Endangered Archives

EAP256: Preservation of endangered historical records in the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, Northern Ghana

Dr Ismail Montana, Northern Illinois University
2009 award - Pilot project
£10,987 for 6 months

Archival partner: Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD), Tamale

VIEW FILES FROM THIS PROJECT

Project Overview

This pilot project will investigate the possibility of rescuing endangered archival materials within the Public Records and Archives Administration's (PRAAD) regional branch in Tamale, Northern Ghana. These materials are threatened due to inadequate facilities for conservation, overuse and deterioration from humidity and other hazards of the tropical climate. The project will assess and identify documents in urgent need of preservation and will digitise a selection. PRAAD's staff will be trained in the technology and techniques of digitisation and digital preservation.

Many of the documents date back to the pre-colonial and colonial periods of Ghanaian history. They are important not only in terms of preserving the history and culture of northern Ghana but also for their potential impact on historical scholarship, legal matters and public policy. Except for the other PRAAD branches in Accra and Kumasi, there are no similar archives in Ghana housing materials of this historical, cultural and political importance.

Located 400 miles north of the Atlantic coast in West Africa, Tamale was founded in early 1907 by the British as an administrative centre for the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. British Direct Commissioners were stationed there, reporting to the governor in Accra on colonial and administrative matters. PRAAD's holdings in Tamale now include these reports, recording colonial disputes, administrative tasks, boundary discussions, court proceedings, land tenure and chieftancy affairs, as well as correspondence with the missionary church in the Northern Territories. The archives also contain historical manuscripts on diverse subjects including slavery and the history and culture of northern Ghana. The extent of the archives is quite large, containing over 30,000 boxes and approximately 2,100,000 individual records.

Frequent electrical failures and fragile technical conditions are not ideal for preserving these materials. The tropical climate is causing a significant number of records to deteriorate at an alarming rate. The historical records regarding chieftancy and native affairs are particularly poor, with some fragile and broken beyond repair. Excessive handling and exposure has caused the documents to become increasingly fragile and vulnerable - in many cases documents are so damaged that they should no longer be consulted in their original form. Unless digital copies are made to preserve these endangered records, they will perish before long.

This project will undertake a detailed survey and assessment of the materials in order to explore the eventual digital preservation of the archives. Some of the documents in the most urgent need of preservation will be digitised both in order to preserve them and also as a mechanism for training the Archive's staff. The chief Archivist of PRAAD, Mr Mahama Zakari, will be fully involved in all aspects of the assessment and will be providing advice and guidance to the project team.

Project Outcome

This pilot project provided detailed information with regards to records and archival materials stored in vulnerable conditions at the Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD) in Tamale. The project surveyed five separate archival collections from the three northern regions of Ghana kept and maintained at PRAAD in Tamale. The collections from the three northern regions are: Northern Region records collections, Upper West Region records collection, and Upper East Region records collection.

The project digitised material from the NRG8 Collection, which had been identified by the project as the most endangered of all the collections surveyed. The number of digital images copied and processed by the project team amounted to 53 files from two record series (NRG8/1 and NRG8/2) and consisted of 2,831 images in RAW and TIFF format. Lists were created for these surrogate collections.

The project started with a three-day training sessions to acquaint the project’s personnel and PRAAD’s staff with the EAP standards of the British Library governing the project and PRAAD staff were trained in the technology and techniques of digital preservation and methods.

The project created a database of the materials copied and helped to improve the physical conditions in which the original materials were held. The project fostered professional standards in archival preservation, maintenance, organisation, and improvement of public access to the archive.

Surrogate materials from the pilot project have been deposited with the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale and the British Library.

Overall, the project has helped to determine the urgency of rescuing the endangered historical materials held at PRAAD in Tamale and to estimate the viability and costs for a future application for a major research project to digitise the surveyed endangered materials.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP256/1 Northern Regional Administration (NRA) Archives

The catalogue is available here.