Our Projects

Digitally correct: Preserving Malawi’s historical manuscripts

Records at the National Archives of Malawi

For the Digitally correct: Preserving Malawi’s historical manuscripts project, we are looking for funds to digitise historical manuscripts and build a modern digital repository to house them. The historical manuscripts at the National Archives of Malawi (NAM) are among the most intensively consulted, serving the research needs of a broad and diverse scholarly and non-scholarly community. They are also the most vulnerable. They include complete manuscripts, handwritten documents, typed correspondence, journals, diaries, deeds, interviews, and other documents of significant to the history and heritage of Malawi. These historical manuscripts are only found in Malawi at these archives, unlike other collections, such as pre-colonial archival records, that are also held in archives in the United Kingdom.

The project innovates digital curatorship to save this fragile and exposed heritage. In collaboration with the National Archives of Malawi, we want to build a repository with remote access and a catalogue. This will not only ensure their safekeeping but will also enable the archives to raise its own revenue and improve accessibility, reducing its dependence on the budget of the Malawi Government. This is part of the archive’s longer-term sustainability and safeguarding strategy, which has not been implemented in the absence of funds. We will also engage in capacity building around digital culture with the National Archives of Malawi team.

The project requires specialised technical knowledge and skills, and domain expertise around history and social anthropology, and knowledge linked to data eco-systems. To this end, Mr Etter-Phoya is currently enrolled in an online postgraduate degree in Data Science with the University of Edinburgh where he has committed to spend about EUR10,000 of his family’s savings. He has also recruited Miss Mona Hakimi, a social anthropologist from and based in Lilongwe, Malawi. Mona has a MSc in African Studies from the University of Oxford and a BSc in Social Anthropology and Gender Studies from the University of Cape Town.

Activities include selecting the collections based on a defined criterion, developing a data management plan, prototyping the repository including its user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), digitising the items and adding metadata, developing strategies for authorisation and authentication, deploying the repository, and developing a sustainability strategy. After this, researchers and the public will be invited to become part of the National Archives of Malawi community where they will engage in discussions, and upload their own images, documents, and videos.

Malawi, A Place Apart

 Malawi, A Place Apart by Asbjørn Eidhammer

‘It is the stranger who comes with a sharper blade’, claims one Malawian adage. But stranger Asbjørn Eidhammer is not. He worked tirelessly with Malawians for more than eight years as Norwegian ambassador to Malawi during politically difficult times. Malawi – A Place Apart is a unique and welcome update of the story of the nation examined from the point of view of a highly observant outsider. His subtle exposure of the sometimes hidden economic mismanagement is particularly poignant when people are crying out for open societies everywhere.’ – Professor Jack Mapanje, author of Of Chameleons and Gods.

Our first book publication, it is available in bookshops across Malawi and selected ones across the world. It is also available on Amazon UK, Amazon USA and others

Asbjørn Eidhammer is a Norwegian political scientist, activist, and diplomat. He served as the Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi from 1999 to 2004 and from 2011 to 2014. Between his missions to Malawi, he was Director of Evaluation at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation for five years. From 1981 to 1984, he was President of the Norwegian Council for Southern Africa, Norway’s anti-apartheid movement. He has published books in Norwegian about politics and development in Africa and Malawi.

An African Uprising: The story of Chilembwe and the 1915 rebellion against imperial Britain

Professor John McCracken, during the filming of the Chilembwe project.

“No one should be kind to the natives. They do not understand it, they do not wish it, and it is not good for them…” Central African Times (now The Daily Times), no. 39. 30 June 1909

Logline/Train: An American-trained Malawian Baptist minister tries to free Africans from Imperial British rule, with disastrous consequences.

The documentary film, inspired by the seminal work Independent African: Chilembwe and the uprising of 1915 (1958) by Professor Emeritus George Shepperson, will draw on archival film and photographs, and interviews with historians. Other scenes will be re-enacted.

Topic Summary

As one of the early African uprisings against imperial Britain, the topic is important because it occupies a critical juncture in the history of empire building. As Shepperson has commented, it “represents the first stirrings of Independent Africans, not on the old tribal kind of reaction to the ways of the white man but on a new kind of response to European culture”. Inequitable access to land, and issues of racism are still pertinent topics for the African on the world landscape today. The uprising also represents a broader manifestation of the plight of African-Americans.  As someone educated in Virginia at the end of the 19th century, Chilembwe imported into the country guerrilla tactics employed by historical figures like Nat Turner, and John Brown of Harper’s Ferry.

Retelling this story is needed now because even 50 years or more after the main wave of independence across the continent, countries like Malawi remain marred by growing inequality and continue to grapple with questions of identity, belonging and destiny. Part of our tragedy is that we are ‘historically’ uninformed or misinformed, and thanks to legacies of our leaders, we lack a critical populace. The film will help in addressing some of these challenges.  And as a marginal man, “between two worlds of the traditional tribal society and the promising new forms of economic, political and social forms brought European rule” (Shepperson pp. 166), Chilembwe makes for a fascinating character through which these themes play out. The uprising also resonates more broadly with international questions of injustice in the age of #FeesMustFall and #BlackLivesMatter movements.

For a synopsis of the film, click here.