The 500 Year Archive (500YA) is a digital research platform developed by the Five Hundred Year Archive (FHYA) research initiative, a project of Archive and Public Culture (APC), based at the University of Cape Town.

It allows users to engage with a rich variety of resources pertinent the last five hundred years of southern African history. Its purpose is to support historical research into these neglected eras and to encourage the digitisation and the sharing of resources across a network of institutions. It also aims to build a public community of users who are passionate about southern African history and who are interested in the complex forces which shape that history over time.

The materials convened by the 500YA include published and unpublished texts (notably early texts in African languages), sound recordings, archaeological items, images and object collections. The materials have been drawn from local and international institutions, as well as from personal holdings. [Trigger Warning: Some of the text that is available on this website comes from historical documents which use words and express views which may be racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive. Please read our Language Disclaimer which explains this further.]

The 500YA was initially launched using materials pertinent to the KwaZulu-Natal region. It has since broadened the scope of its geographic focus to the surrounding regions including what is today the Eastern Cape, eSwatini and Lesotho. New materials are constantly being added to the site.

A crucial intervention by the 500YA is that it provides records of the custodial histories of the materials it convenes. This foregrounds the processes of production and preservation that shape items over their lifespans. This is crucial for conveying that these items are complex and layered testimonies of the past.

The 500YA has been designed to grow organically in conversation with its users. As a user, you are encouraged to create a profile, make inputs, and upload items to share with the rest of the community.

The 500 Year Archive uses a version of the AtoM (Access to Memory) open source archival software. 500YA’s successor, EMANDULO, uses locally developed open source software called Simple DL. Both platforms explore new forms of digital archiving designed to release materials from colonial categorisations, locate new materials, and critically engage with software.

To get started on 500YA, take a look at our guide specifically designed for new users.