|Sat, 19 Jan 2019 19:45:01 +0000
||Memories of individuals fade with the passing of time, unless the individual has made a significant and lasting impact on the world stage. But the collective stories of individuals can live on within the context of cultural memories those transformative historical experiences that define a culture, even as time passes and it adapts to new influences (Rodriguez and Fortier, 2007).
Jan Assmann, a German Egyptologist, introduced the concept of cultural memory to the archeological disciplines to describe the way a society ensures cultural continuity by preserving, with the help of cultural mnemonics, its collective knowledge from one generation to the next, rendering it possible for later generations to reconstruct their cultural identity (Holtorf, 1998).
One may wonder how rich cultural memories can be transmitted from one generation to the next without losing much of their flavor. Some early cultures engraved symbols and writings on cave walls, clay tokens, and stone tablets informative but pale in comparison to the memories of other early cultures that relied on an oral tradition where events were passed on by one generation to the next in the form of tales, poems, song, and dance. Today s memory keepers, archivists and records keepers, are tasked with not only preserving evidence of events taking place today but also gathering, protecting, and preserving evidence of events that took place in the past.
Formal memory keeping institutions and programs
In the 14th century, formal institutions for preserving the cultural memory began to appear, including the first office of the clerk of the rolls, register, and council, later known as the Lord Clerk Register, responsible for the national archives of Scotland. During the 16th century, Jacob von Rammingen, the father of archival science, wrote a manuscript to provide guidance for others responsible for keeping valuable records that would serve to memorialize actions taken. In 1790, as the result of the French Revolution, the Archives Nationales of France was established. Four years later the French National Convention passed a law setting out their role and creating a central depository for the national archives. The law set out the three main principles, which still apply today not only in France but in countries that have emulated this model:
" The centralization of the nation's archives,
" free public access, and
" the need for a national archives network. In 1796, the law of 5 Brumaire Year V completed this system, by setting up an archival service in each département's chef-lieu. (http://www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/en/web/guest/histoire-de-l-institution;jsessionid=59BAADA5A6830F24D0C6A54879FC1A1E)
Countries like Great Britain and France influenced the archival programs of the African nations they acquired as colonies. Although archival materials had been produced and preserved in some manner in the African Nations before the 19th Century, the establishment of the first formal archival institution in Africa took place when the British Governor of formal institutions date back to as recently as 1815 when the British Governor of Mauritius appointed a colonial archivist in 1815. Three additional national archives were established in the 19th Century: Egypt, Tunisia and Togo.
Djibouti, a tiny African Nation that serves as a gateway to the Suez Canal, is the most recent nation to establish a formal National Archives as the result of 2011 legislation. The Vision statement of the National Archives of Djibouti recognizes the role the archives plays in the assertion of national identity, citizenship, collective memory, and national culture, as well as a testimony to the different periods of national history (Vision, Law No. 132). Four additional African nations established national archives in the 21st century: Uganda, South Sudan, Morocco and Equatorial Guinea. The national archives of the remaining 45 countries too place in the 20th Century, between 1913 and 1996.
Risk to African National Archives
However, political upheaval, struggles for independence, and warfare wreaked havoc on archival materials across the African continent. When occupied countries gained independence, many of their records were transferred to the colonial powers, leaving gaps in their cultural memory. The remaining records were often lost or damaged due to neglect, lack of trained personnel, and unforgiving environmental conditions.
Specific examples of events that impacted archival materials as recorded in the International Directory of National Archives (Franks & Bernier, 2018) are:
1) Records were damaged in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Due to past colonization, additional documents were moved to Belgium, Burundi, Congo, Germany, and other countries.
2) Records of the South Sudan were damaged during the first and second civil wars.
3) Colonial records from the Democratic Republic of the Congo were taken to Belgium. Loss of additional records occurred due to climate, pests, coups, neglect, and even the transformation to electronic records without ability to preserve them.
4) Slave traders destroyed many of the records from the Republic of Benin only 250 remain today.
5) The records of the Union of Comoros were destroyed by the incoming regime in 1977. Until 2000, theft, insects, humid climate, and lack of trained personnel destroyed additional records.
Why do archives matter?
The value of the archives (records) can best be conveyed through the words of some of those entrusted for their care.
A quote by Rose-SOML Dembowska as part of an unusual exhibition at the State Archives in Siedelce conveys the value of the individual and the need to nurture their stories:
And no one comes out of nowhere. Each of us has a story, but our story, if it is not nurtured over time falls into oblivion (Poland National Archives, 2018)
A second quote by Heydar ALIYEV, third president of Azerbaijan, who served from 1993 to 2003, underscores the value of the archives for the nation:
We should pay serious attention to the archives. Firstly, as they are the only source reflecting our national history and, secondly, archives are very important for halting those who misrepresent our history. (National Archives of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2018)
A third quote by Stuart McPhall Hall, sociologist and cultural theorist, leaves us with a warning that we must do more than has been done before to truly reflect the collective heritage we value.
Those who do not see themselves reflected in national heritage are excluded from it. (Velez, 2018)
Positive Steps being taken to Preserve African National Archives
Franks, P. (2018). Records and Information Management. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Holtorf, C. 2000-2008. Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany). Electronic monograph. University of Toronto: Centre for Instructional Technology Development. Now available at http://wayback.archive-it.org/6473/20160819140755/https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/index.html The page in question on Assmann is at http://wayback.archive-it.org/6473/20160819144418/https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/2.0.html
National Archives of the Republic of Azerbaijan website (2018). Retrieved December 29, 2018. http://www.milliarxiv.gov.az/
Polish National Archives website. (2018). Retrieved December 29, 2018. https://www.archiwa.gov.pl/pl/aktualnosci/4528-%E2%80%9Enikt-nie-bierze-si%C4%99-znik%C4%85d%E2%80%9D-niezwyk%C5%82a-wystawa-w-archiwum-pa%C5%84stwowym-w-siedlcach
Rodriguez, J. & Fortier, T. (2007). Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith, and Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press. Retrieved December 30, 2018, from Project MUSE database.
Velez, Denise Oliver. (2018, June 17). Stuart Hall: Those who do not se themselves reflected in national heritage are excluded from it. Daily Kos. Retrieved December 29, 2018. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/6/17/1771358/-Stuart-Hall-Those-who-do-not-see-themselves-reflected-in-national-heritage-are-excluded-from-it