Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Endangered Archives Programme updates

Two new additions to the Endangered Archives Programme are noted relevant to "Commonwealth Studies" and described in the British Library's Endangered Archives blog. The comments below are largely taken from this blog and the Endangered Archives Programme website.

The first is a pilot project which will investigate the possibility of rescuing endangered archival materials within the Public Records and Archives Administration's (PRAAD) regional branch in Tamale, Northern Ghana. This  project will conduct a survey of the endangered archival materials which are threatened due to inadequate facilities for conservation, overuse and deterioration from humidity and other hazards of the tropical climate. Some of the documents most urgently in need of preservation will be digitised, in order to preserve their content and also as a mechanism for training the Archive's staff.

Many of the documents date back to the pre-colonial and colonial periods of Ghanaian history. They are important not only in terms of preserving the history and culture of northern Ghana but also for their potential impact on historical scholarship, legal matters and public policy.
Located 400 miles north of the Atlantic coast in West Africa, Tamale was founded in early 1907 by the British as an administrative centre for the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. British Direct Commissioners were stationed there, reporting to the governor in Accra on colonial and administrative matters. PRAAD's holdings in Tamale now include these reports, recording colonial disputes, administrative tasks, boundary discussions, court proceedings, land tenure and chieftancy affairs, as well as correspondence with the missionary church in the Northern Territories. The archives also contain historical manuscripts on diverse subjects including slavery and the history and culture of northern Ghana. The extent of the archives is quite large, containing over 30,000 boxes and approximately 2,100,000 individual records.

The second project, entitled, "Before the war, after the war: preserving history in Sierra Leone" aims to relocate, survey and list the endangered collections of the Sierra Leone Archives, and to digitise a selection of the Liberated African Letter Books. These registers record slave ships captured by navy patrols, and list those men, women and children released at the Vice-Admiralty Court at Freetown.The collections also include treaties between local chiefs and the new settlement from 1788 to the 20th century, documents on land disputes; legislative council minutes; Aborigines Department letter books; birth and death records for the colony; and the 1790s journal of John Clarkson, brother of abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

The rationale for this project arises both from the importance of the Sierra Leone archives to the study of trans-Atlantic slavery, and the terrible conditions of surviving documents following the Sierra Leone civil war. The intention is to put into place a plan to digitise the Sierra Leone archives as part of a wider plan to assist Sierra Leone in the recovery and preservation of documents and materials both in Sierra Leone and abroad, that relate to the history of the country and the African diaspora origins of its population.

Both projects offer exciting opportunities for records not only to be preserved but also allowing these documents to be made use of. The Endangered Archives Programme continues to accept applications and should be consulted by anyone keen to ensure documentary records are not allowed to be lost due to physical deterioration.

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