What We Do

Archives are sites of negotiation about visions of the future. Decisions of what is to be collected, accessed or preserved tend to privilege certain narratives over others. It is about whose story will continue to be told and how, and who is silenced. These questions are acute in moments of post-conflict, displacement and reconstruction. Our Network depends on linking expertise from contexts where these issues are paramount: in Lebanon, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, and if possible Syria. These are our starting points to explore and build methodologies of egalitarian archiving practice that allows for co-existence and recognition of multiple experiences of the past, with dialogue across generations, gender, class, ethnicities, status categories and multiple stakeholders.

Imagining Futures embraces archives as intrinsically constructed and multi-vocal. This is crucial as we seek to address legacies from difficult and contested pasts. We test dissensus methods that facilitate open dialogue and challenge a singular ‘we’. Acts of archiving that draw on local knowledges and joint decision-making in what is to be remembered or forgotten, have a unique authority. They counter, stereotypes, gentrification, discrimination, and the lack of appreciation for shared histories and of community’s place in the global context. We use the intrinsic power of the archive for its capacity to build confidence, enhance understanding and reveal co-existing narratives, to reduce conflict within and between groups, enhancing the potential for sustainable peace.

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. 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 examine its role and articulate archiving practices that contribute to a future which promotes, not suppresses, just, peaceful and inclusive societies. The urgency for new approaches stems from the situation in the Middle East, and seeks to capture, support and enhance methodologies arising from contexts of post-conflict reconciliation in Africa. In this moment of intense post-war reconstruction, funded by billions in foreign aid ($1.2 b for Syria), to fuel revitalisation and stability, is where the potential for our project is most critical. Master-plans have led to rapid urbanisation (from 50-80% in Syria), favouring a small sector of society, at the cost of local needs, interests, and non-monumental cultural sites. Well-meaning initiatives can become acts of violence by rupturing communities’ crucial links between the intangible lived heritage and the tangible. This insensitivity contributes to further destruction, displacement and reification of sectarian divisions. It also excludes interests of millions who live in precarious conditions as refuge and asylum-seekers, with many in camps.

Our aim is to facilitate the opening-up and sensitive use of existing archives to create new ones and articulate methods for egalitarian archival practices that respect multiple and divergent narratives. This will be achieved through 4 investigative Labs across diverse socio-political and temporal contexts in Lebanon, Ghana and Tanzania, and essential activities beyond them, such as the Commissions. Through engaging with existing archives, special and non-traditional archives in-situ, creative open digital tools, open-studio events with different publics, our goal is to build towards a co-produced policy-manifesto, in dialogue with governing bodies and supra-state organisations as e.g. ICCROM. 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.