Digitisation and preservation of historical archives in the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, Northern Ghana (EAP541)

Aims and objectives

This project builds on the earlier initial pilot project EAP256. During that 9-month project, the team carried out an intensive assessment of PRAAD’s collection in Tamale comprising rare historical records on the British colonial administration of Northern Ghana.

The materials targeted for digitisation in this project date back to pre-colonial and colonial periods in the history of northern Ghana. They contain information about British colonial administration of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, indigenous slavery, history and culture of northern Ghana. These materials are extraordinary national and global treasures, not only in terms of preserving the history and culture of northern Ghana, but also in terms of their potential impact on historical scholarship, legal matters, and public policy. Examples include chieftancy disputes, land tenure, and colonial legacy. 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. The Tamale branch houses collections from three regions of northern Ghana: the northern, upper east, and upper west regions. Despite the mission of the archives to preserve the heritage of the northern portion of the nation for posterity, the bulk of the collections are in dire need of rescue and preservation.

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. Given the region’s role as a gateway to the northern regions, British District 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, chieftancy affairs, as well as correspondences 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.

These records are typically maintained in acid-free boxes in humidity-controlled rooms. However, frequent electrical failures and fragile technical conditions make these systems inadequate for conserving these materials. Thus, the tropical climate is causing a significant number of records to deteriorate at alarming rates. The historical records regarding chieftancy and native affairs are particularly deteriorated, some fragile and broken beyond repair.

During the pilot project, the team found that the condition of the colonial records and the historical manuscripts has become sufficiently vulnerable that they should no longer be consulted in their current form; rather, they should be digitised for preservation. Over 45% of the documents examined are extremely fragile. Unless digital copies are made to preserve these materials, the surviving records will be completely destroyed within less than a decade.

At the end of the proposed project, it is estimated that from 100,000 to 120,000 digital images will be produced so that all the endangered materials relating to the British colonial administration of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast are rescued and preserved, including administrative correspondences of the Chief Commissioners of the Northern Territories, District Commissioners records, colonial maps, towns layouts, and the Historical Accounts of the local culture and traditions. The digital materials will benefit anyone having an interest in the history and culture of Northern Ghana. More broadly, for scholars interested in British colonial rule in Africa, colonial boundaries and disputes, or methods of native administration, the convergence of these subjects as captured in the PRAAD historical records will be a treasure trove.

The project will be undertaken in collaboration with the PRAAD regional branch in Tamale. Once digitised, the collection will be deposited with the British Library and PRAAD in Tamale with on-line access. The host institution, Northern Illinois University, will also serve as a repository and will provide access in an educational and research environment.

The Principal Investigator will work with the Regional Directorate of PRAAD to provide the project personnel with advice on digitisation guidelines, digital imaging procedures, and metadata standards. PRAAD staff will be trained in the techniques of digitisation and preservation within the guidelines of the Endangered Archives Programme. The project will enhance their capacity for a sustainable and effective technological experience and increase their knowledge about digitisation in a collaborative environment. At the end of the project, all equipment procured will remain with PRAAD in Tamale to aid subsequent digitisation and preservation of the historical records.


The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP541/1 Tamale Region - Records from Northern Regional Administration [1909-1988]