Imagining Futures through Un/Archived Pasts - Development Proposal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Classics and Ancient History


Debates about the past are negotiations about the future. At the centre of these the archive plays a unique role as a trace of a moment, a trend, a life, a culture, an atrocity. It bears witness to the past, situating communities in the present and shaping the future. This is why decisions over what is to be collected, recorded or preserved are crucial, as this affects what will have future presence. The archive exposes the connection between memory and the persistence or transformation of identity. It is about whose story will continue to be told and how, and whose will be silenced.

These issues become acute in moments of post-conflict, displacement and reconstruction. Our Network depends on linking expertise from regions where they are most urgent: the Middle East and Africa, specifically Lebanon and Tanzania. Our starting point is the early 20th century Maji Maji War in Tanzania, its landscape and memorialisation, accessible and in-accessible - in prisons and monasteries. It will act as the site of discourse for the team and, through sharing images and writings, bring in voices from Baddawi Camp in Lebanon. In re-imagining past or present places and lives from a distance, the analysis will trace surprising connections between (formerly/still) colonised, incarcerated, travelling and forcibly encamped people, exploring the ways that such an engagement can engender (real and imagined) lives and narratives beyond the confines of refugee encampment.

The Network provides an opportunity for convergence and co-creation of knowledge, from geo-political contexts that rarely get to share ideas and experiences directly, especially the creation of South to South connections. Each represents a different point in a future: the crisis in the Middle East, the long-term post-conflict reconciliation in Africa, and the colonising past of Europe. Within each of these moments the archive has a distinct power. We want to examine its role and articulate archiving practices that contribute to a future which promotes, not suppresses, just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Acts of archiving that draw on local knowledges, self-archiving methods, joint decision-making in what is to be remembered or forgotten, with dialogues across generations, gender and class, have a unique authority. In contrast, stereotypes, gentrification, discrimination, and deprivation - all of which can create discord, tension and physical conflict - often result from insufficient knowledge and narrow understanding. They stem from a lack of appreciation for shared histories and of community's place in the global context. Imagining Futures will use the intrinsic power of the archive for its capacity to build confidence, to enhance understanding and reveal co-existing multiple narratives, and thus, to reduce conflict within and between groups, increasing the potential for sustainable peace.

Our aim is to facilitate the opening-up and sensitive use of existing archives, to create new methods and types of archives and to articulate jointly what a different more egalitarian archive would be. This will be achieved through two Labs in Tanzania and Lebanon (with a supporting technologies workshop), that will co-produce, through engaging with existing archives, special and non-traditional archives in-situ; creative open digital tools; and protocol recommendations. These activities will allow for articulating shared questions, scoping case studies, and piloting approaches that can be scaled up, tested and developed in a wider Network Plus project. Our goal is to create methodologies and tangible proposals for the best archiving practices building towards a policy-manifesto, with heritage preservation as an element. Our wider ambition, through exposing cultural practices as important sites of negotiation, is to advocate for culture to be officially recognised as a humanitarian need.

Planned Impact

The fundamental impact of Imagining Futures, which underpins the other areas of impact outlined below, is the Network itself - an intersection of academic and non-academic knowledge that will co-produce the parameters of egalitarian archiving practices, including their accessibility and distribution. It incorporates community actors, academics, architects, practitioners, archivists, memory institutions, governmental and NG/Organisations. It will build skills through knowledge-exchange between experts within the core team, and those who will be part of the activities and commissions - creating the archives of the future. Ultimately these new practices will help activate archives and related heritage sites as platforms for discourse, leading to socio-cultural impact discussed below. We intend for the Network to be a bridge and create long-lasting partnerships across diverse contexts allowing us to work towards our Objectives, where these contexts are detailed.

Academic Impact: The project will result in better analysis, interpretation and understanding of archiving practices and their capacity to build confidence, reveal multiple co-existing narratives, enhance understanding and empathy, and in so doing, to reduce inter- and intra-community conflict among diverse social, political, religious, economic, and regional groups in contexts of conflict, displacement and reconstruction. The result will be a series of academic publications that will bring to the fields of humanities, social and political sciences, international development, museum and heritage studies, geography, urban planning and design, new methodologies, case studies and data sets. The work and findings of the commissioned projects will be showcased in a touring exhibition to highlight case studies as methods for working across disciplines, practice and fields beyond the academic.

Capacity Building: This multi-disciplinary project will create a broad-ranging body of knowledge of use to researchers and practitioners, focusing on history, archaeology, tangible and intangible heritage, especially in relation to the Middle East (Syria, Iraq , Jordan, Lebanon) and Africa (Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa), and more broadly in contexts of post-conflict, postcolonialism and displacement. It intends, through a co-produced manifesto, to inform policies used by organisations, cultural and memory institutions, and to contribute to enhancing strategic aspects of development and overseas aid. The creation of physical archives in these countries will engage international and national agencies, universities, museums and community groups.

Policy Impact: Engagement with organisations, including NGOs, governments, heritage authorities and institutions, developers and urban planning experts, will foster awareness of systemic issues with top-down archives and encourage new, egalitarian archiving practices. In particular, the project engages organizations as the OSCE, ICCROM and UNESCO, through policy papers, guidelines and co-organized events, to encourage ethical and sensitive use of existing archives, and promotion of community-based archives. This will advocate for culture's role in building just, peaceful, inclusive societies and for its official recognition as a humanitarian need.

Societal and Economic Impact: The project aims to have an impact of social cohesion through preservation of tangible and intangible community heritage. Long-term cohesion is directly related to societal stability and economic growth. The project also has economic potential, by increasing local accessibility, preservation and interaction with heritage, it can be translated into an economic asset, if appropriate, enhancing sustainability through local and visitor economies. The heritage sector as a whole in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and other regions will therefore benefit.


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Title Film LIndi Pilot Maji Maji War 
Description Documentary short film form the Pilot about the Visit and dicussions with Actors and workshop, schools performances at the disused prison in Lindi 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Helpe to raise awareness and influence perspectives, self - archiving practices and education tools in the region around the Maji Maji War, gain partnerships and secure the Large funding grant Network Plus 
Description THis is early but the approach to working with communities in the region and Maji Maji War memory... still early stage
Exploitation Route SO far early stages
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

Description TO rethinking cultural and social spaces in the region, education approaches to difficult memories and history, access to archives by community
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description AHRC - GCRF Network Plus
Amount £2,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH-T008199-1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 03/2024
Description Futures through Underwater Pasts: a search for Mongalo (COmmission from Risign from the Depths for Nancy Rushohora our co-I)
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 09/2020
Description Tanzania Pilot 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Series of Events in the LIndi Reigon Tanzania, including performances and workshops at the disused prison in LIndi
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019