There are a lot of names in the new South Sudan archive. This is because these files are the historical jackpot for Southern history; they are the local, daily and everyday files of administration, financial dealing and political organising. While there are many repositories of archival material on Sudan in the world, not least in Durham, most of the documentation is larger-scale: from administrators, governments and political movements, and from bishops and priests.
Monthly Archives: June 2012
The six week “extreme archiving” project is half finished this weekend, and our friendly expert Douglas Johnson has left for the UK. We have been very productive from a slow start: our colleagues here are more enthusiastic, or at least feeling the tangible sense of change about the place, particularly since we managed to get the most easily rescueable files out of the USAID tent that has housed them for nearly a decade.
On Thursday 14th, last week, there was a demolition of a site in the centre of Juba. About twenty houses, tukuls and small business huts were flattened, the tin roofs lying among the mud bricks and bits of plastic buckets. Women were picking through the rubble, and men were standing about in small groups. We didn’t stop; there were some police watching things closely. But all the action was well over.
We started our first week of archiving with an impromptu and relatively unexpected press conference in the Ministry of Culture (and youth and sports, obviously); this is apparently in the pattern of the South Sudan archives, where there is no interest (or funding) for a year until a short flurry of interest happens, prompted by something small.
This weekend, it was International Archive Day on Saturday 9th – not something I knew about until two guys walked into the archive in Munuki bearing posters and a happy-go-UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) attitude. They are apparently archivists at UNMISS – and gave me posters as my first souvenir (geek-out!). They also brought journalists from Miraya FM (a UN-funded radio station, and listenable online), and I was interviewed for a snippet on Saturday morning.
I arrived in Juba on Saturday, with Douglas Johnson (Dr Douglas, as he seems to be known) to re-start the Juba Archives project with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in the South Sudan Government.
We came from Nairobi – after the very successful and brain-filling Rift Valley Institute Sudans course, which I was lucky enough to be helping with – and landed at the old terminal, the new one rumoured to be finished in six weeks (I remember hearing that six weeks before independence last year, but hey). We’re at a guesthouse next to the anglican cathedral, which is fine – once we sorted out the politics – and has friendly chickens and staff.
South Sudan has a really good archive. You wouldn’t know it: a huge pile of interesting and often important information from the 1940s to 1990s is buried in mouldering, termite-ridden files under miscellaneous poo, mould, sacking, a collection of spears, Enid Blyton books and an oil painting of Nimeiri in a USAID tent in Juba.
Memos and meeting minutes in archives are difficult things for me; sometimes there’s a fabulous snippet of information, and you’re almost convinced you know who wrote it, but there’s no name on the memo, the handwriting is generic 1930s public school, and it’s bunched in with a lot of other odds and ends from other people. Referencing is frustrating.
However, I often feel far more connected with the bureaucrats and organisers – some of whom are named – who sit through these meetings than with their clearly named and often extremely characterful counterparts in Sudan, because of their scribblings and doodles, and often pointed asides to their board meeting neighbour on their copy of the agenda.
Archive Times: The Church Missionary Society and Save the Children Fund UK, Birmingham Special Collections
I’ve been on hiatus from this blog because everything kicked off at work; a conference to organise, and teaching work with archive visits slotted in between.