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Digital Shillong: Mapping, visualising, and interpreting urban historical data

This ongoing collaborative project is documenting Shillong’s rich history and heritage through digital innovation.

Overview

The recent demolition of a cherished historic building on a hospital campus in Shillong was marked by bells tolling, symbolising a shared sense of community loss. With ongoing development pressures in the picturesque hill station, the need to provide accessible tools for heritage documentation, community engagement, planning, and preservation is paramount.  

Using innovative digital humanities tools, this project has developed an interactive online gateway dedicated to documenting Shillong’s history and heritage. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya in north-east India, is a dynamic place where different currents of history flow together and overlap, much like the city’s rivers and streams. This collaborative effort, supported by the Unnati Research Collaboration Grants, involves historians, artists, archivists, urban heritage professionals, and data scientists, working together to preserve the city's complex stories.

Outcomes

The Shillong Digital Archives Directory (Sdad) is an urban encyclopaedia that brings together historical maps, selected cultural sites with annotations, links to datasets, historical and contemporary images, and crowd-sourced data.

In the project's initial phase, collaborators from the University of Melbourne, North-Eastern Hill University, INTACH Meghalaya, and The Northeast India AV Archive, worked together to define data parameters, sample content for the database, and analyse several historical maps. Content included 320 documented and surveyed heritage assets in Shillong, 104 Mawbynna monuments (megaliths), and folklore about local place names. 

A screenshot of the map on the Sdad platform, including one of the overlayed historical maps. Users can interact in real time by locating themselves on the streets of Shillong.A screenshot of the map on the Sdad platform, including one of the overlayed historical maps. Users can interact in real time by locating themselves on the streets of Shillong.

The subsequent phases focused on integrating historical maps into a modern interface and developing the ability to pin specific place entries to those maps. The final phase involved user testing and introduced a community contribution feature for users to add content from their own devices. 

The old Mawkhar Christian High School was one of the historic sites contributed to the Sdad platform by a community member. The building was demolished in the mid-1980s to create a parking lot, which has since become a taxi stand.  The old Mawkhar Christian High School was one of the historic sites contributed to the Sdad platform by a community member. The building was demolished in the mid-1980s to create a parking lot, which has since become a taxi stand.  

The project has demonstrated the potential of digital platforms to contribute to sustainable tourism, community wellbeing, social interaction, urban planning, and heritage diplomacy.

Banner image: The Digital Shillong team at a public information session at St Anthony's College in Shillong in November 2023.

Funding partners