collection Carlos Alonso collection, SODRE.

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