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Archiving: Why it matters to history

By Joel Tsvakwi

MARCUS Tullius Cicero (106BC-43BC), a Roman philosopher, once said to be “unconscious of what transpired before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the value of humanity, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history.”

While a lot is being said on national development goals, one of the pinnacles to the growth of any nation is largely ignored on the mainstream platforms and this is the archival philosophy and its sister disciplines records and library information sciences.

With almost a decade left to realise Zimbabwe’s upper middle-class economy status, it will be in vain if the archival area is left unattended as is the case.
The fight against corruption can largely be won if culprits are held accountable for their misdeeds and this can only be realised through the proper investment and subsequent preservation and access to actual records or archives within the context in which such people operated from.

Accountability and transparency both in public and private institutions can only be realised through proper use, preservation and access of records and archives

Archives are the records, a minor portion of the whole created, which are selected for eternal preservation. Archives hold much of our national reminiscence and form an indispensable bond between past, present and future. Among other things, archives record the challenges, the desires and the capabilities of today’s generation, and of the generations that have preceded us.

Historical records document our triumphs and our failures, and are preserved in various formats, from paper records, which includes documents, maps and drawings, to photographs recordings of sound and moving images.

They are thereby an asset which we feel an obligation to preserve and to pass on for the use and benefit of our successors in time.

Amos Bishi (pictured below), an archivist and records and archives lecturer in the Department of Library & Information Science, Harare Polytechnic, said archives are a strategic assets.

“Archives are the most important national assets, they provide evidence of activities and tell us more about individuals and institutions. They also increase our sense of identity and understanding past events that emanated from one generation to another,” Bishi said.

“Archives by their very nature are distinctive both as individual documents and documents in perspective,” he said, citing one of the famous archival scholars (Teygler 2001) who argues that missing archives are irreplaceable, any loss is final, and in most cases reconstruction is impossible.

He added: “Archives resemble a snapshot of past events and enable the enhancement of memory and will unveil hidden past memories of institutions, individuals, families and the nation at large. The archival philosophy has long been essential to the Africans as to the Europeans and the Middle East. African oral traditions, folk tales, earliest forms of writings and ancient storage devices all suggest some earliest archival practices throughout the continent.”

Bishi traced a brief historical background of the archival philosophy in the African context.

“The Africanisation of the archival knowledge was for long regarded as a myth which was later on legitimised by the Nsibidi writings of Nigeria and Cameroon that date back to 2000BC and the Vai writings of Liberia and Sierra Leone of 3000BC,” he said.

“Archaeological evidence indicates that Africa was inhabited by an ancient civilisation that stored its records on stone and clay tablets.”

Leading scholars in the archival field believe that archives express and hold several positions, memory and forgetting, suffering and hope, power and accountability, confinement and liberation, oppression and justice, conformity and diversity, silence and speaking.

In other parts of Egypt, a culture of archiving information on scrolls was developed and each scroll was given some bibliographic details to facilitate easy retrieval. The adoption of African records by European archival institutions and museums is a clear testimony of the earliest preservation mechanisms of the African heritage.

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