Revisiting a West African Ethnographic Archive: Colonial Legacies, Decolonial Affordances

Link for joining the seminar on Teams   

This presentation will draw upon some of the work we have been doing as part of the AHRC-funded Museum Affordances / [Re:]Entanglements project. The project has been pursuing a sustained engagement with the archival legacies of a series of surveys conducted by Northcote W. Thomas, the first Government Anthropologist to be appointed by Britain’s Colonial Office. Thomas conducted four anthropological surveys in West Africa between 1909 and 1915, three in Southern Nigeria and one in Sierra Leone. Largely considered to be a failure at the time, the enterprise has nevertheless bequeathed to the present a remarkable – and contentious – mutlimedia archive. In his presentation, Paul Basu will take a collections-based approach, using a series of archival vignettes (documents, images, sound recordings, artefacts) to discuss both the historical context of the surveys, including what they tell us of the relationship between anthropology and colonial governance in the era, and contemporary re-engagements with the archive with communities in West Africa and beyond. Ultimately, the project – and the presentation – asks whether the legacies of anthropology’s entanglement in the project of colonialism also offers opportunities and resources for the ongoing project of decolonisation.

Departmental Seminar Series Hilary 2021

Series theme: Decolonising anthropology and the anthropology of colonialism

3pm, Fridays (Weeks 1-8) on Teams (link above)

Convened by Morgan Clarke and Clare Harris