On the “Archival Sliver” and Audio-Visual Africa, Part 2

Last week, we summarized South African archivist Verne Harris’s notion of the “archival sliver”, the belief that archives are only capable of capturing “a sliver of a sliver of a sliver” of the past (65). Harris developed his argument with reference to the apartheid regime in South Africa, citing instances in which government institutions expunged marginalized social and ethnic groups from the archival record. For a more detailed introduction to Harris’s argument, please refer to On the ‘Archival Sliver’ and Audio-Visual Africa, Part 1.

It is unrealistic to expect that the Audio-Visual Africa project will create archives encapsulating more than a sliver of African history and culture. The project rests on the assumption, however, that the sliver we archive will, in Harris’s words, “giv[e] voice to the voiceless” on a number of different levels (74).
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On the “Archival Sliver” and Audio-Visual Africa, Part 1

The Audio-Visual Africa project is rooted in a recent archival movement toward championing social memory and representation within the archival record. Advocates for social memory and social justice present Africa as a compelling case study due to its long history of authoritarian rule, warfare, and colonialism. One of the most influential figures in this conversation is South African archivist Verne Harris, former deputy director of the National Archives of South Africa. Harris’s article, “The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory, and Archives in South Africa” (2002) strongly relates to the Audio-Visual Africa project and its objectives, namely to preserve, repatriate, and provide access to African audio-visual materials.

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What’s with the African Audio-Visual Archive?

Our project centers on the creation of an archive of African audio-visual materials, ranging from photographs and cinematographic images to videos and sound recordings. Two questions about the project may immediately come to mind.

1. Why Africa?

Africa, the source of all humanity–and, by extension, the humanities–is a continent always defined by change and innovation. Moreover, by the year 2100, Africans are estimated to constitute 40% of the world’s population. This makes it absolutely critical to reverse the relegation of African perspectives to the margins and re-situate them as central to the humanities enterprise.

2. Why audio-visual materials?

While Africa produced great libraries like those of Alexandria and Timbuktu, visual and audio media are equally privileged in Africa for translating experience, contesting inequity, and seeking inspiration. That said, African audio-visual collections are rare, are lacking in material resources and technological support, and have attracted little academic research.