Safeguarding the British Colonial and Regional Administrative Archive in Northern Ghana (EAP935)

Aims and objectives

Building on two previous projects (Pilot Project EAP256 and Major Project EAP541), this project will complete the digitisation of the endangered historical records held by the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, northern Ghana. During the earlier projects, the research team was able to fully assess PRAAD’s collection of rare historical records on the colonial administration and history of Northern Ghana, resulting in a comprehensive survey of the Northern Regional Administration Records and District Assembly Records collections. Subsequently, through the EAP541 Major project, the research team digitised five records series totalling 126,239 images. The digitisation undertaken during the major project contained British colonial and administrative records from the three northern Territories of the Gold Coast. However, only the correspondences of the office of the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast were digitised. The remaining vulnerable records are both crucial and complementary to the earlier work, as they contain correspondence of District Commissioners stationed in the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast. This project seeks, therefore, to complete digitisation of the British colonial administration and historical records of northern Ghana.

Despite the Archive’s mission to preserve the nation’s heritage for posterity, the collections are in dire need of rescue and preservation. The materials are threatened by the tropical climate, which is causing an alarming rate of deterioration. Moreover, risky handling of the documents is also contributing to the problem. Although PRAAD in Tamale is the main repository for information held by the Northern Regional Coordination Council (NRCC), it has no reproduction facilities. When scholars require copies of the documents, the archivist uses either the facilities of the Regional Coordinating Office, or, for more extensive copying, the documents are carried from the comparative security of the facility to downtown Tamale for reproduction. We know from the project’s pilot phase that 40-45% of the records are already damaged beyond repair and should no longer be consulted in their original form. Tragically, even comparatively sturdy documents are threatened by these ongoing concerns. Unless digital copies are made to preserve these materials, the surviving records will be completely destroyed within another decade.

The materials date from the precolonial and colonial periods, with information about British colonial administration of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, indigenous slavery, as well as the history and culture of northern Ghana. These materials constitute an extraordinary national and global treasure, speaking as they do to the history and culture of northern Ghana. However, their impact extends further to historical scholarship, jurisprudence, and policy matters relating to chieftaincy disputes, land tenure, and the colonial legacy. One of only three PRAAD collections in Ghana, this collection is the only one with documents from all three regions of Northern Ghana.

Upon completion of this project, an additional 110,000 digital images of these materials will be generated. Doing so will preserve all the materials relating to the British colonial administration of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, including administrative correspondences of the District Commissioners records, towns layouts, and historical accounts of the local culture and traditions. In addition to digitising, we will also create an up-to-date digital catalogue and develop finding aids for PRAAD’s collections. Once complete, the digitised collection and supplementary resources will be deposited with the British Library and PRAAD in Tamale, thus providing on-line access for scholars and the public. In addition, Northern Illinois University, which already houses digital collections from Asia, Africa, and the United States, will also serve as an institutional repository, thus providing access to PRAAD’s Tamale archives in an educational and research environment.

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