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Makerere launches project to decolonize archives 

Dr Josephine Ahikire addressing the media about the project

Dr Josephine Ahikire addressing the media about the project

Makerere University don Dr Josephine Ahikire has called for mainstreaming archiving and memory preservation as a tool to outdo “the corrosive effects of neoliberalism on our academics”. 

The principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere University, said this at the launch of the Archiving, Memory and Method from the Global South project at Central Teaching Facility 2, Makerere University on November 18, 2021.

Ahikire said the project supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (USA) is initially planned to last three years at a cost of $800,000 (about Shs 2.9 billion). However, that will be like laying the foundation so that it can last many more years. 

“We are still struggling to do and understand the concepts and do the necessary writing,” she admitted to the enormity of the subject area. Her talk was on ‘The intellectual agenda of the project’. 

“This project is a very broad one. It is research, it is training, how to actually do archival research and repositioning the existing archives,” she explained.  

She described the project as a capacity-building initiative that will facilitate the faculty and students of Makerere University to study formal and non-formal archival repository institutions as well as community archiving. The research outputs are expected to enhance the teaching and learning in the humanities through revision of curricula, pedagogy and methodology in archival studies and research.

“We will review our curriculum and inform deep research,” she added. “A society without memory is a dead one.” 

ETHICS AND METHODS

Dr Edgar Taylor, a lecturer in the department of History, Archaeology and Heritage Studies, explained that the objectives of the project include building capacity in archival research, engaging communities concerning ethics and methods of archiving, and generating pedagogies within the humanities and social sciences.

Taylor said every discipline has its own understanding of archiving; the collection, storage and transmission of its specific knowledge. He categorized archiving as a public good and a public resource that ought to be accessed and used by anyone. 

While observing that colonial archives were used to control knowledge flow, reserved to administrators and excluding indigenous knowledge forms, Taylor said the project is part of the recent efforts to decolonize and reclaim archives and to make archiving central to institution building. 

Dr Umar Kakumba, deputy vice chancellor, Academic Affairs, stressed that the project will not engage in only formal archiving; it will also handle intangible forms of knowledge and information such as folk songs and stories. He said project teams will have to hunt for troves of indigenous, informal and intangible information whose depositories are fast getting extinct. 

“Archives are a source of power, memory and identity. Our traditional fireplace chats provided education and entertainment and created better orators. The chats provided wisdom, opportunities to settle disputes and advice, among many other benefits. It is now doubtable if our future generations will benefit from this knowledge unless we archive it,” he said.

jmusinguzi@observer.ug 

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