An Archive of Identity

Speaker: Dr Lawrence Dritsas # University of Edinburgh

15th Oct 2012

15:00 - 16:30

Seminar Room 1.06, Old Surgeons' Hall

Abstract: In Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge, Bernard Cohn argues that representations of the colonisers’ history are a vital strand of the ‘historiographic’ modality of colonial knowledge. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Government Archives of Southern Rhodesia collaborated with the publisher Chatto & Windus to produce a series of nine books. The collection was known as the ‘Oppenheimer Series’ after Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, who controlled De Beers and was a founder of the Anglo-American mining company. The volumes in the series offered, for the first time, the primary sources – diaries, correspondence, notes and maps – that chronicled the first English-speaking Europeans to visit southern central Africa. This paper explores the role of source publication in building a settled identity for Europeans in Northern and Southern Rhodesia. The paper draws upon an extensive collection of letters from the corporate archive of Chatto & Windus that detail the twelve-year story of manuscript collecting, editing and publication. The publication of the series coincided with efforts by the Rhodesian archivists to bring manuscripts from the Europe to their collection in Salisbury (Southern Rhodesia). These activities reveal a strategy not only to publish the history of European exploration and settlement but also to reify this history through the physical presence of these books and the archive building itself. In the paper we examine the role that physical artefacts through their construction, their location and their circulation play in the process  of nation-building. We also consider how such objects endure through regime changes. So, this paper is about the physical objects that make up history, the things that Steedman has enigmatically referred to as 'dust'. Here, we hope to explore the efforts to build an archive that continues to both record and structure a construction of identity that was, in the words of Benedict Anderson, both 'parallel and comparable' to those elsewhere.

Speaker biography: Lawrence Dritsas is a lecturer in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies whose research focuses on the continuities and discontinuities between colonial and postcolonial scientific research in Africa. He is currently an associate researcher on the European Research Council-funded project, 'Investigating Networks of Zoonoses Innovation' (INZI).

For more information, please contact Alyson Macdonald on 0131 650 9113.