Issue date: 21 September 2006
The University of the West of England has just been awarded £423,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to research and catalogue the archives of the Rhodesian army. This project will be carried out in partnership with the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.
At present the archive is sitting in hundreds of uncatalogued boxes in the Bristol-based museum. Researchers who have investigated the boxes have found gems such as poignant photographs of soldiers on both sides of the war for independence; intelligence reports; operational instructions, and policy debates exposing the strengths and weaknesses of a doomed but desperate government. However there is no way of locating specific documents and no organising principle behind the collection, which was saved from destruction after independence in 1980 and smuggled into South Africa.
The three-year project will produce a comprehensive searchable catalogue of this unique collection, with user-friendly web-based access, and a guide to the contents. Up to 10,000 pages of material will also be digitised and included in the Aluka Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa collection, which documents the liberation struggles in southern Africa since the end of World War II. Aluka is a separate project supported in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Project leader Dr Diana Jeater is Principal Lecturer in African History in UWE's Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, and also Chair of the Britain Zimbabwe Society. She said:
“This is a really exciting collection with something for military and social historians, those interested in liberation struggles and questions of identity, and the wider community.
“For forty years, the wars of liberation in southern Africa had a profound impact on the region. Amongst those opposing African majority rule, the Rhodesian Army has been mythologised as a formidable fighting machine. This archive offers for the first time an opportunity to test the folklore surrounding this force, and to situate it in its time and place. The history of Zimbabwe and its links with Britain continue to have resonance in our communities today.”
The team includes Research Fellow Tim Lovering, who is a military historian and trained archivist. He said: “The project's link with the Aluka collection offers a form of repatriation for the material that had to be taken from the country in secret and hidden in people's garages in order to save it. Thanks to this project present-day Zimbabweans, some of whom lost relatives in the war of independence, will have access to this era in their history.”
A full-time archivist will be appointed and the project will welcome volunteers who are training to be archivists or PhD students who wish to base theses on the material.
The project begins in September 2006 and the results will be presented at a public conference, and provide the basis for output such as papers, books and theses.
Gareth Griffiths, Director of BECM, said, "This award confirms the importance of the collections which the Museum Trust has saved for the nation over the past decade. It is enormously exciting that, at last, the work of the Museum staff in collecting this material is being recognised and that it will soon be available to scholars around the world"
• The grant has been made under the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Resource Enhancement scheme. For more information on the AHRC, visit http://www.ahrc.ac.uk
• For more information on the Bristol Empire and Commonwealth Museum, visit www.empiremuseum.co.uk
The Museum presents the 500-year history of the British Empire, offering evidence of Britain's colonial past from a variety of cultural perspectives. Through its permanent galleries, special exhibitions, events and education programmes it examines the legacy of empire on modern Britain and the present-day Commonwealth. The Museum, which is independent of Government and a registered charity, is a recent nominee for the title 'European Museum of the Year.'
• For more information on the Aluka project visit http://www.aluka.org