The Aga Khan University, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, London

The Aga Khan University (AKU) was inaugurated in 1983 and today the University has campuses in six countries, Afghanistan, Kenya, Pakistan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. The focus at AKU is on Health Sciences and Education, and the University is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

The Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations was founded in 2002, as an educational and research unit within the Aga Khan University (International). The Institute advances the University’s commitment to academic excellence and social development. AKU- ISMC’s ambitious remit is to carry out excellent research and teaching that can enable future and current leaders to effectively address complex challenges facing the world.

Research at the Institute concentrates on issues critical to contemporary societies, including those that may be controversial relatively unexplored within Muslim contexts. Many of the most intractable challenges facing people in the Muslim world, revolve around highly contentious topics that can be difficult to discuss openly in many of the political and cultural contexts in which they matter. Basing the Institute in London was therefore a strategic decision to ensure that free and open debate would be enabled. London’s long tradition of freedom of thought and expression make this the ideal city for our Institute that bridges so many different parts of the globe.

The Institute promotes scholarship that opens new perspectives on Muslim heritage, modernity, culture, religion, and society. AKU-ISMC scholarship is interdisciplinary and diverse and includes anthropology, archaeology, economics, history, law, literary studies, sociology, international relations and political sciences. The Institute has an impressive track record of securing external research funding, including projects carried out in collaboration with other universities and non-academic partners.

The Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations is committed to widening participation and promoting scholarship that opens new perspectives on the diversity of the Muslim world. As an overseas campus of the Aga Khan University (International), itself a branch of the Aga Khan Development Network, we offer world class education, research, and outreach that aims to improve the world for current and future generations. 

Zamani Project

Heritage provides a window into the past that helps us understand our present and plan for our future. The study of diverse sites and structures gives insight into why societies have come to value the things they do. Awareness of heritage can help to develop one’s own cultural identity and to promote tolerance and acceptance of others.

However, heritage sites are often undocumented, or poorly documented, and many face threats of damage or destruction. These include sea-level rise, natural disasters, vandalism and wilful destruction, cultural terrorism, war, mining, construction, poorly-managed tourism, and the ravages of time. As such, digital collections of the tangible archaeological, cultural and anthropological information contained in these sites have become especially relevant.

Over the past 15 years, in collaboration with significant international heritage organisations such as UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, we have documented more than 250 structures, rock art sites and statues at some 65 heritage sites in 18 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Operating as a research group at the
School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics within the University of Cape Town (UCT), we collect and analyse heritage data, communicate the importance of heritage, and enable experts and the public alike to access, learn from, conserve, and protect heritage.  

Heinz Rüther, Professor (em)

Heinz Rüther, Professor (emeritus) for Geomatics at the University of Cape Town, graduated with the Degree of Diplom–Ingenieur at the University of Bonn and obtained his Ph.D. in photogrammetry at the University of Cape Town . From 1990 to 2002, he was the Head of the Geomatics Department at UCT. In 2004 he founded the “African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes Database“, now known as the Zamani Heritage Documentation Project, which he leads as Director and of the Principal Investigator.

He has extensive experience in the areas of digital and close-range photogrammetry, precise engineering surveying, laser scanning and deformation analysis and has worked on photogrammetric and surveying projects in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and especially Africa. He served as external examiner at several African Universities and was Scientific Coordinator of the Lake Rukwa Basin Integrated Project, an development initiative in Tanzania.

Professor Rüther’s present research interest is focussed on the 3D-modelling of architectural structures and the spatial documentation of cultural heritage sites.

He is a Fellow of the University of Cape Town, a Fellow of ISPRS, a Fellow of the South African Academy of Engineers and, a Member of the South African Academy of Science. 

Ralph Schröder

Ralph holds a Geodesy degree (Diplom-Ingenieur) from the University of Bonn, Germany and he is a Professional Surveyor registered in Germany.

He specialises in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), terrestrial laser scanning, conventional surveying, creation of 3D models and sections and plans derived from 3D models.

Alongside the planning and execution of the Zamani Project’s 3D laser scanning fieldwork over the last 14 years, Ralph has also taught GIS application on several field trips to various local authorities. Ralph’s responsibilities at Zamani also include web development.

He joined the Zamani Project in 2005, when it was still known as the African Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes Project as a senior scientific officer, and became chief scientific officer in 2014. 

Roshan Bhurtha

Roshan has been with the Zamani Project for 13 years. His role in the team has centered around creating textured 3D computer models using data from terrestrial laser scans and structure from motion (SfM), and creating the panoramic photography used in the Zamani Project’s panorama tours. Other components of his work include writing software for the 3D modelling pipeline, and metadata creation and management. Roshan teaches programming in the Geomatics department at UCT.

Roshan has done extensive fieldwork to gather spatial data in 14 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. His long term interests include the fields of machine learning, AI and 3D printing and modelling. 

Bruce McDonald

Bruce completed his studies in Geomatics at the University of Cape Town in 2006, and obtained Professional status as a Land Surveyor in South Africa a few years later. From 2007-2011 he practiced as a land surveyor in Cape Town and worked on many projects including cadastral, topographical, photogrammetric and engineering surveys.

In 2012 Bruce worked in the Canadian oil industry, surveying and establishing a new oil processing plant, and in 2013 he moved to Scotland to work on topographical and engineering surveys. In 2015, he performed dimensional control surveys in the construction of oil rigs on the east coast of Scotland. On his return to South Africa, Bruce continued his surveying practice, and began assisting the Zamani Project team in 2017, first on a part-time basis and now full time.

Bruce is involved with 3D laser scanning, aerial photography using drones, and many of the other tasks required in digital spatial documentation of architectural structures, heritage sites and historical landscapes. Bruce has been a chief scientific officer at the Zamani Project since 2019.  

University of Cape Town

University of Cape Town (UCT) is South Africa's oldest university. Established in 1829, it has maintained a proud tradition of academic excellence, which today sees it ranked among the world's leading teaching and research institutes.

Renowned for its striking location at the foot of Table Mountain's Devil's Peak, UCT is a microcosm of the city in its title. It is home to a vibrant, cosmopolitan community of over 26 000 students and 5 000 staff members from over 100 countries in Africa and abroad.  The University has six faculties: Commerce, Law, Humanities, Engineering & the Built Environment; Health Sciences and Science. All six faculties are supported by UCT's Centre for Higher Education Development, which addresses students' teaching and learning needs. Besides teaching and research, UCT also offers more than 40 sports clubs and over 100 societies. 

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