View the H-Africa Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-Africa's August 2001 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-Africa's August 2001 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-Africa home page.
University of California Santa Barbara <firstname.lastname@example.org> [**editorial note: a long discourse has flowed under the heading of 'Ruth First Archives'. I am now changing the header to reflect the wider reaches of this very useful debate--P.L.**] In regard to the dialogue and debate about African archives, the experience of the Sudan may be instructive. During the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1898-1956) the British assiduously collected documents both locally and in the capital of Khartoum. The cynics and post modernists will dismiss this activity as just another tool of British imperialism. They forget or are ignorant that 85% of the members of the Sudan Political Service (who ran the country) came from Oxbridge. Over half had read history, and in the British tradition for documentation, and their own personal family histories, they had a deep belief in the preservation of documents in an archive. One need only look at _Sudan Notes and Records_, begun in 1918, where the documents of the Sudanese past were published and noted in numerous articles to the present day. In the twilight of the Condominium, the Civil Secretary (he and his predecessors all had scholarly interests) asked Peter M. Holt (a secondary school teacher at the famous school of Bakhet al-Ruda) to establish or rather organize the Sudanese archives in Khartoum. There was never any thought of shipping them to the PRO. Peter Holt worked with his usual enthusiasm and efficiency. He catalogued the archives of the Funj, the Mahdist State, and the Condominium and after independence went on to become the Professor of Arab History in the University of London (SOAS) and a distinguished historian. He and his superiors early in the 1950s well knew that their tenure was short. Professor Holt recruited a young Sudanese to be his replacement, Muhammad Ibrahim Ahmad Abu Salim, and sent him off to London for an archival course. The rest is history and well known. Abu Salim returned in 1956, six months after independence, and through his ability, acumen, and Sudanese sensibility built the National Records Office to see that the documentation remained in the Sudan. When President Numayri seized the palace of Sir Abdal Rahman al-Mahdi in the center of Khartoum, Abu Salim convinced him to convert it into the national archive. To scholars it has since been known as "The House of Abu Salim" who in his own writings became a distinguished Sudanese historian. After independence those British who had contributed much to the archives found a home for their personal papers in the Sudan Archive founded by Richard Hill, another distinguished historian of the Sudan at the University of Durham. Here the retired members of the Political Service have deposited their papers to make the Sudan Archive a major repository for the Condominium. At the University of Bergen the African Arabic Documentation program under Professor Sean O'Fahey, John Hunwick, and Abu Salim has amassed a library of over 5,000 documents relating the Sudanese past from microfilm copies of the originals that have been catalogued in the National Records Office. This long association of three repositories has been an enormous success for half a century as scholars move back and forth in this Sudanic Triangle. I am well aware that political considerations restrict the free flow of scholars from one archive to another, but historically scholars have never found the facts or truth in one location. Most committed scholars of any nationality known to me have been relentlessly manipulative to find their way to the source.