Our Commitment

Vision & Objectives

Imagining Futures aims to articulate egalitarian archival practice in post-conflict, reconstruction and displacement contexts, and test its transferability, in promoting social cohesion. The objectives are interdependent: moving from local to global contexts, and from grounded knowledge to its contribution to wider more transferable methodologies.

1) To use the intrinsic power of the archive for its capacity to build confidence, reveal co-existing narratives, enhance understanding, empathy, and thus reduce inter/intra-community conflict among diverse social, political, religious, economic, and regional groups, enhancing the potential for sustainable peace (SDG 11/16).

2) Create a network of equitable partnerships of academics, archivists, historians, archaeologists, architects, urban-planners, geographers, practitioners, authorities, NGOs, educators, and community stakeholders related to memory institutions and community development.

3) Create a network, committed to sensitive and meaningful dialogues with communities, that outlast the project, linking inter-disciplinary research and expertise that draw on distinct geo-political contexts where the need for new imaginaries is urgent, including in Refugee Camps and ODA countries of Tanzania, Lebanon, Ghana, South Africa and Syria.

4) Create and activate archives as sites of discourse, engaging minority and marginalised groups, to enhance and disseminate methodologies of reading archives against the grain, to subvert conventional epistemologies and challenge dominant or exclusionary narratives, by bringing out diverse voices and exposing archival formation as a result of multiple histories and intersecting lives.

5) Develop and facilitate the physical creation of diverse archives and approaches, as propositions for a methodology of their preservation, and related heritage (SDG 10/11.4), as a pathway to an inclusive Archive for the Future.

6) Produce guidelines on site-sensitive practices, for activating existing archives and creating new ones, their engagement, storage, dissemination and accessibility. This will advocate for culture’s role in building just, peaceful, inclusive societies and for its official recognition as a humanitarian need.

7) Generate policy papers and ethical guidelines, for future creation, use, and custodianship of archives, for application by international organizations such as OSCE, ICCROM, and UNESCO, to ensure archiving practices do not serve as acts of intrusion, dis-empowerment and control. Instead, guide organizations to use their platforms, to educate and re-frame thinking on value across
supra-state organisations, NGOs and memory institutions.

8) Create agile solutions of diverse mediums and scales to share new archiving methods. The project’s own archiving and tools will serve as experiment and model.

9) Expose the impact of the colonial, western, male gaze – historically pervasive, in the subject of the archived and its form (e.g. visual/text-based) – in framing policies of preservation and reconstruction.

10) Increase mobility of people and ideas, through the Network, creating a bridge and partnerships between Middle East and Africa (SDG 17.14/17), and across: 1) recovering communities in conflict zones and postcolonial contexts; 2) organisations, communities and enterprises within contexts of displacement; 3) researchers, across humanities and other fields, as architecture, urban-planning, those in memory institutions and practitioners; 4) government and supra-state organisations.

11) Provide guidelines for international aid and investment on the importance of drawing on a wide knowledge-base of local actors. To ensure well-meaning initiatives are contextually sensitive and do not fuel violence by rupturing links between communities’ lived/intangible and tangible heritage.

12) Push the potential of the humanities by activating it spatially through an intersection with architecture, urban design, and memory.

Pathways to Impact

Affecting Policy and Protocols

To engender possibilities for change a Manifesto will comprise our findings on the practices of egalitarian archiving. It will be reviewed and updated throughout the project by the team and circulated through the Network among participants, memory institutions and archive repositories. It is to be created by and for stakeholders, in dialogue with relevant governing bodies, who will share ownership of the process and responsibility for implementing its findings. The Manifesto, eventually in the form of a policy document (in the relevant languages, e.g. incl. Arabic, Akan, Swahili & vernacular dialects), will be publicly available on our website. It will be presented alongside archival ‘objects’, tangible and intangible, documentaries and other recordings. Using our Network’s combined links and track record of successful policy engagement and impact, we will engage relevant organisations early on by inviting them to our local events, conferences, special working sessions, and by showcasing findings on their platforms (as of OSCE, ICCROM, UNESCO). We will also draw on the GCRF team and organisations as the BM, British Library, British Council and BIRIs, who have expertise at the intersection of culture, heritage, development, peace-building and policy. We will identify the set of protocols to target, the channels through which do so, and the form in which our findings should be delivered. Our ambition is to expand definitions of value in relation to archiving and heritage, across supra-state organisations, NGOs and memory institutions, and thus contribute to advocating for culture to be recognised, at an official level, as a humanitarian need and right (SDG 11.4).

Creating a Network of Intersecting Equitable Partnerships and Linking Sites

Local partnerships will be enhanced through new connectivities, enabling access to archives and narratives, and their positioning in a supra-local context. This will be through workshops, on-site visits, co-creation and evaluation of approaches and methods, including testing relevance of new technologies. Working through a Network will strengthen joint requests for access to archives, allowing for a sensitive and stronger position in local and state consultations and negotiations (e.g. Benedictines in Tanzania, joined as partners to work towards this accessibility). We will create resource-sharing and enhancement across the multiple institutions, as via the Honorary Fellowships at Exeter. We also engage and help capacity-building partner institutions’ new initiatives as AUB’s Urban Lab in Lebanon, by facilitating conversations with Baddawi Camp, Syrbanism and the London Urban Lab. In Baddawi Camp, we will be building capacity with active youth groups in their Culture Club, through intersecting activities with the Tanzania Lab and technology workshops, supported by toolkits and expertise from CSM (London) and LDRC (Legon). These linked-site activities will provide an opportunity for participants to interact with and forge connections across time and space, through what can be determined as a collective archive that belongs to all. Intersecting research interests with Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch (SA), has begun an exploration of jointly founding an interdisciplinary Centre for new approaches to archiving (see Gobodo-Madikizela’s Letter). Intersecting concerns about repositories and data storage have joined in conversation the Lindi community, SMUC in Mtwara, and the LDRC in Legon. Our pilot visit to Tanzania was able to catalyse this in-situ. Preservation of non-traditional archives is critical for Syrbanism’s work, which we will buttress, building tools for fair urban development to maximize social inclusion, respect for human rights and property rights. The project framework is designed to catalyse these partner intersections to strengthen capacity for knowledge exchange, its dissemination, tool building and sharing.

Recovering and Preserving Narratives through Case Studies and Shared Repositories

Meetings on site with researchers, communities and officials will bring to light stakeholders’ reactions to the experience of conflict, colonialism, displacement and reconstruction. These will be ethically recorded digitised and archived throughout the project. Archival creation and circulation (via media, exhibition or performance), will be in different forms through stories, songs, dance, objects or delineation of landscapes. Archival repositories will be on site where possible, for use by students, researchers and the public, with free and context-sensitive access, drawing on tools and models as LDRC and at CSM. The creation of such repositories where there are none, will be facilitated through propositions created with the the project team and other stakeholders. They will catalyse discussions of what it means to archive from within displacement (or diaspora), and how that relates to ‘site’. Through these activities we seek to have the following impact: enrichment of historical narratives by bringing out their multi-vocality, divergences and intersections, to be drawn on for teaching, tourism and revitilisation of memory-landscapes. We recognise the challenges to showcasing divergent and recovered narratives, especially of marginalised groups, hence it will be in consultation with such groups in the first instance that joint decisions about recording, storage and accessibility will be made. We believe that the archiving process itself, even if its results are not made public, engender confidence and agency through the act of recognition of value of such narratives.

Activating Sites of Memory – Archiving and Un/Archiving Landscapes

Erasure and silencing or physical over-writing, either actively instituted or sought out, we will address through the on-site Lab activities. It will bring into view the way that narratives are embedded in spatialities, memorialised or de-memorialised – the built and unbuilt: whether City or Camp-as-Archive in Beirut or Baddawi Camp, or the landscape of trade and battle in Tanzania and Ghana. The impact of this will be acute in reconstruction and revitalisation processes. Our investigations expose insensitivities beneath fissures, displacement and exclusion, and work to co-create new forms of understanding the memory-landscape, with propositions for re-activation where it is appropriate and sought out, through conducting spatial-memory mappings (as eg at the Old Prison, Lindi or at Beit Beirut). Through such initiatives the intention is to contribute to urban and regional regeneration, incentivising enhancement of spaces for discourse and collective learning that privilege public accessibility and engagement. Sensitive modelling and activating of such sites, will buttress our Manifesto proposals to impact on behaviours of organisations that make policy and invest in planning and reconstruction to ensure they are sensitive to egalitarian archival practices. By investigating how spatialities affect those experiencing displacement – how one ‘Writes the Camp’ from within (the title of Qasmiyeh’s work) – we intend to impact on perceptions of people living in sites of displacement, the meaning and experience of such sites, to showcase how they are integrated into and extend the meaning of global inhabitation. Whether re-imagining past or present places and lives from a distance, the analysis will trace connections between (formerly/still) colonised, incarcerated, travelling and forcibly encamped people, exploring the ways that such a form of engagement can engender (real and imagined) lives and narratives beyond the confines of refugee encampment.

Establishing Long Term Capacity of Self-archiving and Research

To facilitate a discourse on egalitarian archiving and also enable experimentation with its forms, the project will develop tools that draw simultaneously on traditional customs, the latest technological know-how and community-based archiving research. We combine archiving by the team with self-archiving, as in the Tanzania pilot which by the end produced a recording of narratives in a film format (a short version already disseminated to stakeholders, and on our project website). Along with it is a compilation of stories, poems, plays, dances about the MajiMaji War, created by school pupils and placed in a booklet to be circulated regionally and to schools to showcase the multiple understandings of the War. This booklet incorporates an accessible summary of the latest historical and archaeological findings about the War from Rushohora and Silayo’s research. The process of this archive creation and its results engaged with by the community showcase dissensus methodologies in practice. To engender the potential for future exploration through self-archiving, so as to enrich narratives, the project experts of these tools, especially from CSM will introduce participants to such technologies as photogrammetry, mobile data solutions such as Raspberry Pi, and archiving methods such as Omeka and blockchain (see also DMP). Workshops are planned with the youth group that comes together around digital creation in Baddawi Camp’s Palestinian Cultural Club. We intend to leave the devices and provide access to software, so that there is an ongoing experimentation with these methods beyond the life of the project. We have also built in support for people to come and train at the facilities in CSM in London. The development of a network storage facility across ODA and non-ODA countries will facilitate continuing networking between partners and build capacity for self-archiving and research. A further impact of these practices is sustainability and the enhancement of skills and methods to action future developments.

Building Institutional Capacity across the Partnership

The long-term impact of the Network Plus is increased institutional capacity across the partnership to develop and implement codes of shared operational best practices. This includes collaboratively developing tools and resources to manage concerns and agendas associated with ethics, safeguarding, due diligence and risk management, and ensuring equality and diversity. The Imagining Futures Network through its Ethics and Reporting group will carry out a critical review of institutional policies concerning these working practices within institutions, collaborating partners and the AHRC. While it cannot be guaranteed institutions will adopt our recommendations, we will provide model policy documents for consideration (adapted to ensure they are context-sensitive), and we will pilot their application within the project itself, with a view to engendering best practice. Co-design and co-production of knowledge, in the Labs in the first instance, with follow up gatherings that bring in additional stakeholders from the outset, will maximise the likelihood of buy-in and thus potential for uptake as a result. The long-term impact of such activity will be the increased knowledge and confidence of all institutions across the partnership to conduct ethically appropriate and context sensitive research with minimal likelihood of financial and reputational risk. This will also benefit the conduct of future projects collaborating organisations will be involved in.

Track Record

The Network team has a demonstrated track record of carrying out collaborative research, between international partners, including ODA-led research that highlights global South-South and South-North connections. The outcomes of these, and underpinning methodologies are detailed in the team members’ publications (e.g. Al-Harithy’s Post-war Recovery of Cultural Heritage Sites: Aleppo Taht AlQala’a; Fiddian-Qasmiyeh’s Handbook of South-South Relations; Gavua’s The Politics of Heritage in Africa; Isayev’s Migration, Mobility and Place and ‘Between Hospitality and Asylum’ for the IRRC; Rushohora’s Graves, Houses of Pain and Execution). Policy impact of team members research, detailed in the CVs, is demonstrated through regular consultancy with transnational organizations including UN agencies such as UNESCO and UNHCR, OSCE, ICCROM, World Bank, ODI-Humanitarian Policy Group, and Oxfam, which provide direct pathways for impact and dissemination of the project outputs to policymakers, including such partners as the Lindi Regional Commission. Our team-members have shown an ability to communicate research to the public through the media, including writing for or their work appearing in, the New York Times, BBC, Guardian, CNN, Washington Post, Bloomberg, National Geographic, History, and TED, and interviewed for articles in many additional media outlets, as well as art exhibits and installations in Tanzania, Lebanon, Ghana, China, UK, France, Germany, United States, Italy, and online.