Creation of Historical Photography Archive at the History Department of Khartoum University (EAP1073)

Aims and objectives

The Sudan Historical Photograph Archive was started by the History Department of Khartoum University this year, with agreement from the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and with a start-up grant from Columbia University’s History in Action Program, which provided support for the creation of a website and the purchasing of a scanner and photographic negative preservation equipment. The archive seeks to compile historical photographs from all periods that represent and show Sudan’s history. As part of the archive’s grassroots collection of photographs, the archive reaches out to individuals who own private collections of photographs. In return for donations of photo negatives or photographs (or for being allowed to scan photographs for the digital archive), the archive provides all donors with digital copies of all donated photographs. A legal document is signed agreeing to the donation, with copyright remaining with the donor. The donor and the archive agree together which of the photographs donated can be placed online as part of an online exhibition for the archive.

This project will scope out private collections of photographs and create a survey of available private collections, assessing the willingness of potential donors to engage with the archive and to possibly donate photographs, with larger donors potentially donating as part of a larger project in future years. The focus of this survey will be on Khartoum; however, it will also involve an investigation into collections in 3 other cities in Sudan, to be decided upon based on reporting found within the course of research. Ideally, one of these cities will be in central Sudan, another in the North, and a third in the East.

The project will also involve a large quantity of capacity building within the History Department of Khartoum University as well as increased sensitization of the broader academic and photographic community towards the value of archives and archival material. As part of the project, a class will be established for masters and phd students to train them on research methods involving photography, from which research assistants will be selected for further involvement on the project. Additionally, a series of workshops will be held for students and faculty involved in the archive on archival methods, data management, and scanning.

Photography came to Sudan in the late 1800s, with the first photographs taken by British travellers, as well as some in the employ of the Egyptian Turkiya government. The first photography studios were set up soon after, with cameras imported by Greek and Egyptian traders, later to be adopted by Sudanese, who operated studios as well as functioning as photographers for official events.  In the process, photography has been able to record significant events and critical aspects of Sudanese society over the course of Sudan’s history.

Early photographs give insight into what society looked like at the time of the Turkiya and the Mahdiya. Later photographs during the time of the Condominium government would show how the country changed as governance changed, as well as the influx of photography studios that allowed people to express themselves and portray themselves as they wished to be portrayed. Photographs from the two decades after independence show how these portrayals changed over time. In particular, they will show how Sudanese society reacted to independence and the arrival of the “modern” economy that came into being in the late 1970s. This project will seek to scope out and if possible compile photography spanning that period, from the time of the Turkiya to the 1970s.

 While historical photographs would be particularly useful for historical and anthropological research on Sudan, no centralized location open to research currently provides a place to access such sources. The Ministry of Culture has maintained a photography archive; however, it is not open to all researchers, and its organization is unclear at times. Significantly, this archive only preserves photographs and negatives taken under the auspices of the Ministry of Information and the government.

At the same time, many more photographs exist within Sudanese society, particularly in private residences. Families of prominent public figures including politicians, artists, musicians, and intellectuals all compiled photographs of their careers and public lives. Normal families as well compiled photographs, many that show how society looked and how normal life looked over time. Finally, photographers themselves compiled photographs, keeping the negatives of their best work.

 All of these photographs and photographic negatives exist within private residences in varying conditions and at risk in a climate that is both hot and dusty, prone to damaging the images. Information on the photographs themselves is also at great risk of being lost, as this information is usually compiled only by one or two relatives and is largely unrecorded.

As part of the project, the Sudan Historical Photography Archive will work closely as well with the Sudanese Photographers Group, a group of photographers who are actively interested in engaging with historical photographs. We will encourage several members of the group to participate in certain workshops on research methods and archival work, will seek their assistance in certain technical trainings on photograph preservation, and will work closely with them in distributing and promoting and distributing the digital exhibitions online.

The archive will also seek further institutional collaborations whenever appropriate over the course of the project. Indeed, we hope that through successfully carrying out this project, we will be able to establish closer connections with other institutions and individuals involved in collecting and preserving historical photography.



The following survey was submitted as part of the project outputs:

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: