My time at the African Studies Library

Victoria Falls, Zambia

My work at the African Library first began in late 2018 when I, along with a friend of mine, began volunteering at the library on a weekly basis. Jenni was quick to set us the task of organising the mammoth collection recently donated by Peter Sanders, a task that I was yet to realise would last me the next year and a half. Although fulfilling, the first years worth of work was limited in its success, due to the limited time we had available to visit the archive, however once I completed my A-levels I was incredibly fortunate to be invited back by Jenni to take on a position as a temporary Archive Assistant. This role has allowed me to not only complete the Sanders collection but also explore a far wider range of donated materials within the archive.

Mountain Village, Lesotho

Lesotho is a country that I had admittedly never heard of before starting my work on the Sanders collection. In this admission I am not alone as a great majority of those here in the UK know relatively little about this country’s complex history, British involvement, and its current standing. Therefore, the significant value of bringing this collection to light, which would promote future research into Lesotho, gave me an added sense of importance to my work as it would help future generations learn about the many wonders of the country. Through the process of sorting and organising Sanders’ library of books I found myself time and again engrossed by a mixture of captivating topics, from medicinal practices to mineralogy, which are a testament to the exciting history of Lesotho itself.

Personal documents of Meshack Matake

 

One piece in particular from Sanders’ collection stood out to me; the identity card of Meshack Matake. Upon opening the wallet I was met with “Died 12/2/56” hurriedly scribbled on the front page of the accompanying documentation. After further inspection I found a collection of small receipts and documents that mapped out Meshack’s day to day lifestyle in the years before his untimely death. Unfortunately, I struggled to find more information regarding Matake but hope to discuss this with Peter Sanders in the future to learn more about how he received this artefact and whether he knows anything more that could help us in understanding what happened to him. This was undoubtedly a more poignant part of the collection as it gave a deep insight into the lives of everyday Mosothos living in ‘Basutoland’ during its years as a British Crown colony.

Voting Disks, Lesotho

Another piece from the collection is a small bundle of voting disks that were once the centre stone of Lesotho democracy. This allowed for everyone, regardless of their ability to read or write, to participate in local elections as they could vote using the logos of political parties as a guide. It is insightful artefacts such as this that further allow us to relate to the way of life in Lesotho.

Harare, Zimbabwe

Although dealing with the Sanders collection made up a large part of my work, I also was fortunate to work on other donations within the library. Venturing through the various topics and locations covered by these collections was incredibly insightful for me. I would sometimes spend a day reading top secret government dossiers and then the next learning about the intricacies of university life in Uganda

Sanyu Babies’ Home Newsletter

Collections could be incredibly niche, such as the Hester Boron collection that focused mainly on the Sanyu Babies’ Home in Kampala to the far broader Winifred Brown donation that contained a variety of colourful travel brochures around Africa.

C-4 Argonaut, East African Airways

Since starting my work in November as an archive assistant I have managed to get through 46 of these boxes, leaving me with a far greater understanding of and appreciation for Africa’s rich and diverse history. Moreover I have learnt many invaluable skills in the process of documenting these collections, such as how to care for damaged documentation and how to categorise and organise files, which will serve me well in my future history studies.

I would like to thank Jenni for this amazing experience and hope to continue contributing to the library in the future.

 

– Harry Traherne

 

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