Reanimating cultural heritage: digital repatriation, knowledge networks and civil society strengthening in post-conflict Sierra Leone

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Institute of Archaeology

Abstract

The ability of material culture to open horizons of knowledge and imagination beyond that transmitted through text is fundamental to contemporary museum practice. Interactive digital technologies, especially, provide new opportunities for reanimating ethnographic collections in exhibition and outreach contexts, in the field of museum and source community relations, and as a means of generating and connecting diverse knowledge networks around objects. Such technological developments necessitate a radical rethinking of what ethnographic museums and their collections are and do in the digital age.

This multidisciplinary project is concerned with innovating 'digital curatorship' in relation to Sierra Leonean collections dispersed in the global museumscape. Extending research in anthropology, museum studies, informatics and beyond, the project considers how objects that have become isolated from the oral and performative contexts that originally animated them can be reanimated in digital space alongside associated images, video clips, sounds, texts and other media, and thereby given new life.

In partnership with the British Museum, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums and collaborating institutions in Sierra Leone, a digital heritage resource is created that utilizes social networking technologies to reconnect objects with disparate communities and foster reciprocal knowledge exchange across boundaries. Whereas the practice of 'digital repatriation' has become increasingly popular with museums, the reception of such initiatives by source communities has not been critically assessed. Thus, a crucial part of the project is to employ innovative participatory methods to pilot and evaluate the digital resource in Sierra Leone.

As well as its impact in Sierra Leone, the research will inform museum policy-making more widely, exemplify how museums can play a role in strengthening international relations, and provide a platform for future research and capacity building initiatives. The process and findings of the research will be publicized widely through a series of innovative dissemination methods, including a project blog and multi-sited exhibition.

Research Context

Whereas Sierra Leone was once renowned for the vibrancy of its cultural traditions, including the varied music, dance, masquerade and storytelling practices of its several ethno-linguistic groups, the dominant image of Sierra Leone today is of a war-torn society held hostage by child soldiers and corrupt politicians. Despite six years of peace, infrastructure is only now beginning to return, and Sierra Leone remains one of the least developed countries in the world, with a literacy rate of just 35%. The disruptions of a decade of conflict have had a huge impact on cultural as well as economic activities. Alongside infrastructure- and governance-related development programmes, there is therefore an urgent need to reanimate Sierra Leone's cultural life and heritage. The problem is that those institutions, such as Sierra Leone's National Museum, which might lead such cultural renaissance, have themselves suffered from chronic neglect and have few resources and little expertise. At the same time there is a wealth of Sierra Leonean material culture and associated scholarship dispersed in the world's museums. This project is concerned with exploring how these 'diasporas' of objects and knowledges can again become meaningful resources for Sierra Leoneans who currently have no access to them.

The project not only investigates how the digitization of museum collections provides an opportunity for the 'virtual repatriation' of objects, but also how 'remediating' collections in digital space can reanimate them and generate more diverse knowledge networks around them - bringing together academic scholarship, for example, with indigenous knowledges in a way thatpotentially enriches both, while disrupting conventional knowledge-power asymmetries.
 
Title Reanimating Cultural Heritage in Sierra Leone 
Description Multisited and multimedia exhibition, University College London 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world; unsurprisingly, cultural heritage is not a high priority there, and institutions such as the Sierra Leone National Museum (SLNM) are desperately under-resourced and lacking in expertise. While schools are aware of the importance of incorporating culture and history into their teaching, there is an almost total lack of educational resources to facilitate this. Outside the country, by contrast, an abundance of Sierra Leonean artefacts, photographs, sound recordings, and associated knowledges are dispersed in museums and archives around the world. Through participatory action research and the development of an innovative digital resource the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project (RCH) has 'virtually repatriated' and reanimated these collections. Through this website and a sustained programme of associated outreach, advocacy and capacity-building in Sierra Leone's heritage and education sectors, the project has contributed to the preservation and conservation of Sierra Leonean cultural resources; supported the development of the country's museums sector offering; created new and improved existing educational resources; and engaged Sierra Leonean and international audiences with the country's cultural heritage. (1) Providing new access to museum collections, images and sound archives Launched in October 2011, www.sierraleoneheritage.org was a key output of the RCH project. The resource provides global digital access to over 4,000 Sierra Leonean objects, images and sound recordings from the British Museum (BM), Brighton Museum, Glasgow Museum, World Museum Liverpool, British Library Sound Archive, and Cootje van Oven ethnomusicological collection. This material was largely hidden away in museum stores and low on museums' priority lists. Participation in the project meant that these museums prioritised the digitisation of these collections, providing access to much of the material for the first time. Additionally, c. 2,000 objects from SLNM collections - which previously had no accurate record of its collection - were digitised. Beyond providing access to the objects, this complete written and visual record of the collection significantly improved its security. It not only provides access to images and information, but reanimates objects by juxtaposing them with contextualising video and sound media showing them in use, being made, or discussed. From January 2012, when visitor statistics began to be recorded, to date the digital resource received 83,865 page views from 16,588 unique visitors (Google Analytics report generated 16/10/13). Related project videos on YouTube have also been particularly popular, with examples receiving over 9,264 and 5,565 views each. (2) Enhancing the profile of the Sierra Leone National Museum and cultural heritage sector, both within and beyond Sierra Leone Whereas SLNM was previously regarded by many, including some within Sierra Leone's Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, as moribund and of little interest, the activities of RCH and its various partnerships transformed the Museum into a vibrant hub of activity, with new displays and outreach activities. This has had a significant impact on its perception among the Sierra Leone Government and public. The Director of Cultural Affairs acknowledged that his understanding of the Museum has been changed through participation in the project, and that he has come to recognise the importance of its collections and the contribution it can make to national development. There is increased press coverage of the Museum, more high level functionaries at openings and events, and a change in employment conditions for SLNM staff, the Museum's higher profile having resulted in a change to the way in which they are paid. Previously, staff received a subvention included as an undifferentiated part of the museum's annual funding, which typically meant that they went unpaid for months at a time. This was changed in 2012, such that the Museum's 16 staff are now paid salaries directly from Government, as any other civil servant. More widely, an annual week-long Cultural Festival was instituted in April 2011, and the President has indicated that the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs will receive additional funding to develop cultural tourism. Prior to their participation in RCH, there was relatively little interest in the Sierra Leonean collections held by the project's international partner museums, including the British Museum; the project has encouraged these museums to reassess the significance of their collections. As a direct outcome of the collaboration, the BM held a 3-month exhibition focusing exclusively on Sierra Leonean collections which attracted approximately 67,000 visitors between 14 February and 28 April 2013, and received much positive feedback. The display was selected in 2013 for the BM's 'History of the World' tour to Abu Dhabi, Japan and Taiwan in 2014. In January and February 2012, the BM and SLNM were partners in a larger, multi-sited exhibition at UCL, which focused on different aspects of the RCH project. This included the loan of 19 Sierra Leonean objects from the BM, and the first ever international loan of objects from SLNM. Research has thus made an important contribution to challenging negative stereotypes about Sierra Leone by engaging international communities, as well as Sierra Leoneans themselves, with the country's history and heritage beyond the dominant images of child soldiers, 'blood diamonds' and poverty. As the Director of Cultural Affairs described the digital resource, this is a 'powerful tool in changing perceptions of Sierra Leone', with the ability to 'change the mindsets of people'. (3) Capacity-building in the museum and heritage sector in Sierra Leone From March 2009, as part of the digitisation process, the project provided a sustained programme of training and capacity-building at SLNM for a museum 'working party' of 8-10 staff members from SLNM, the Monuments and Relics Commission, and Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. This developed capacity in a wide range of museum skills including conducting a collections audit, cataloguing the objects using a computerised collections management system, setting up a photographic studio and taking high quality digital photographs of objects, and improving preventative conservation and storage techniques. As the senior curator at SLNM explains, 'what was especially valuable about the training and capacity building work we undertook as part of [RCH] was that it was based in our own institution and took into consideration the constraints with which we are daily faced. The activitiesstrengthened the professional capacity of the museum staff by adapting international standards of best practice in the context of our own work'. This training was enhanced through a partnership brokered by RCH with the British Museum's Africa Programme, for which Paul Basu acted as consultant. This ongoing programme of workshops and collaborative initiatives on site included the redisplay of SLNM's permanent galleries, museum education programmes, collaborative exhibitions, and knowledge-exchange visits. (4) Developing resources for teaching and educational outreach Although school groups sometimes visited SLNM, little attempt was previously made to enhance their use of the Museum as a learning space. This was particularly unfortunate since there is no provision for the teaching of Sierra Leonean culture or heritage within the national curriculum and no existing teaching resources. Through RCH, various initiatives were developed to strengthen the relationship between schools and SLNM: 200 stand-alone DVD versions of the digital heritage resource were distributed to schools, colleges, universities and community 'access points' in Freetown and other towns where computers were available but internet access was inadequate. In October 2011 a workshop was organised in association with the British Council's 'Connecting Classrooms' initiative at which c. 60 Sierra Leonean teachers and 30 British teachers explored the educational value of the resource, which was very positively received and has since been extensively used. Prompted by the availability of this high-quality teaching resource, several teachers have gone on to establish 'history clubs' at their schools. Following on from this initial educational outreach, a Teachers' Forum was launched at SLNM in June 2012. At a workshop for 25 teachers, led in collaboration with the BM Africa Programme, teachers and museum staff explored ways in which the Sierra Leone National Museum could support the teaching of culture and history in schools. A steering committee was formed and future meetings of the Forum arranged. This was a significant step in building effective relationships between teachers and museum staff, opening up the Museum to a wider range of educational uses. (5) Engaging Sierra Leonean and diasporic communities in the value of cultural heritage As part of RCH, much community outreach work was undertaken, collecting oral histories, exploring local understandings of the value of history and cultural heritage, and discussing sustainable approaches to safeguarding heritage sites. This on-going work was used to advise the Monuments and Relics Commission on locally-appropriate forms of cultural heritage management. In the UK, RCH collaborated with the BM Communities Team in a week-long object-based workshop as part of its 'Talking Objects' programme (Sept 2011). Working with 18 young members of the diaspora in London, this used objects from the BM collection to facilitate explorations of their cultural heritage and identity. Community participation was also key to the development of exhibitions and events programmes at the BM and UCL: the Sowei mask: spirit of Sierra Leone display (Feb-April 2013, with community involvement from July 2012) at the BM involved close collaboration with a London-based Sierra Leonean cultural group, who performed a traditional mask naming ceremony at the Museum prior to its exhibition. At the opening, members of the diaspora community performed dances and masquerades at a free public event attended by over 1,000 people. The closing event was co-hosted with the Sierra Leonean High Commission as an Independence Day celebration, introducing this cultural heritage to a wider diplomatic community. 
URL http://youtu.be/Swg_lG-G8RY
 
Title Sowei mask: spirit of Sierra Leone 
Description Single object exhibition, British Museum 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world; unsurprisingly, cultural heritage is not a high priority there, and institutions such as the Sierra Leone National Museum (SLNM) are desperately under-resourced and lacking in expertise. While schools are aware of the importance of incorporating culture and history into their teaching, there is an almost total lack of educational resources to facilitate this. Outside the country, by contrast, an abundance of Sierra Leonean artefacts, photographs, sound recordings, and associated knowledges are dispersed in museums and archives around the world. Through participatory action research and the development of an innovative digital resource the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project (RCH) has 'virtually repatriated' and reanimated these collections. Through this website and a sustained programme of associated outreach, advocacy and capacity-building in Sierra Leone's heritage and education sectors, the project has contributed to the preservation and conservation of Sierra Leonean cultural resources; supported the development of the country's museums sector offering; created new and improved existing educational resources; and engaged Sierra Leonean and international audiences with the country's cultural heritage. (1) Providing new access to museum collections, images and sound archives Launched in October 2011, www.sierraleoneheritage.org was a key output of the RCH project. The resource provides global digital access to over 4,000 Sierra Leonean objects, images and sound recordings from the British Museum (BM), Brighton Museum, Glasgow Museum, World Museum Liverpool, British Library Sound Archive, and Cootje van Oven ethnomusicological collection. This material was largely hidden away in museum stores and low on museums' priority lists. Participation in the project meant that these museums prioritised the digitisation of these collections, providing access to much of the material for the first time. Additionally, c. 2,000 objects from SLNM collections - which previously had no accurate record of its collection - were digitised. Beyond providing access to the objects, this complete written and visual record of the collection significantly improved its security. It not only provides access to images and information, but reanimates objects by juxtaposing them with contextualising video and sound media showing them in use, being made, or discussed. From January 2012, when visitor statistics began to be recorded, to date the digital resource received 83,865 page views from 16,588 unique visitors (Google Analytics report generated 16/10/13). Related project videos on YouTube have also been particularly popular, with examples receiving over 9,264 and 5,565 views each. (2) Enhancing the profile of the Sierra Leone National Museum and cultural heritage sector, both within and beyond Sierra Leone Whereas SLNM was previously regarded by many, including some within Sierra Leone's Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, as moribund and of little interest, the activities of RCH and its various partnerships transformed the Museum into a vibrant hub of activity, with new displays and outreach activities. This has had a significant impact on its perception among the Sierra Leone Government and public. The Director of Cultural Affairs acknowledged that his understanding of the Museum has been changed through participation in the project, and that he has come to recognise the importance of its collections and the contribution it can make to national development. There is increased press coverage of the Museum, more high level functionaries at openings and events, and a change in employment conditions for SLNM staff, the Museum's higher profile having resulted in a change to the way in which they are paid. Previously, staff received a subvention included as an undifferentiated part of the museum's annual funding, which typically meant that they went unpaid for months at a time. This was changed in 2012, such that the Museum's 16 staff are now paid salaries directly from Government, as any other civil servant. More widely, an annual week-long Cultural Festival was instituted in April 2011, and the President has indicated that the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs will receive additional funding to develop cultural tourism. Prior to their participation in RCH, there was relatively little interest in the Sierra Leonean collections held by the project's international partner museums, including the British Museum; the project has encouraged these museums to reassess the significance of their collections. As a direct outcome of the collaboration, the BM held a 3-month exhibition focusing exclusively on Sierra Leonean collections which attracted approximately 67,000 visitors between 14 February and 28 April 2013, and received much positive feedback. The display was selected in 2013 for the BM's 'History of the World' tour to Abu Dhabi, Japan and Taiwan in 2014. In January and February 2012, the BM and SLNM were partners in a larger, multi-sited exhibition at UCL, which focused on different aspects of the RCH project. This included the loan of 19 Sierra Leonean objects from the BM, and the first ever international loan of objects from SLNM. Research has thus made an important contribution to challenging negative stereotypes about Sierra Leone by engaging international communities, as well as Sierra Leoneans themselves, with the country's history and heritage beyond the dominant images of child soldiers, 'blood diamonds' and poverty. As the Director of Cultural Affairs described the digital resource, this is a 'powerful tool in changing perceptions of Sierra Leone', with the ability to 'change the mindsets of people'. (3) Capacity-building in the museum and heritage sector in Sierra Leone From March 2009, as part of the digitisation process, the project provided a sustained programme of training and capacity-building at SLNM for a museum 'working party' of 8-10 staff members from SLNM, the Monuments and Relics Commission, and Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. This developed capacity in a wide range of museum skills including conducting a collections audit, cataloguing the objects using a computerised collections management system, setting up a photographic studio and taking high quality digital photographs of objects, and improving preventative conservation and storage techniques. As the senior curator at SLNM explains, 'what was especially valuable about the training and capacity building work we undertook as part of [RCH] was that it was based in our own institution and took into consideration the constraints with which we are daily faced. The activitiesstrengthened the professional capacity of the museum staff by adapting international standards of best practice in the context of our own work'. This training was enhanced through a partnership brokered by RCH with the British Museum's Africa Programme, for which Paul Basu acted as consultant. This ongoing programme of workshops and collaborative initiatives on site included the redisplay of SLNM's permanent galleries, museum education programmes, collaborative exhibitions, and knowledge-exchange visits. (4) Developing resources for teaching and educational outreach Although school groups sometimes visited SLNM, little attempt was previously made to enhance their use of the Museum as a learning space. This was particularly unfortunate since there is no provision for the teaching of Sierra Leonean culture or heritage within the national curriculum and no existing teaching resources. Through RCH, various initiatives were developed to strengthen the relationship between schools and SLNM: 200 stand-alone DVD versions of the digital heritage resource were distributed to schools, colleges, universities and community 'access points' in Freetown and other towns where computers were available but internet access was inadequate. In October 2011 a workshop was organised in association with the British Council's 'Connecting Classrooms' initiative at which c. 60 Sierra Leonean teachers and 30 British teachers explored the educational value of the resource, which was very positively received and has since been extensively used. Prompted by the availability of this high-quality teaching resource, several teachers have gone on to establish 'history clubs' at their schools. Following on from this initial educational outreach, a Teachers' Forum was launched at SLNM in June 2012. At a workshop for 25 teachers, led in collaboration with the BM Africa Programme, teachers and museum staff explored ways in which the Sierra Leone National Museum could support the teaching of culture and history in schools. A steering committee was formed and future meetings of the Forum arranged. This was a significant step in building effective relationships between teachers and museum staff, opening up the Museum to a wider range of educational uses. (5) Engaging Sierra Leonean and diasporic communities in the value of cultural heritage As part of RCH, much community outreach work was undertaken, collecting oral histories, exploring local understandings of the value of history and cultural heritage, and discussing sustainable approaches to safeguarding heritage sites. This on-going work was used to advise the Monuments and Relics Commission on locally-appropriate forms of cultural heritage management. In the UK, RCH collaborated with the BM Communities Team in a week-long object-based workshop as part of its 'Talking Objects' programme (Sept 2011). Working with 18 young members of the diaspora in London, this used objects from the BM collection to facilitate explorations of their cultural heritage and identity. Community participation was also key to the development of exhibitions and events programmes at the BM and UCL: the Sowei mask: spirit of Sierra Leone display (Feb-April 2013, with community involvement from July 2012) at the BM involved close collaboration with a London-based Sierra Leonean cultural group, who performed a traditional mask naming ceremony at the Museum prior to its exhibition. At the opening, members of the diaspora community performed dances and masquerades at a free public event attended by over 1,000 people. The closing event was co-hosted with the Sierra Leonean High Commission as an Independence Day celebration, introducing this cultural heritage to a wider diplomatic community. 
URL http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/past_exhibitions/2013/sowei_mask.aspx
 
Description 1. Overview / Methodologies

Reanimating Cultural Heritage project was concerned with innovating 'digital curatorship' in relation to Sierra Leonean collections dispersed in the global museumscape. Building on research in anthropology, museum studies, informatics and beyond, the project considered how objects that have become isolated from the oral and performative contexts that originally animated them can be reanimated in digital space alongside associated images, video clips, sounds, texts and other media, and thereby given new life. [O1, T3, T4]

At the heart of the project was a collaboration between researchers in material culture (UCL) and informatics (Sussex) aimed at developing an innovative new digital heritage resource (www.sierraleoneheritage.org). The resource provides digital access to the Sierra Leonean collections of the Sierra Leone National Museum, the British Museum, the British Library Sound Archive, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums, and the World Museum Liverpool. As well as developing close working relationships with the partners that will outlive the project, this involved undertaking original collections-based research with each of the museums' collections, conducting ethnographic research with communities in Sierra Leone, and devising locally appropriate and sustainable applications of information technology. [O1, O2, O5, O8, T3]

In association with the British Museum's Africa Programme, the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project engaged in a number of capacity building activities in Sierra Leone, including working closely with the Monuments and Relics Commission and National Museum to assist in the cataloguing and digitization of the entire National Museum collection, and supporting a participatory video-making programme with other partners including the Ballanta Academy of Music, iEARN-Sierra Leone, and Talking Drum Studios. As well as creating new digital content to recontextualize the historical collections, the participatory process of making the videos promoted intergenerational dialogue as young video-makers discussed and filmed cultural heritage issues with older members of their communities. [O3, O5, O8, O9, T5]

Another key objective of the project was to experiment with the integration of web-based social networking technologies into the digital heritage resource in order to (re)connect objects in museum collections with disparate communities and to foster knowledge exchange across boundaries. This has been achieved through the integration of Facebook application programming interfaces, which are embedded throughout the digital resource. Visitors to www.sierraleoneheritage.org can become part of the project's online community, contribute comments, engage in discussions, and upload their own images and videos. [O5, O7, T3, T5]

The www.sierraleoneheritage.org was launched, first, by Sierra Leone's Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs at the Sierra Leone National Museum in November 2011 and, subsequently, by Sierra Leone's High Commissioner to the UK at UCL in February 2012. The UK launch was supported by an exhibition, which included large format photographs, an audio-visual installation, and iconic objects loaned from the British Museum and Sierra Leone National Museum. Portable copies of the resource have been distributed to many schools in Sierra Leone and the resource forms the centre of a new educational outreach initiative being led by the National Museum. [O3, O5, O6, O7]

As one of the world's poorest countries and one still recovering from a brutal civil war, cultural heritage has been a low priority in Sierra Leone. The wider aspiration of the project is that by reanimating these dispersed collections and the differently-situated knowledges that surround them, Sierra Leone's rich cultural heritage can be better appreciated and contribute to the reanimation of Sierra Leonean society more generally.
2. Publications

The first of the project's academic publications have been published, others are at different stages in the publication process.

• Basu, P. 2011. 'Object diasporas, resourcing communities: Sierra Leonean collections in the global museumscape', Museum Anthropology 34(1): 28-42. [T5]
• Basu, P. Forthcoming 2012. 'A museum for Sierra Leone? Amateur enthusiasms and colonial museum policy in British West Africa' in S. Longair and J. McAleer (eds), Curating empire: Museums and the British imperial experience. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
• Basu, P. Forthcoming. 'Recasting the national narrative: postcolonial pastiche and the new Sierra Leone Peace and Cultural Monument', African Arts. [T2, T5]
• Basu, P. Forthcoming. 'Reanimating cultural heritage: Digital museology, knowledge networks and civil society strengthening in Sierra Leone' in A.E. Coombes and R.B. Phillips (eds), Museum transformations: Art, culture, history. Oxford: Blackwell. [T2, T3, T4]
• Basu, P. and Modest, W. (eds) Under contract. Museums, heritage and international development. New York: Routledge. [T5]

A number of other publications are currently being prepared that result from the project, including sections of a major research monograph (Palimpsest Memoryscapes), and articles about different aspects of the research (e.g. one concerning Sierra Leone's National Dance Troupe as an 'embodied archive' [T2] , another focusing on 'the inbetweenness of things' [T4]).

3. Collaborations

Collaboration has been central to the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project. The development of the www.sierraleoneheritage.org resource entailed a close collaboration throughout the project between the PI (UCL, Institute of Archaeology) and CI (University of Sussex, CI), along with a number of museum partners. Initial museum partners included the Sierra Leone National Museum, British Museum, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and Glasgow Museums. Other museums with Sierra Leonean collections showed much interest in the project and it was possible to add the World Museum Liverpool and British Library Sound Archive to the list of core partners. The project also collaborated with other Sierra Leonean agencies and organisations including the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Monuments and Relics Commission, Ballanta Academy of Music, iEARN-Sierra Leone, and Talking Drum Studios. A teacher training workshop was organised for Sierra Leonean and UK teachers in collaboration with the British Council's 'Connecting Classrooms' international exchange programme. A 2-day academic workshop was organised in collaboration with the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The most sustained collaboration has, however, been between the project and the British Museum's Africa Programme - this has enhanced the value of the project far beyond that which was anticipated, including community outreach workshops, enhancing capacity building support in Sierra Leone, and the loan of collections for the UCL exhibition. A second, related, exhibition and events programme will take place at the British Museum in 2013. [O1, O3, O5, O8]

4. Communication

Numerous academic seminars and presentations have been given on different aspects of the research at Wageningen University (The Netherlands); University College London; London University School of Advanced Studies; University of York; University of York; the London School of Economics; University of Oslo (Norway); University of Oxford; University of Leicester; University of Leiden (The Netherlands); the Icelandic Anthropological Society (Iceland); the Victorian and Albert Museum; the British Museum; the Tropenmuseum (The Netherlands); and Fourah Bay College (Sierra Leone). [O2, O3, O5, O6, O7]

Public talks about the research have been delivered in various contexts, including the British Council's auditorium in Freetown; Sierra Leone National Museum; and at a 4-day 'Talking Objects' community outreach workshop at the British Museum (at which young Londoners of Sierra Leonean heritage engaged with Sierra Leonean collection to explore their meanings and connections). The project culminated in a 2-month long multimedia exhibition at University College London, which included a public launch event and reception attended by the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner to the UK, the Government of Sierra Leone's Director of Culture and many members of the Sierra Leonean community in London. [O7, O10]

Paul Basu has given numerous television and radio broadcasts about the project in Sierra Leone, and UCL promoted the launch of the www.sierraleoneheritage.org resource with press releases and a YouTube video presentation (http://youtu.be/Swg_lG-G8RY), has received 3,174 views since 6/1/12. [O7, O10]

At the time of writing, the www.sierraleoneheritage.org website itself receives approximately 885 visits per month (c.4,220 page views), the majority from North America and the UK. The project's Facebook community (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sierra-Leone-Heritage/104060172993181) currently numbers 110 people. [O7]

5. Impact

The project has worked closely with the Sierra Leone National Museum to develop an educational outreach strategy around the www.sierraleoneheritage.org resource. Portable copies of the resource have been distributed to the growing number of Sierra Leonean schools that have computer facilities along with posters and postcards. Copies have also be distributed to internet cafes and other organisations that provide access to computers, such as the British Council and Public Library, in Freetown. These have been received with much enthusiasm, with schools setting up 'museum clubs'. The British Museum's Africa Programme is now supporting an enhanced educational outreach programme at the National Museum. [O5, O6, O10]

There is a great deal of interest in the www.sierraleoneheritage.org resource, with museums and individuals with personal research archives frequently enquiring whether their own Sierra Leonean collections can be made available on the platform. The PI is currently exploring the possibility of funding a second phase of the project, perhaps in collaboration with a North American museum or university partner.

Participation in the project has had a significant impact on partner museums in the UK. This has raised awareness of the significance of their Sierra Leonean collections, resulting in prioritizing these in redisplays and future exhibitions. The collaboration between the project and the British Museum Africa Programme has led to a long-term commitment of the Programme to supporting the cultural sector in Sierra Leone. [O10]

At the UCL launch event, the Government of Sierra Leone's Director of Cultural Affairs expressed his Ministry's 'profound gratitude' for the project and commented on the positive relationships that it has fostered. Noting the value of the www.sierraleoneheritage.org resource in presenting a more positive image of Sierra Leone to the international community, and noting the significance of cultural tourism for the country's economic development, he stated that 'this website will help us educate and showcase our natural and cultural heritage in order to attract and hold the attention of potential visitors from all walks of life from around the world'. [O10]

6. Contribution to Programme

Specific contribution to the Beyond Text programme Objectives [O] and Themes [T] are indicated throughout the report. Additionally, the project has made significant contributions to the programme's guiding research questions the creation and transmission of cultural value (including political, economic and social ramifications), issues around ownership of cultural assets (not least with regard to responsibility of museums), and the challenges and opportunities presented by an increasingly globalized digital culture.
Exploitation Route Model for museums and heritage organisations to explore the value of collections and public engagement methods to build relationships and support social roles and responsibilities of museums.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world; unsurprisingly, cultural heritage is not a high priority there, and institutions such as the Sierra Leone National Museum (SLNM) are desperately under-resourced and lacking in expertise. While schools are aware of the importance of incorporating culture and history into their teaching, there is an almost total lack of educational resources to facilitate this. Outside the country, by contrast, an abundance of Sierra Leonean artefacts, photographs, sound recordings, and associated knowledges are dispersed in museums and archives around the world. Through participatory action research and the development of an innovative digital resource the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project (RCH) has 'virtually repatriated' and reanimated these collections. Through this website and a sustained programme of associated outreach, advocacy and capacity-building in Sierra Leone's heritage and education sectors, the project has contributed to the preservation and conservation of Sierra Leonean cultural resources; supported the development of the country's museums sector offering; created new and improved existing educational resources; and engaged Sierra Leonean and international audiences with the country's cultural heritage. (1) Providing new access to museum collections, images and sound archives Launched in October 2011, www.sierraleoneheritage.org was a key output of the RCH project. The resource provides global digital access to over 4,000 Sierra Leonean objects, images and sound recordings from the British Museum (BM), Brighton Museum, Glasgow Museum, World Museum Liverpool, British Library Sound Archive, and Cootje van Oven ethnomusicological collection. This material was largely hidden away in museum stores and low on museums' priority lists. Participation in the project meant that these museums prioritised the digitisation of these collections, providing access to much of the material for the first time. Additionally, c. 2,000 objects from SLNM collections - which previously had no accurate record of its collection - were digitised. Beyond providing access to the objects, this complete written and visual record of the collection significantly improved its security. It not only provides access to images and information, but reanimates objects by juxtaposing them with contextualising video and sound media showing them in use, being made, or discussed. From January 2012, when visitor statistics began to be recorded, to date the digital resource received 83,865 page views from 16,588 unique visitors (Google Analytics report generated 16/10/13). Related project videos on YouTube have also been particularly popular, with examples receiving over 9,264 and 5,565 views each. (2) Enhancing the profile of the Sierra Leone National Museum and cultural heritage sector, both within and beyond Sierra Leone Whereas SLNM was previously regarded by many, including some within Sierra Leone's Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, as moribund and of little interest, the activities of RCH and its various partnerships transformed the Museum into a vibrant hub of activity, with new displays and outreach activities. This has had a significant impact on its perception among the Sierra Leone Government and public. The Director of Cultural Affairs acknowledged that his understanding of the Museum has been changed through participation in the project, and that he has come to recognise the importance of its collections and the contribution it can make to national development. There is increased press coverage of the Museum, more high level functionaries at openings and events, and a change in employment conditions for SLNM staff, the Museum's higher profile having resulted in a change to the way in which they are paid. Previously, staff received a subvention included as an undifferentiated part of the museum's annual funding, which typically meant that they went unpaid for months at a time. This was changed in 2012, such that the Museum's 16 staff are now paid salaries directly from Government, as any other civil servant. More widely, an annual week-long Cultural Festival was instituted in April 2011, and the President has indicated that the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs will receive additional funding to develop cultural tourism. Prior to their participation in RCH, there was relatively little interest in the Sierra Leonean collections held by the project's international partner museums, including the British Museum; the project has encouraged these museums to reassess the significance of their collections. As a direct outcome of the collaboration, the BM held a 3-month exhibition focusing exclusively on Sierra Leonean collections which attracted approximately 67,000 visitors between 14 February and 28 April 2013, and received much positive feedback. The display was selected in 2013 for the BM's 'History of the World' tour to Abu Dhabi, Japan and Taiwan in 2014. In January and February 2012, the BM and SLNM were partners in a larger, multi-sited exhibition at UCL, which focused on different aspects of the RCH project. This included the loan of 19 Sierra Leonean objects from the BM, and the first ever international loan of objects from SLNM. Research has thus made an important contribution to challenging negative stereotypes about Sierra Leone by engaging international communities, as well as Sierra Leoneans themselves, with the country's history and heritage beyond the dominant images of child soldiers, 'blood diamonds' and poverty. As the Director of Cultural Affairs described the digital resource, this is a 'powerful tool in changing perceptions of Sierra Leone', with the ability to 'change the mindsets of people'. (3) Capacity-building in the museum and heritage sector in Sierra Leone From March 2009, as part of the digitisation process, the project provided a sustained programme of training and capacity-building at SLNM for a museum 'working party' of 8-10 staff members from SLNM, the Monuments and Relics Commission, and Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. This developed capacity in a wide range of museum skills including conducting a collections audit, cataloguing the objects using a computerised collections management system, setting up a photographic studio and taking high quality digital photographs of objects, and improving preventative conservation and storage techniques. As the senior curator at SLNM explains, 'what was especially valuable about the training and capacity building work we undertook as part of [RCH] was that it was based in our own institution and took into consideration the constraints with which we are daily faced. The activitiesstrengthened the professional capacity of the museum staff by adapting international standards of best practice in the context of our own work'. This training was enhanced through a partnership brokered by RCH with the British Museum's Africa Programme, for which Paul Basu acted as consultant. This ongoing programme of workshops and collaborative initiatives on site included the redisplay of SLNM's permanent galleries, museum education programmes, collaborative exhibitions, and knowledge-exchange visits. (4) Developing resources for teaching and educational outreach Although school groups sometimes visited SLNM, little attempt was previously made to enhance their use of the Museum as a learning space. This was particularly unfortunate since there is no provision for the teaching of Sierra Leonean culture or heritage within the national curriculum and no existing teaching resources. Through RCH, various initiatives were developed to strengthen the relationship between schools and SLNM: 200 stand-alone DVD versions of the digital heritage resource were distributed to schools, colleges, universities and community 'access points' in Freetown and other towns where computers were available but internet access was inadequate. In October 2011 a workshop was organised in association with the British Council's 'Connecting Classrooms' initiative at which c. 60 Sierra Leonean teachers and 30 British teachers explored the educational value of the resource, which was very positively received and has since been extensively used. Prompted by the availability of this high-quality teaching resource, several teachers have gone on to establish 'history clubs' at their schools. Following on from this initial educational outreach, a Teachers' Forum was launched at SLNM in June 2012. At a workshop for 25 teachers, led in collaboration with the BM Africa Programme, teachers and museum staff explored ways in which the Sierra Leone National Museum could support the teaching of culture and history in schools. A steering committee was formed and future meetings of the Forum arranged. This was a significant step in building effective relationships between teachers and museum staff, opening up the Museum to a wider range of educational uses. (5) Engaging Sierra Leonean and diasporic communities in the value of cultural heritage As part of RCH, much community outreach work was undertaken, collecting oral histories, exploring local understandings of the value of history and cultural heritage, and discussing sustainable approaches to safeguarding heritage sites. This on-going work was used to advise the Monuments and Relics Commission on locally-appropriate forms of cultural heritage management. In the UK, RCH collaborated with the BM Communities Team in a week-long object-based workshop as part of its 'Talking Objects' programme (Sept 2011). Working with 18 young members of the diaspora in London, this used objects from the BM collection to facilitate explorations of their cultural heritage and identity. Community participation was also key to the development of exhibitions and events programmes at the BM and UCL: the Sowei mask: spirit of Sierra Leone display (Feb-April 2013, with community involvement from July 2012) at the BM involved close collaboration with a London-based Sierra Leonean cultural group, who performed a traditional mask naming ceremony at the Museum prior to its exhibition. At the opening, members of the diaspora community performed dances and masquerades at a free public event attended by over 1,000 people. The closing event was co-hosted with the Sierra Leonean High Commission as an Independence Day celebration, introducing this cultural heritage to a wider diplomatic community.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Title Sierra Leone Heritage digital resource 
Description Online digital heritage resource 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world; unsurprisingly, cultural heritage is not a high priority there, and institutions such as the Sierra Leone National Museum (SLNM) are desperately under-resourced and lacking in expertise. While schools are aware of the importance of incorporating culture and history into their teaching, there is an almost total lack of educational resources to facilitate this. Outside the country, by contrast, an abundance of Sierra Leonean artefacts, photographs, sound recordings, and associated knowledges are dispersed in museums and archives around the world. Through participatory action research and the development of an innovative digital resource the Reanimating Cultural Heritage project (RCH) has 'virtually repatriated' and reanimated these collections. Through this website and a sustained programme of associated outreach, advocacy and capacity-building in Sierra Leone's heritage and education sectors, the project has contributed to the preservation and conservation of Sierra Leonean cultural resources; supported the development of the country's museums sector offering; created new and improved existing educational resources; and engaged Sierra Leonean and international audiences with the country's cultural heritage. (1) Providing new access to museum collections, images and sound archives Launched in October 2011, www.sierraleoneheritage.org was a key output of the RCH project. The resource provides global digital access to over 4,000 Sierra Leonean objects, images and sound recordings from the British Museum (BM), Brighton Museum, Glasgow Museum, World Museum Liverpool, British Library Sound Archive, and Cootje van Oven ethnomusicological collection. This material was largely hidden away in museum stores and low on museums' priority lists. Participation in the project meant that these museums prioritised the digitisation of these collections, providing access to much of the material for the first time. Additionally, c. 2,000 objects from SLNM collections - which previously had no accurate record of its collection - were digitised. Beyond providing access to the objects, this complete written and visual record of the collection significantly improved its security. It not only provides access to images and information, but reanimates objects by juxtaposing them with contextualising video and sound media showing them in use, being made, or discussed. From January 2012, when visitor statistics began to be recorded, to date the digital resource received 83,865 page views from 16,588 unique visitors (Google Analytics report generated 16/10/13). Related project videos on YouTube have also been particularly popular, with examples receiving over 9,264 and 5,565 views each. (2) Enhancing the profile of the Sierra Leone National Museum and cultural heritage sector, both within and beyond Sierra Leone Whereas SLNM was previously regarded by many, including some within Sierra Leone's Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, as moribund and of little interest, the activities of RCH and its various partnerships transformed the Museum into a vibrant hub of activity, with new displays and outreach activities. This has had a significant impact on its perception among the Sierra Leone Government and public. The Director of Cultural Affairs acknowledged that his understanding of the Museum has been changed through participation in the project, and that he has come to recognise the importance of its collections and the contribution it can make to national development. There is increased press coverage of the Museum, more high level functionaries at openings and events, and a change in employment conditions for SLNM staff, the Museum's higher profile having resulted in a change to the way in which they are paid. Previously, staff received a subvention included as an undifferentiated part of the museum's annual funding, which typically meant that they went unpaid for months at a time. This was changed in 2012, such that the Museum's 16 staff are now paid salaries directly from Government, as any other civil servant. More widely, an annual week-long Cultural Festival was instituted in April 2011, and the President has indicated that the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs will receive additional funding to develop cultural tourism. Prior to their participation in RCH, there was relatively little interest in the Sierra Leonean collections held by the project's international partner museums, including the British Museum; the project has encouraged these museums to reassess the significance of their collections. As a direct outcome of the collaboration, the BM held a 3-month exhibition focusing exclusively on Sierra Leonean collections which attracted approximately 67,000 visitors between 14 February and 28 April 2013, and received much positive feedback. The display was selected in 2013 for the BM's 'History of the World' tour to Abu Dhabi, Japan and Taiwan in 2014. In January and February 2012, the BM and SLNM were partners in a larger, multi-sited exhibition at UCL, which focused on different aspects of the RCH project. This included the loan of 19 Sierra Leonean objects from the BM, and the first ever international loan of objects from SLNM. Research has thus made an important contribution to challenging negative stereotypes about Sierra Leone by engaging international communities, as well as Sierra Leoneans themselves, with the country's history and heritage beyond the dominant images of child soldiers, 'blood diamonds' and poverty. As the Director of Cultural Affairs described the digital resource, this is a 'powerful tool in changing perceptions of Sierra Leone', with the ability to 'change the mindsets of people'. (3) Capacity-building in the museum and heritage sector in Sierra Leone From March 2009, as part of the digitisation process, the project provided a sustained programme of training and capacity-building at SLNM for a museum 'working party' of 8-10 staff members from SLNM, the Monuments and Relics Commission, and Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. This developed capacity in a wide range of museum skills including conducting a collections audit, cataloguing the objects using a computerised collections management system, setting up a photographic studio and taking high quality digital photographs of objects, and improving preventative conservation and storage techniques. As the senior curator at SLNM explains, 'what was especially valuable about the training and capacity building work we undertook as part of [RCH] was that it was based in our own institution and took into consideration the constraints with which we are daily faced. The activitiesstrengthened the professional capacity of the museum staff by adapting international standards of best practice in the context of our own work'. This training was enhanced through a partnership brokered by RCH with the British Museum's Africa Programme, for which Paul Basu acted as consultant. This ongoing programme of workshops and collaborative initiatives on site included the redisplay of SLNM's permanent galleries, museum education programmes, collaborative exhibitions, and knowledge-exchange visits. (4) Developing resources for teaching and educational outreach Although school groups sometimes visited SLNM, little attempt was previously made to enhance their use of the Museum as a learning space. This was particularly unfortunate since there is no provision for the teaching of Sierra Leonean culture or heritage within the national curriculum and no existing teaching resources. Through RCH, various initiatives were developed to strengthen the relationship between schools and SLNM: 200 stand-alone DVD versions of the digital heritage resource were distributed to schools, colleges, universities and community 'access points' in Freetown and other towns where computers were available but internet access was inadequate. In October 2011 a workshop was organised in association with the British Council's 'Connecting Classrooms' initiative at which c. 60 Sierra Leonean teachers and 30 British teachers explored the educational value of the resource, which was very positively received and has since been extensively used. Prompted by the availability of this high-quality teaching resource, several teachers have gone on to establish 'history clubs' at their schools. Following on from this initial educational outreach, a Teachers' Forum was launched at SLNM in June 2012. At a workshop for 25 teachers, led in collaboration with the BM Africa Programme, teachers and museum staff explored ways in which the Sierra Leone National Museum could support the teaching of culture and history in schools. A steering committee was formed and future meetings of the Forum arranged. This was a significant step in building effective relationships between teachers and museum staff, opening up the Museum to a wider range of educational uses. (5) Engaging Sierra Leonean and diasporic communities in the value of cultural heritage As part of RCH, much community outreach work was undertaken, collecting oral histories, exploring local understandings of the value of history and cultural heritage, and discussing sustainable approaches to safeguarding heritage sites. This on-going work was used to advise the Monuments and Relics Commission on locally-appropriate forms of cultural heritage management. In the UK, RCH collaborated with the BM Communities Team in a week-long object-based workshop as part of its 'Talking Objects' programme (Sept 2011). Working with 18 young members of the diaspora in London, this used objects from the BM collection to facilitate explorations of their cultural heritage and identity. Community participation was also key to the development of exhibitions and events programmes at the BM and UCL: the Sowei mask: spirit of Sierra Leone display (Feb-April 2013, with community involvement from July 2012) at the BM involved close collaboration with a London-based Sierra Leonean cultural group, who performed a traditional mask naming ceremony at the Museum prior to its exhibition. At the opening, members of the diaspora community performed dances and masquerades at a free public event attended by over 1,000 people. The closing event was co-hosted with the Sierra Leonean High Commission as an Independence Day celebration, introducing this cultural heritage to a wider diplomatic community. 
URL http://www.sierraleoneheritage.org