The project proposes to undertake the urgent preservation, through digital technology, of the extensive nineteenth century holdings located in the Sierra Leone Public Archives. As outlined in the reports from the previous Pilot Project EAP284, the physical preservation of the documents is in serious jeopardy. At present, materials are held in three locations on the campus of Fourah Bay, with virtually no space for researchers to work or for digitisation to take place. Many documents are stacked on the floor in one room, while others have been put in acid free boxes on shelves in a high rise with no water, frequent power failures, and no air conditioning. Windows have been broken by strong winds, and not repaired. As a result, humidity is at the same level as outside the building, in the tropics, and in the dry season, the harmattan dust from the Sahara enters the windows, covering everything. While the Government of Sierra Leone is aware of the situation, there are no public resources available because of other pressing needs of reconstruction and development in the country.
The materials being targeted here include valuable documents of immense importance for research on the transatlantic slave trade and its repercussions. The original Registers of Liberated Africans who were taken off slave ships by the Royal Navy from 1808 to the 1840s document more than 85,000 individuals. In addition, there are Letterbooks which provide information on the treatment and ‘disposal’ of tens of thousands of “receptive” Africans, court records, treaties with local chiefs, and other documents that are essential materials for any research on Sierra Leone. Moreover, there is important genealogical information for many people in Sierra Leone, including birth and death registers from the 1850s. Additional materials include registers of “foreign” children resident in Freetown, dating from the 1860s onwards, and registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown, as well as letterbooks in Arabic that relate to political and commercial relations with the interior of West Africa in the second half of the 19th century. It is estimated that 60,000-100,000 images will be taken so that all materials relating to the Liberated Africans are preserved, including Registers, Letter Books, Governors’ Reports, Birth and Death records, and Missionary reports.
The Archives will implement the Project under the direction of Albert Moore, Chief Government Archivist. Professor Lovejoy from York University and Professor Schwarz from Liverpool Hope University will make three trips to Sierra Leone to provide support, ensure that the project is running smoothly, that supplies, equipment, etc. are imported at cheapest costs, and that digitised materials are copied for deposit at the British Library, WISE and the Tubman Institute to assure redundancy. Jennifer Toews, Archivist, will also be involved, bringing her archival expertise to the project and will advise and train staff on producing an up-to-date inventory/catalogue of the archives.
The project will involve the following: