During the last days many things have been happening, so I had to come back to the blog twice, in order to write some comments about events directly or indirectly linked with our activities, although I had thought that since the presentation of the 18th volume of Sudan & Nubia, I would only write again from Paris to where I am traveling tomorrow.
As the title of this post shows, this time the issue concerns Archives.
I have been working with archival material at the University of Bergen for more than two years now and two of the results have already found their way to the world wide web:
The process of preserving an archive physically and making it accessible digitally is in our days one of the most fundamental processes by which knowledge is safeguarded and made accessible. And it seems that it gets the support of funding institutions with very good rates in comparison to other projects – especially in the Humanities.
Now, it is the case that the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Bergen possesses very important archives of local, national and international value. The way that the University, the Faculty and the Institutions are treating their stakeholders’ role may differ, but the principles and the goals are in essence mutual. What has not become mutual yet is a common strategy to tackle the matter.
The issue has been raised in a chronicle written by Johan Myking, Head of Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, and Anne Bang, Associate Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, History, Cultural and Religious Studies. Their intervention was published on Friday in the independent online journal of the UiB, titled På Høyden. With the eloquent title “Our common digital memory – a strategically important milieu for UiB” the two authors propose to see investment in the digitalization of archives as a means for becoming “internationally recognized, nationally strong, and locally relevant“. All the key words in the title and the short quote are very carefully selected so as to make reference to the main points that the new strategic plan of UiB will have to cover in the coming months so as to navigate in the difficult waters of the next five years in the sea of academic competitiveness and competition on both national and international levels.
The archives that I have mainly been working with myself are of international character. They concern work conducted by Bergen-based researchers in Sudan. These archives are far from being completed, and there are others still to be formed, like for example the Sudan TV digital archive that a is colossal project lead by professor Anders Bjørkelo.
The significance of these archives for studies relating to Sudan, Nubia, Egypt, the Nile etc. was the focus of my short intervention today during the Annual General Meeting of the Norwegian Egyptological Society (NES). And the main issue raised was that of the importance of creating around all the archives and the libraries related to this part of the world, a space where those interested to pursue this field of studies will find a home.
In Bergen, the collaboration for more than half a century now between UiB and the University of Khartoum and of investment in Sudan Studies, the existence of the base of the Nile Basin research programme, the Mahmoud Salih collection, the Egyptological collection at the University Museum (=Museum of Cultural History), complemented by finds from excavations conducted by Randi Haaland in Sudan, the archives of the Haalands themselves along with those of O’Fahey, Pierce, Bjørkelo and others, give also to NES a special role as an independent organization that can help the different actors come together, that can give further meaning to the existence of a locality where its meetings can take place, its members can have access to the sources of relevant knowledge, even the place where NES itself can house the book collections of an eminent Egyptologist who seems to have decided to donate the publications accumulated in a long career to NES!
When I heard these last news in today’s Annual General Meeting, I felt that it was a sign to write this blog, raise the voice of Medieval Sai Project along those who have already done that in UiB and support the claim to become responsible, dynamic, and imaginative stakeholders of the archival treasures that have accumulated in the University of our town.
At the same time, I believe that this is a fitting moment to praise one institution that I visited during my stay in Johannesburg last month and about which I have written very little: the Maria Katrakis South African Hellenic Archive housed at the SAHETI school.
Originally at the University of Johannesburg, the Archive has created in both localities where it was hosted a point of reference for everybody interested in the history of the Greek Diaspora in South Africa. Moreover, it functions as a prototype for similar projects to be undertaken in other places in Africa or elsewhere, it can support research and education, and its administrators are always willing to find new partners and collaborators, learn from the experience of others and offer their experience in return welcoming all interested students and scholars.
One can read more about the Archive and its history in four contributions in Part Three of the Papers read at the Symposium on “Hellenism and Africa” in 1999 and then edited by professor Ben Hendrickx and published in Johannesburg in 2000.
I felt touched by the interest that Mrs. Niki Sourri, the President of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women in Johannesburg, expressed in what we are doing in Bergen, and I wish to express my gratitude for all the honors I received there by confessing in the end of this post that what I saw being done in the venue of the Maria Katrakis Archive was in many ways an inspiration to keep up the efforts here in Bergen until we see our Sudan archives finding a home appropriate for their value and sufficient to become the shell of a center of studies dedicated to Sudan, Egypt and the Nile Basin.